in two minds about the divided brain

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I was a psychology student we learned all about the lateralization of brain function. For example, reasoning appears to be dominated by the left brain, while the right brain dominates in matters artistic. Some advances in understanding lateralization has been made due to observations by neurologists and others of functional deficiencies of people with damage to regions their brains. Oliver Sacks details some interesting cases in his book ‘the man who mistook his wife for a hat‘.

However, the view of the brain as a collection of highly specialised components, is too simplistic. Such a view fails to explain the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. Indeed, substantial damage to one hemisphere does not necessarily mean that the sufferer will lose all artistic skill or all language skill (dependent on which hemisphere is damaged) as the surviving hemisphere often takes over the functions believed to be normally governed by the damaged hemisphere.

The debate on lateralization of the brain has been given a shot in the arm by Iain McGilchrist who considers that the significance of the two hemispheres “… was that the difference lay not in what they do, but how they do it”. For example,

“… the right hemisphere was capable of appreciating ambiguity, the implicit and the metaphorical, where the left hemisphere tended to require certainty, the explicit and the literal; the right hemisphere saw the broad context and the world as a seamless whole, interconnected within itself…”

Iain's book "The Master and his Emissary"The Master and his Emissary

If you want to know more about Iain’s theory a good place to start would be hisinterview with frontier psychiatrist. The introduction to his book The Master and his Emissary is available for download from his website

Iain also explains his theory on a podcast of Andrew Marr’s Start the Weekprogramme for Radio 4, Mon, 15 Nov 10 (N.B. the programme is 42 minutes and Iain’s main contribution comes towards the end).

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