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Iain McGilchrist

The Master and his Emissary

In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World Iain McGilchrist puts forward the hypothesis that many of the problems of our society are due to 'left-hemisphere' thinking, which has supplanted the more balanced view of the right hemisphere.

McGilchrist explains the differences between the hemispheres, giving examples of the behavioural deficits produced by damage to each side. He goes on to look at the role of the two hemispheres in our use of language and in music and the arts. The second half of the book gives his version of history based upon which hemisphere was in the ascendant, moving from the Ancient world on to the Reformation and the Renaissance, then to the Enlightenment the Industrial Revolution, and the Romantic movement, and finally modernism and post-modernism.

It's a long book, and it was a struggle to read at times, but there's also a deeper problem. If you accept the hypothesis then it would explain why philosophy gets to be such an obscure subject - philosophers have good, right hemisphere ideas, but their expression by the left hemisphere corrupts them. However, McGilchrist doesn't see it that way - he seems to be a fan of some philosophers but not of others, and ends up with too much of the sort of wordy 'system building' which I felt he should be wary of. On the other hand, he certainly shows great breadth of knowledge, and the book does help you to see history and art in a different light - I just wouldn't take it too seriously.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews