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The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World is a 2009 book written by Iain McGilchrist that deals with the specialist hemispheric functioning of the brain. The differing world views of the right and left brain (the "Master" and "emissary" in the title, respectively) have, according to the author, shaped Western culture since the time of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, and the growing conflict between these views has implications for the way the modern world is changing. In part, McGilchrist's book, which is the product of twenty years of research, reviews the evidence of previous related research and theories, and based on this and cultural evidence, the author arrives at his own conclusions.
The Master and His Emissary received mostly favourable reviews upon its publication. Critics praised the book as being a landmark publication that could alter readers' perspective of how they viewed the world; A.C. Grayling, however, commented about the book that "the findings of brain science are nowhere near fine-grained enough yet to support the large psychological and cultural conclusions Iain McGilchrist draws".
Background and influencesEdit
In an interview with Frontier Psychiatrist, McGilchrist cites two main influences on his work: the psychiatrist John Cutting, and the Chicago psychologist David McNeill. McGilchrist states: "What I began to see – and it was John Cutting's work on the right hemisphere that set me thinking – was that the difference lay not in what they [the two hemispheres] do, but how they do it." In the same interview, the author explains: "Some very subtle research by David McNeill, amongst others, confirms that thought originates in the right hemisphere, is processed for expression in speech by the left hemisphere, and the meaning integrated again by the right (which alone understands the overall meaning of a complex utterance, taking everything into account)."
The 608-page book is divided into an introduction, two parts and a conclusion. In the introduction, McGilchrist states that "there is, literally, a world of difference between the [brain] hemispheres. Understanding quite what that is has involved a journey through many apparently unrelated areas: not just neurology and psychology, but philosophy, literature and the arts, and even, to some extent, archaeology and anthropology."
Part One: The Divided BrainEdit
In "The Divided Brain", McGilchrist digests study after study, replacing the popular and superficial notion of the hemispheres as respectively logical and creative in nature with the idea that they pay attention in fundamentally different ways, the left being detail-oriented, the right being whole-oriented. These two modes of perception cascade into wildly different hemispheric personalities, and in fact reflect yet a further asymmetry in their status, that of the right's more immediate relationship with physical bodies (our own as well as others) and external reality as represented by the senses, a relationship that makes it the mediator, the first and last stop, of all experience.
Part Two: How the Brain Has Shaped Our WorldEdit
In the second part, "How the Brain Has Shaped Our World", the author describes the evolution of Western culture, as influenced by hemispheric brain functioning, from the ancient world, through the Renaissance and Reformation; the Enlightenment; Romanticism and Industrial Revolution; to the modern and postmodern worlds which, to our detriment, are becoming increasingly dominated by the left brain.
The book received a number of positive reviews in newspapers and journals. Reviewing The Master and His Emissary in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Jacob Freedman wrote the book “valiantly addresses the effect hemispheric asymmetry has had on Western civilization" and that it chronicled "how the left brain's determined reductionism and the right brain's insightful and holistic approach have shaped music, language, politics, and art." A review by Bryan Appleyard in Times Online described the book as suggesting "we are thinking more and more like machines, and risk losing what makes us human", while David Cox in the Evening Standard wrote that the author "shows convincingly that the degeneracy of the West springs from our failure to manage the binary division of our brains."
In a positive review in The Guardian, philosopher Mary Midgley wrote that the book “points out the complexity, the divided nature of thought itself and asks about its connection with the structure of the brain", and that "though neurologists may well not welcome it because it asks them new questions, the rest of us will surely find it splendidly thought-provoking". In another positive review in Standpoint magazine, Professor Adam Zeman wrote that McGilcrist "extends [the] received wisdom with a hugely ambitious, absorbing and questionable thesis: the two hemispheres have radically contrasting personalities; that they live in a state of creative tension, sometimes declining into open war; and that their struggle for supremacy provides the key to understanding the major cultural movements of human history. In The Times Literary Supplement W. F. Bynum wrote: "McGilchrist's careful analysis of how brains work is a veritable tour de force, gradually and skilfully revealed. I know of no better exposition of the current state of functional brain neuroscience."
In a mixed review in Literary Review A. C. Grayling wrote that the book was "beautifully written, erudite, fascinating and adventurous” but added, "the findings of brain science are nowhere near fine-grained enough yet to support the large psychological and cultural conclusions Iain McGilchrist draws". A negative review in The Economist stated that the book resorted to “generalisations of breathtaking sweep" and that the second part of the book "has plainly become untethered from its moorings in brain science".
- McGilchrist, Iain (2009). The Master and His Emissary, Yale University Press.
- Lateralization of brain function
- Philosophy of mind
- Sociocultural evolution
- Bicameral Mind A related theory by Julian Jaynes based in communication between the brain hemispheres
- ↑ includeonly>Staff. "Two worlds of the left and right brain (audio podcast)", 'BBC Radio 4 Today', 14 November 2009. Retrieved on 2009-12-24.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Grayling, A.C. In Two Minds. Literary Review. URL accessed on 2009-12-21.
