Some recent notes on Iain McGilshrist’s topics
I got value out of listening to a hosted conversation between Iain and Philip Pullman author of “His Dark Materials.”
HOW TO PODCAST | Philip Pullman Meets Iain McGilchrist - The Matter With Things
Philip Pullman's novels are a testament to the power of the human imagination and a celebration of our capacity for…
Everything here can be considered PARAPHRASED, not direct quotes. This is how I personally process deep material. Some of it is direct quotes — but these are not marked as such. Consider these NOTES.
Iain at 37:20 mins: The left-brainers are always falling into one of two partial positions:
1) What’s true, truth itself, is “out there” [abstract], independent of our knowing of it [thru our five senses]. Our job is to find a straight path to this abstract truth. [hence a lot of fruitless seeking for abstract Gods]. This the “thing theory of truth” the left brain embraces. [A classic example of this was the boom in “searching for enlightenment” of 1980–1999].
2) Post-modernists [de-construction folks] positing there is no truth at all. We make everything up [thru our sense percepts, which are then edited down by generalization, deletion, distortion and exaggeration]. Therefore, one made-up thing is as good as another made-up thing [a flat values hierarchy, all values equal. This allows the left brainers to avoid and deny the priority of truly human values; which, they believe are either unknowable (abstract) or equal to all other value propositions].
I think both of these are utterly disastrous positions. Better is to consider what is more true; and, in what context is it true? [ this requires intellectual effort, converging right and left brains, to weigh and make distinctions, according to introverted feeling (Fi) introverted thinking (Ti) and introverted iNtuition (Ni)]
Pullman, quoting someone: Things are the way they are because of the relationships between them.
At 3:00 mins: Iain: What concerns me is the way we think. One half of the brain has specialized to manipulate the world instead of understand it. This part of the brain [Richard Dawkins, et al] has evolved to believe all that exists is physical-material matter [the world and people exist; and, are solely composed of physical-material matter, in various combinations]. Thus, the way to understand the world is to reduce it to its smallest possible tinker-toy parts. I think this is shoddy thinking. I think this is morally and spiritually bankrupt.
…science is not opposed to imagination and intuition but depends upon them,
Iain mentioned this book by Tweedy, so I looked it up.
Roderick Tweedy. The God of the Left Hemisphere: Blake, Bolte Taylor, and the Myth of Creation. London: Karnac Books Ltd., 2012. 332 pp. £24.74, paperback; £19.59, e-book; £26.74, paperback + e-book (at < http://www.karnacbooks.com >).
Below is notes and paraphrases from two sources:
- The review by James Rovira from — https://BlakeQuarterly.org/index.php/blake/article/view/rovira491/rovira491html
- Chapter Abstracts found at https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/mono/10.4324/9780429481901-10/man-dragon-urizen-roderick-tweedy?context=ubx
Roderick Tweedy’s The God of the Left Hemisphere compares the attributes of Blake’s Urizen to the characteristics of left-brain-dominated minds, suggesting Blake’s mythology anticipates the claims of contemporary neurologists who study the lateralization of brain functions.
Tweedy’s premise is Blake’s descriptions of Urizen are in fact descriptions of the operations of the brain’s left hemisphere. This claim is supported by his appendix, “The Symbolism of Left and Right in Blake’s Work.”
His study was inspired by a TED talk delivered by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist currently affiliated with Indiana University, who, during her time at Harvard University, suffered a hemorrhage on the left side of her brain. Taylor believes this experience gave her insights both into the human brain and into the possibilities for the transformation of human life and experience. These insights are the subject of her talk and of her 2008 book, My Stroke of Insight (Viking).
Drawing from Taylor, Chris McManus’s Right Hand, Left Hand (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002), and Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary (Yale UP, 2009), Tweedy paints a picture of left-brain psychology as dominating, hyper-rational, moralistic, egocentric, and highly destructive (p. 39), in comparison to right-brain psychology, which is “completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy, and compassion in the world” (Bolte Taylor, quoted in Tweedy p. 41). The book is an engaging, journalistic treatment of its subject interesting to a general readership.
After establishing this basic opposition between left- and right-brain thinking, Tweedy proceeds to apply it first to Blake’s mythology (part 1) and then to human history and to a variety of human conceptual structures (part 2) in very broad strokes.
