Allan Macdougall


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Is the divided structure of the human brain analogous to a divided society?

Iain McGilchrist tells us that the mediating/inhibiting influence of the corpus collsum between the two brain hemispheres has become weakened, allowing the logical, linear left to dominate over the sensory, panoramic nature of the right.

Jill Bolte-Taylor's talk also testifies to the distinctly separate characteristics of the brain hemispheres.

Given that the main role of the corpus collosum is to 'inhibit' and to prevent the dominance of one hemisphere over the other, it would seem to be an acknowledgement that we have needed to evolve this way - to be divided. Why is this?

It would also seem that in the absence of a strong mediating influence, it is the logical, scientific left brain that dominates the right. McGilchrist asserts that it should be the other way around - that the right brain should take the leading role and the left should be its 'servant' (hence the title of his excellent book, "The Master and his Emissary"). Would you agree?

Is it too bold a statement to say that an unmediated, divided brain is mirrored in an unmediated, divided society?

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    Nov 6 2011: what she says i think in a few words is that the left hemisphere is the logical one and the right has to do with our feelings and our social behaviour.So,as for the rich people,most of them propably have no real friends because of their love to the money and their status which they gained using their left hemisphere.As for the poor,most of them feel compassion about every one of us because they know the dark side of life,so they actually use their right hemisphere the most.That's my opinion on that interesting question.
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    Oct 28 2011: It maybe all started out with stereoscopy.
    As during evolution the eyes moved to the front and started to estimate distances it had to compare two images.
    The brain had to extract meaning from two different images.
    This laid the basic conditions for a thinking property.
    As it developed further one half-sphere took the task of storing and adding meaning to all known things.
    As with primitive animals the whole body reflects on impressions from the senses this later could be controlled by the brain which reflected upon it, compared it with its own database of meaning before deciding how to react, in this way reflecting on itself.
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      Nov 2 2011: Hi FransWould it necessarily follow that all animals with stereoscopic vision also have divided brain structures?

      A research article entitled "Research into Binocularity and brain evolution in primates" would suggest that stereoscopic vision is attributed more to brain size and a singularity of processing power, rather than necessitating hemispherical division:

      That said, I think your point of stereoscopic vision creating conditions for a thinking property, seems plausible.
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        Nov 2 2011: Allan, thanks for the article.

        To jump and climb agile from branch to branch takes a meticulous estimation for distances. To balance and move hands, feet and often tail coordinated and each independently while seeing a route through the labyrinth of the canopy of the forest within a second, requires a lot of calculations. Then judging and avoiding those branches that are to light to bear your weight with a certain speed demands all qualities of the brain that human beings put into practice at the moment they got their hands free.

        All this initiated much differentiation between different area’s in the brain and the power that was needed to activate it all. Right and left hemisphere became partly occupied with complementary tasks to solve complicated and simultaneous problems. It is like a kind of internal dialogue that gave as a spin-off the possibility for thinking at a new level. Instinct is a kind of body-thinking, this was brain thinking that we call the mind, a way of judging, comparing, analyzing and recombining parts from memory with the outside world.

        It's all obvious.
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    Oct 27 2011: Allan, I am carefully rereading "The Master and His Emissary" and I would recommend at least two careful readings before you come to any conclusions. His points are very subtle... the brain is divided and the corpus collsum is mostly inhibitory because the brain needs to perform in two different modes that are to a certain extent mutually exclusive but are both necessary to survival.

    A person who is dominated by the rumination and self-referential thinking that is characteristic of the left hemisphere will advocate a divided society. A perfect example is Glen Beck... this is a person who seems to possess normal intelligence but who is totally caught up in a self referential, paranoid and lunatic rant that completely misses the big picture... he advocates violence, hate, lunatic ignorance and this is very divisive and destructive.
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      Oct 28 2011: Hi Joe - thanks for your response.

      I'm just over halfway through the first reading of his book and appreciate that I will have to dip in to it several times before all the subtleties sink in.

