Turning to the other side of the brain, the story is quite different. All the entries reflect the dominance of the right hemisphere and all are situation specific. The context of the setting is important, as any action is fitted to the immediate circumstances, unlike routines or habits, which are based on already established (in the left) patterns. The left hemisphere plays a part in most of these types of behaviors, offering up suggestions of responses it believes fit the situation, including options that may not. The right side can either accept or reject these inputs. The ability to say no to the incoming “information” from either side is critical in shaping the subsequent behavior. More about this (apophatic) process to follow in other posts.
Now to the second table in the first post in this series. All the entries in this table result from the right saying no to the left, at some point in the overall cognitive process, so that the behavior reflects the conditions in the immediate context-rich world in which the focal attention rests. The action might be described as being timely, or hitting the spot. As I have noted previously, I believe that the interactions between the two hemispheres, more or less, are summarized by the description I have generated. In practice, they are, undoubtedly, much more complicated. This series of posts is primarily an exercise in building my (and I hope, your) understanding of the divided-brain-model, not as some definitive exposition.
I am going to take separate posts to discuss the right-hemisphere-dominated behaviors because they are the ones that need to be recovered if we are to flourish and, necessarily. begin to act more out of the that empathetic, caring half. I will begin with wonder because, unlike any of the other types, it reflects an almost, perhaps, complete dominance of the right hemisphere. It is the epitome of McGilchrist’s notions of use of connectedness and betweenness in practice. The experience of wonder brings us closer to understanding the world as it is than does any other of the behavioral types, but, paradoxically, it is the one we can say the least about, if asked. I use “wonder” as the label for this behavior, others might prefer “awe.”
Wonder is the response to the extreme case of connectedness, in which the left hemisphere has essentially been shut out. The immediate experience cannot be located, by the right, as relating to anything familiar. If, somehow the left gets involved, its intentions are rejected. With nothing to do, the only response is emotional, expressed as bodily feelings and changes. Wonder, to me, is the most primal of all behaviors because it occurs even in the absence of language to express it. In fact, that is one of its distinguishing features.
Indeed, wonder would seem to be the foundation of language, the conversion of what was some bodily response to words. We may take language for granted, but every single word we use had to be invented at some time. And as our vocabularies grew, new experiences could be expressed metaphorically in terms of whatever language already existed. McGilchrist discusses this in the following extract.
Metaphor (subserved by the right hemisphere) comes before denotation (subserved by the left). This is a historical truth, in the sense that denotative language, even philosophical and scientific language, is derived from metaphors founded on immediate experience of the tangible world.
Metaphor is centrally a matter of thought, not just words. Metaphorical language is a reflection of metaphorical thought…Eliminating metaphor would eliminate philosophy. Without a very large range of conceptual metaphors, philosophy could not get off the ground. The metaphoric character of philosophy is not unique to philosophic thought. It is true of all abstract human thought, especially science. Conceptual metaphor is what makes most abstract thought possible. (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By)
It is also a truth about epistemology, how we understand things. Any one thing can be understood only in terms of another thing, and ultimately that must come down to a something that is experienced, outside the system of signs (i.e. by the body). The very words which form the building blocks of explicit thought are themselves all originally metaphors, grounded in the human body and its experience. (McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary, p. 118, my underlining))
Some of our most important concepts used in shaping our lives and cultures would have arisen in this way, including God, spirit, truth, beauty, goodness. Over time, the left hemisphere has reduced them to diminished, reified versions of their original ties to the experience of human existence.
Wonder is the primary behavior for babies. They are constantly experiencing a world that they have no previous ideas as to what it is all about. As any one of us that has had children knows, their expression of this experience is through emotions and feelings. Their left hemispheres are essentially empty of content as the process of abstracting and creating an inner world has only just begun. Without a vocabulary in place, whatever generalization does occur would have to be some kind of image or other sensory processing.
We all know that as we age the experience of wonder tends to fade, and show up only infrequently. In terms of the divided-brain-model, the left-brain becomes more insistent that it get involved. The implicit experiential gestalt is converted to some diminished explanation or response to what might have been a purely emotional moment. Why this happens remains uncertain. McGilchrist goes into much detail in The Master and his Emissary about the way the two hemispheres interact at various time scales, but leaves unanswered the question of what determines how the two hemispheres will or won’t interact at any particular time. What causes the right to say no or not say no to the left, or, vice versa, would appear to happen below the cortices in the lower, older parts of the brain.
He mentions “affect” as being involved in the process by which a particular behavior show up at any moment, but says little more. I have referred, instead, to mood in the sense of attunement, some background level of connectedness. Heidegger noted its importance in his phenomenology of being, relating it to the appearance of authenticity. The more one was open to the world, the more likely authentic (right-hemisphere dominated behaviors) would show up. Without more evidence, I cannot go any further in trying to connect mood or emotion to the selection of behavioral type. but I still believe that it is important, and would affect any strategy to strengthen the right brain’s role in individual and societal behaviors, moving closer to flourishing, which requires such a shift.