Tweedy paraphrase: True freedom is rationally channeling imagination to create [things to make the world and human experience more wonderful]. … Urizen can only conceptualize freedom as freedom from external restrictions [on the individual ego and its desires]. …
Urizen is every bit as dangerous as neurosis, yet, is everywhere unregulated in our society. While neurosis is stigmatized, Urizen is often rewarded and normed; thus, conditioned into us. We medicate neurosis into sedation or remission, while the Urizenic operate weapons, manage our workplaces, write our laws, and run our economy ~ Tweedy
Urizen is immanent — neurosis, transcendent. If Nietzsche is to be trusted, beauty is neither. Rather, beauty is the difficult marriage of the transcendent with the immanent. The narrow road runs between neurosis and conventional reason, so both “worlds of possibilities” remain open — Tweedy
How science and orthodox religion are so often interchangeable. Tweedy characterizes both science and orthodox religions as both being left brain products. Hence, one orthodoxy easily supplants or substitutes for the other. They are the same way of thinking.
Chapter One|7 pages
The origins of Urizen
One of the main themes of William Blake’s creative work concerns the historical emergence of a Power within the human psyche which he calls the “Reasoning Power” or, more simply “Urizen.” [“Urizen unbound” is presumably what Blake objected to in Newton]
the qualities and functions ascribed by Blake to “Urizen” correspond remarkably closely to what modern neuroscientists identify as the “left hemisphere” of the human brain.
The chapter examines the main features of Urizen, and connects each of them to corresponding processes and functions within the left hemisphere. By connecting the modern understanding of these functions with Blake’s portrayal of Urizen, fascinating new interpretations of his “prophetic verse” are possible.
Chapter Two|21 pages
Urizen and the left hemisphere
… for Blake the result is a primary “division” within man. Man’s previous connection with [oneness and] the world of eternity is severed through the very development of Urizenic, civilizing, conscious thought.
One of the most fundamental aspects of Urizenic consciousness, and perhaps the basis for all the others, is its immense power of abstraction. Urizen — left-brain-only reasoning — separates primal oneness into:
- Self from Others,
- Mind from Matter,
- Finite from Infinite, and
- Subjective from Objective. This precipitates a series of further separations:
- joy from pain,
- moral from immoral,
- time from eternity,
- human from animal,
- vegetable, and mineral.
Why Blake was against Newton:
William Blake’s depiction of the Urizenic deity as a compelling and compulsive law-making, ordering, abstract God who values obedience, purity, and adherence to strict moral codes — in a word mere reasonableness; as in, everything made ordinary, mundane; and therefore, understandable to left brain.
Chapters 1 and 2, “The Origins of Urizen” and “Urizen and the Left Hemisphere,” establish his comparison of Urizenic psychology to left-brain psychology. Chapter 1 identifies the rise of Homo sapiens as the beginning of brain bilateralization, which is particularly associated with tool-making and then with language development.
Chapter Three|14 pages
The myth of Genesis
Plato’s version brings out especially well the hidden rationalistic nature of this “Creation” myth. The whole story is prompted by a rational question: how did the universe come to be how it is? [as opposed to feeling the universe, being one with it in union, in awe of the whole.] As with the Book of Genesis, it is an attempt to provide reasons for everything.
Perhaps Blake’s concept of “Urizen” is even more helpful in evoking this strange semi-neurological and yet semi-godlike, aspect of human brain activity. It is to this usurping, inhibiting, accusing and domineering aspect of Urizenic rationality which Blake gives his most shocking and revealing name: “Satan” [Rudolf Steiner would say: Lucifer].
Chapter 3, “The Myth of Genesis,” explains Blake identifies Urizen with the God of the book of Genesis, who is also equivalent to the demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus, the God of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Zeus, Jupiter, Odin, and “Norse mythology, Babylonian and Sumerian creation texts, [and] Vedic cosmogony” in general (36), all of which [to the extent to which they are Luciferic] indicate the emergence of left-hemisphere thinking in their creating deities.
Chapter Four|13 pages
The marriage of heaven and hell
Without contrasting pairs, thinking rarely progresses on topics new to the observer. Polarities like Attraction~Repulsion, Reason~Energy, Love~Hate, are among the most useful reference points for making distinctions within Thinking [Also a common Steiner idea, one which underlies its Grade One-Six teaching method].