- ↑ Staff (2011). Book Prize. Bristol Festival of Ideas. URL accessed on 2011-10-25.
- ↑ Staff Royal Society 2010 Prize for Science Books Longlist Announced. The Royal Society. URL accessed on 2011-10-25.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Staff Interview with Iain McGilchrist. Frontier Psychiatrist. URL accessed on 2010-02-05.
- ↑ McGilchrist 2009, p. 2
- ↑ Freedman, Jacob (June 2011). The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World. American Journal of Psychiatry 168 (6): 655–656.
- ↑ Appleyard, Bryan Divide and rule: man is the new machine. Times Online. URL accessed on 2009-12-21.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Midgley, Mary The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist. The Guardian. URL accessed on 2010-01-02.
- ↑ Adam Zeman. A Brain of Two Halves | Standpoint. Standpointmag.co.uk. URL accessed on 2012-05-06.
- ↑ includeonly>Bynum, W. F.. "On the right: Iain McGilchrist The Master and His Emissary – The divided brain", News International, 2 April 2010, p. 12. Retrieved on 2011-06-05.
- ↑ The human brain: Right and left. The Economist. URL accessed on 2012-05-14.
- Brain Matters: The divided mind. Has our civilisation suffered from a failure to manage the binary division of our brains? Talk given by McGilchrist at the Wellcome Collection in April 2012
- Author's profile at All Souls College, University of Oxford
- The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. RSA Keynote by Iain McGilchrist
Further study Edit
- McGilchrist, Iain The Battle of the Brain: The mind's great conflict spills over onto the world stage. The Wall Street Journal. URL accessed on 2010-01-03.
- Crispin, Jessa An Interview with Iain McGilchrist. Bookslut. URL accessed on 2010-02-03.
- Mitchell, Natasha The Master and his Emissary: the divided brain and the reshaping of Western civilisation. (Audio podcast) ABC Radio National All in the Mind. URL accessed on 2010-06-23. A transcript is also available.
- Staff Interview with Iain McGilchrist. Frontier Psychiatrist. URL accessed on 2010-02-05.
- includeonly>Staff. "Two worlds of the left and right brain" (Audio podcast), 'BBC Radio 4 Today', 14 November 2009. Retrieved on 2009-12-24.
- McGilchrist, Iain The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (Video) The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA). URL accessed on 2011-01-26.
Parts of this lecture were republished by the RSA in October 2011 as one of a series of "RSA Animates" with cartoonist Andrew Park's illustrations.[L 1] The twelve-minute animation accompanying McGilchrist's talk took Park two months to complete.[L 2]
- McGilchrist, Iain Things Are Not What They Seem. (Video) Schumacher College. URL accessed on 2011-06-05.
- McGilchrist, Iain Big Ideas: Dr. Iain McGilchrist on The Divided Brain: Our Mind at War. (Video) TVOntario. URL accessed on 2013-07-17.
- ↑ McGilchrist, Iain RSA Animate: The Divided Brain. (Video) The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA). URL accessed on 2011-10-25.
- ↑ includeonly>Halliday, Josh. "Internet users get animated about RSA short film series", 21 October 2011. Retrieved on 25 October 2011.
- Crispin, Jessa Half and Half. The Smart Set. The Pennoni Honors College, Drexel University. URL accessed on 2010-01-04.
- Flanagan, Owen The vast left-brain conspiracy. New Scientist CultureLab blog. URL accessed on 2009-12-21.
Iana, Cristina Studiu: Emisferele cerebrale dreaptă şi stângă au personalităţi opuse. adevarul.ro international. URL accessed on 2009-12-24.[OR 1]
- Vernon, Mark What the other half doesn't know. Philosophy and Life Blog. URL accessed on 2010-01-28. Vernon, a writer, journalist and columnist with The Guardian, writes: "At last! A book on neuroscience that is a thrilling read, philosophically astute and with wonderful science."
- Williams, Ray. B. Why we need to use both sides of our brain. National Post (blog). URL accessed on 2010-02-22.
- Kingerlee, Roger, Testa, Rita (2011). Review of The Master and his Emissary. Neuropsychoanalysis 12 (2): 222–226.
- Ellis, Robert M. 'The Master and his Emissary' by Iain McGilchrist: An Extended Review. moralobjectivity.net (website). URL accessed on 2012-04-15.
- Gare, Arran Review of 'The Master and his Emissary' by Iain McGilchrist. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 8, No 1 (2012).
- ↑ Translation: "Study: right and left cerebral hemispheres have opposite personalities."
- Jaynes, Julian (2000). The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Houghton Mifflin. (Paperback) First published 1976.
- Ornstein, Robert (1998). The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemispheres, Harcourt Brace International.
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