      It is interesting that the brain has had to develop an inhibitory response to hemispherical over-dominance, rather than the encouragement of under-performance. Why inhibit strength? Why not strengthen inhibition?

      I can only guess that inhibiting strength and over-dominance would still retain the positive neurology that we have evolved, but in a more diluted form. Encouraging an under-dominant hemisphere on the other hand, may run the risk of over-emphasising weaknesses.

      I wonder also about the conditions in which one hemisphere might begin to dominate the other. Is such a response an indication of a shift in our framework of normality? What perhaps is considered 'normal' in Westernised societies is vastly different to the more traditional ones, where the seasons, the earth and subsistence lifestyles, by necessity, were dominant.
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        Oct 28 2011: Allan, I like the questions you are asking and the way you are thinking about these issues. Inhibitory neurons are neither good nor bad, just a necessary part of brain function. If all the neurons were on and stimulated others in a run away positive feedback loop we would have something that looked like epilepsy. So inhibitory neurons do not dimiinish the brain's "strength" but are essential parts of normal neural oscillatory circuits.

        Your last paragraph is right on. What we are seeing in the west is a perceptual framework that is very narrow, language focused and desperately missing the big picture and our connection to all of life. Think of the lifeless abstraction that we call "money"... and yet almost all of Western culture is focused on it to the exclusion of the more important issues of our planet's habiltability.

        It is the right hemisphere that brings us the connection to all of life and the biggest possible picture.
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    Oct 27 2011: I would not agree that a divided brain will invariably produce a divided society, but only the potential for a divided society. In recorded history (as McGilchrist illustrates), it would seem that the pendulum swings back and forth from right to left as if we cannot decide where our home resides. From McGilchrist's book, and my personal observations/experiences over the years, if is clear that the right-brain orientation reflects our true human nature, whereas the left-brain orientation reflects a corruption of that nature. Despite the passionate few that promote the right-brain ("living in the now") approach, it is not something that can be taught in order to transform society. The left-brain orientation deals with the known, which is our comfort zone. Explanations about the right-brain and exhortations to change all deal with the unknown, and this is where those with a left-brain orientation dig in. One does not just give up one's comfort (the known) in order to reach a better place.

    I realize I may be expanding your question a bit in that if a divided society reflects the divisions in our brain, then what would it take to heal societal divisions and create a better world?
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      Oct 28 2011: Hi Larry - great response, thanks.

      I would agree that we do have a 'true nature' and believe, like you, that it rsides in the right hemisphere. The historical pendulum swings from right to left would seem to be indicative of our oscillating grasp of what is considered 'real' or 'normal'.

      I'm guessing here, but I would think that the brain hemisphere morphology of, say, a hunter-gatherer would be vastly different from a modern westernised brain. In the hunter-gatherer, the necessity for spatial awareness and reverential regard for natural, earthly processes would be much more advanced than ours, and would be very likely to reside predominantly in the right hemisphere.

      In an attempt to answer your last question, in healing societal divisions, it may be necessary to 'retrograde' into a more basic, sustainable lifestyle in order to achieve more of a balance in hemispherical differences. With the finite nature exploitable natural resources, it is only a matter of time before the westernised lifestyle will have to change anyway, along with our grasp of what 'reality' is about.
  • Oct 27 2011: Yeah, I guess so. I feel corpus collosum doesnt inhibit dominance but increase the connection between two hemisphere which increase the understanding of two extremes [good/bad, logic/intuition, U(universal)/ Me(ego)] and makes balanced perception of duality.
    so sticking towards either one hemisphere of our brian and misunderstanding/ not understanding the views of ppl whos obeying different hemisphere creates the division.
    > smaller the connection of neurons, larger the division in societies.
    PS: corpus collosum is a densely packed neurons structure. hav u heard ppl (Einstein) has more foldings in brain (thats his neurons are highly connected) have higher IQ. poets, artists, scientist who can connects very different objects and finds the unity in them. > such understanding of All is ONE joins the division =)
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      Oct 27 2011: Hi Pradee (love the name!)