However, if polarities, pairs of opposites, are codified as “reality,” they easily become a divided, [Manichean(?) Also the problem with the whole world conceived of as only yin and yang] world of divided opposites what the religious call Good & Evil. This is the clearly divided and opposed contraries and polarities left brain is most at home in and likes to play with.
Part 1 closes with chapter 4, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” It restates Tweedy’s presentation of left-right-brain lateralization, using Blake’s title as a metaphor for how practice [using both hemispheres equally] helps us recover an appropriate emphasis on one-sided right or one-sided left-brain intelligences.
Chapter Five|22 pages
The God of reason
He identifies Urizenic psychology with all of empirical science, assigning to the latter not only Urizen’s linear thought but also Urizen’s moral deficits, the product of which is thinking “without emotion, nuance, metaphor, inflection, personality, insight, or imagination” (77). Thus, empirical science is dominated by “single vision” and “zero empathy” (81).
Chapter Six|23 pages
Urizenic religion and Urizenic reason: R1 and R2
Part of Williams Blake’s critique of both orthodox religion and post-Newtonian science is they share a common Urizenic basis. Tweedy uses the metaphor of rival operating systems. This may help to explain Blake’s contention both systems of thought obey the same basic program; and, express similar biases [Both also react similarly to any attack on perceived orthodoxy].
In the Urizenic words of Steven Weinberg: “one of the great achievements of science has been, to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious; or at least, makes it possible for people not to become religious”.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s: being “faithful to reason,” was — and is — a cardinal concern for the Holy Roman Church.
Chapter 6, “Urizenic Religion and Urizenic Reason: R1 and R2,” distinguishes between rationalized religion and rationalized science while still describing both as fundamentally Urizenic in terms already established.
Science in particular is guilty of an “elitist and self-admiring concept of intelligence” which remains with it to this day (100).
Chapter Seven|18 pages
The left hemisphere agenda
The characteristic functions and processes of Urizenic consciousness are part of an integrated operating system, a coherent mode of running, concerned with the manipulation of the world and a compulsive drive towards dominion and power.
The characteristic functions and processes of Urizenic consciousness are:
- an integrated operating system,
- a coherent mode of running, concerned with the manipulation of the world, and
- a compulsive drive towards dominion and power.
These concerns with power are central to its agenda and a clue to its character. [ie: Sauron’s ambition to hold, “One Ring to rule them all!”].
”The left hemisphere is competitive,” observes McGilchrist, “and its concern, its prime motivation, is power” [over others, over the environment This is power projected. Why? Because power over self, self-control, is not on left-brain’s agenda. This is why all super-villains are so angry. They are expressing this lack of self-control, power over you own reactions.] Indeed McGilchrist notes this will to power [over other and over environment, never over self] “is the agenda of the left hemisphere.” He sees the eighteenth-century development towards greater forms of bureaucratic and economic control extending the reach of this agenda.
Urizenic development of sophisticated tool use, by increasingly thoro, controlling and divisive, abstract, law-based moral systems: “the will to control the environment” includes controlling and manipulating other humans, as part of its landscape.
Chapter 7, “The Left Hemisphere Agenda,” Tweedy includes a chart (116) a two-column list, of the left- and right-hemisphere characteristics consistently affirmed throughout this study.
Chapter Eight|74 pages
Twilight of the psychopaths
It is precisely this “insane,” brutish, and subhuman aspect to divided rationality — its dreadful inner hollowness and devitalisation, its increasingly compulsive ordering and calculating processes and “devouring lusts” — which strikingly prefigures modern diagnostic characterizations for such left-hemispheric disorders as schizophrenia, OCD, certain forms of autism, and, at the end of the scale, psychopathy.
Fallen Urizen resembles not so much a glorious and illuminating Sun God [Lucifer, which is how Lucifer and left-brain prefer to image themselves]. Rather fallen Urizen resembles a compulsive and murderous psychopath.
Interestingly, the last decade has seen a remarkable number of articles and books examining the potentially “psychopathic” nature and processes of many of the dominant political and economic institutions within our own societies. Some formidable critiques of the assumptions previously used to justify these as being “rational” have emerged.
Chapter 8, a seventy-three-page section titled “Twilight of the Psychopaths,” first identifies Urizenic reasoning with “clinical insanity” (129). An historical account is provided of the rise of brain lateralization over the last 6000 years of human history, beginning with a discussion of the pyramids, the rise of priesthood, and militarism. Depending heavily upon Dave Grossman’s On Killing (Back Bay Books, 1995), Tweedy also considers the unwillingness of most soldiers to fire in battle, violence in the media and in video games, corporate malfeasance, Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels, and Simon Baron-Cohen’s concept of “empathy erosion” from Zero Degrees of Empathy (Penguin, 2011), illustrating how all of these cases match perfectly both his previous description of left-hemisphere psychology and the characteristics Blake ascribes to Urizen.
Chapter Nine|31 pages
“More than Man: The Dragon Urizen”
William Blake maintained an abstract and impersonal God, [man and God separate] is the invention of … all Urizenic religions and philosophies, from the “Abstract Philosophy” of “Brahma in the East” to Hermes Trismegistus and the Rational Logos of “Pythagoras Socrates & Plato” in the West.
These great Urizenic religions are founded on the belief God is [separate from and] more than Man. [God does not equal man, god and man are separate, distinct and one has to be inferior]. This assumption or ideology is … the basis of all contemporary materialistic religions, the modern offspring of “Newton & Locke”.
Urizen thinks the rational way of interpreting reality is better, precisely because it regards reality in a non-human way: as not contaminated by all the dreadful subjective, personal, living, emotional, dimensions. Beneath his arrogant dismissal of everything subjective, Urizen feels terrified, overwhelmed and out of control faced with human messiness. The more thoroughly detached, alien and Spock-like, the more comfortable Urizen is.
Chapter 9 continues Tweedy’s critique of Urizenic religion and Urizenic science, claiming Urizenic religion always separates God from man, makes God abstract, distant and never personal. He accuses Urizenic science of the error of believing “the laws of nature are somehow fixed and absolute [steady-state universe, et al] whilst everything else in the universe is allowed to evolve (208).
Chapter Ten|50 pages
The power to object, contest and criticize
“The [fallen?] Spectre [of fantasy, un-grounding] is the [fallen] Reasoning Power in Man,” Blake succinctly remarks in his work Jerusalem. Throughout Blake’s works he consistently links the [fallen] “spectral” [ungrounded? Luciferic], compulsive aspect of divided and divisive rationality with Urizen itself. The “objecting power” of such rationality neatly describes the way in which fallen egoic reason operates and processes experience: it captures both its objectifying stare and stance; and also, its tendency to “object to” everything — to judge, to dissect, to criticize, and to accuse.
The fires and burnings which will eventually consume the ego are useful for understanding Blake’s similar account of the “fires of Los” into which the discarded [fallen?] Selfhood is thrown once its raggedy machinations cease.
This is the [fallen] rational power of the divided man, his “Reasoning Power”, a dysfunctional egoic state, in effect the default identity of the [fallen] rational, thinking mind.
Chapter 10, a critique of ego or selfhood and considers the possibility of the reintegration of right and left hemispheres, as well as the obstacles to reintegration.
William Blake ends his prophetic poem The Four Zoas with a paean to the extraordinary wonders of science [where left and right operate co-equally and alternate as workable], as Urizen is restored to his former glory. Having relinquished his aspiration to abstract Godhead and total dominance, he becomes again a brilliant, luminous, and energetic intelligence within the brain and body of each person, a shining “emissary,” [aligned with, and reflective of, truly human values].
The war of swords, intellects and dark Religions depart. Sweet Science reigns, Science reconciled with human imagination, inspiration and intuition. The [fallen] “God” of the Urizenic left hemisphere has been transmuted in this process. It again becomes angelic. As soon as he does this, in Blake’s poem, he immediately resumes his former brilliance. Science will become beautiful when it becomes whole-brained again.
The conclusion, “Sweet Science Reigns,” imagines what an integrated psychology might look like. It is the book’s strongest chapter, as it finally moves beyond descriptions of fallen Urizen to consider the redeemed outcome of Blake’s myth.
Overall, the book attempts a comparison of Blake’s Urizen to Iain McGilchrist’s characterization of left-brain thinking (a valid comparison).