      I wonder how a better understanding (or connection) can be made between the two hemispheres? And has the corpus collosum changed its functional effectiveness through evolution or behavioural/cultural changes in society - or both?

      Yes, I've heard of the link between brain folding and intelligence and I believe it is nature's way of increasing brain size without the need for a huge cranial cavity and the accompanying birthing problems that would result.

      Interesting research done at Melbourne University about brain asymmetry and folding:
      • Oct 28 2011: Thanks a lot Allan =) pradee means radiation.
        i read the article, it was interesting..well i feel, the folds they mentioned @ PC and the asymmetry of the brain @ left hemisphere (which is controlled by right path of body) is to satisfy the phi ratio ->
        1 :1.618 - the creation pattern of everything in universe(sacred geometry)
        > getting back to ur ques: how to connect/understand ? (understanding comes from Pineal gland).
        > Answer(from wat i hav experienced) : MEDITATION = Relaxing one's mind and body. This is the state when u synchronise with the 5% of conscious mind (this shrinken 5% is wat we are not minding by sticking to the exteded 95% of unconscious brain driven by 5 senses). Also in this relaxed state you can concentrate/ project ur whole energy in the process you wanted to,without wasting energy in other thoughts.
        # Scientific Explanation: Mediation makes proper flow of Oxygen thru ur body which solves almost all diseases we cud face. this availability of Oxygen to the tissues, cells n atoms of our body helps regeneration of the cells = healing.
        # Spiritual Perception (not religious): During Meditation (pranayma - breathing exercise/yoga) the Oxygen flows (Oxygen = Prana = Life's Force) thru our body - thru the 7 chakras (chakras are the points / vertexs of our body, it is also the place where 7 glands present). these glands are the source of all the chemicals(hormones) like serotonin, adrenaline,dopamine,oxytocin,etc. so when there is proper flow of oxygen provided u r in relaxed stated with full energy concentrated on the regeneration process > there comes balance - u ll realise the true you - the answer of all the ques u ever had, gets its answer THE TRUTH =) U can create watever u want thru ur consciousness.
        > many scientific researches proved mediation increase neuron generation - brian's connection.
        > Am very sorry if these topics are out of ur interest, but this is how i perceive. u can find ur own answer asking ur innerself =)
        Inlakesh =
      • Oct 28 2011: P.S: am really happy to discuss abt these today - 28th Sept 2011 > the most crucial time in human evolution when Consciousness Shift is happening. Its for better =) GOD Bless =)
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      Nov 4 2011: Hi Mark.

      Division, if unmediated, leads to possible over-dominance one way or another. Especially when seen in societal terms, where the facilitative conditions favour one half of the divided whole.

      Do you think that if McGilchrist is right, the over-dominance of the left-hemisphere could be attributed to external facilitative conditions, rather than just a physiological anomaly of an increasingly ineffectual corpus collosum? Does the corpus collosum wither or grow in response to sustained 'norms' of external stimuli?

      Does over-dominance of one lead to the irreparable withering and ultimate death of the other (the undivided origin, as you put it)?

      Behaviorally, how different would we be if we were to return to an undivided origin - or more specifically, singularly left-brained?
  • Nov 3 2011: It would appear that there could be a correlation between left hemisphere style and individualism, or right hemisphere style and collectivism. In other words, this might roughly translate into right-wing or left-wing preference in politics but surely it's more complicated than that. Or the Western "analytic" orientation versus the Eastern "holistic" orientation.
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      Nov 4 2011: Tomas - I think there are many correlations that can be ascribed to hemisphere differences.

      The title postscript to Iain McGilchrist's book is: "...and the Making of the Western World", alluding to part of his hypothesis and the correlations you describe.

      I thoroughly recommend reading it, if you haven't already.
  • Oct 27 2011: No!