The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

McGilchrist, Iain
ISBN:
9780300188370

Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. In this book, Iain McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent brain research, illustrated with case histories, to reveal that the difference is profound - not just this or that function, but two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world. The left hemisphere is detail oriented, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest, where the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity. This division helps explain the origins of music and language, and casts new light on the history of philosophy, as well as on some mental illnesses. Editorial Reviews Publishers Weekly A U.K. mental health consultant and clinical director with a background in literature, McGilchrist attempts to synthesize his two areas of expertise, arguing that the "divided and asymmetrical nature" of the human brain is reflected in the history of Western culture. Part I, The Divided Brain, lays the groundwork for his thesis, examining two lobes' significantly different features (structure, sensitivity to hormones, etc.) and separate functions (the left hemisphere is concerned with "what," the right with "how"). He suggests that music, "ultimately... the communication of emotion," is the "ancestor of language," arising largely in the right hemisphere while "the culture of the written word tends inevitably toward the predominantly left hemisphere." More controversially, McGilchrist argues that "there is no such thing as the brain" as such, only the brain as we perceive it; this leads him to conclude that different periods of Western civilization (from the Homeric epoch to the present), one or the other hemisphere has predominated, defining "consistent ways of being that persist" through time. This densely argued book is aimed at an academic crowd, is notable for its sweep but a stretch in terms of a uniting thesis. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Library Journal Incorporating medicine, literature, cultural studies, philosophy, and critical theory, McGilchrist, a London psychiatrist with an interest in brain research, presents an interdisciplinary perspective on the brain and the rise of Western civilization. Writing in a scholarly yet engaging, approachable, and humorous tone, he flows between anatomical descriptions of the brain and the critical theory and philosophies of Heidegger, Descartes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Erasmus, and others. His major thesis is that the essential differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain--with the right ("the Master") attending to the "Other" and one's relationship to the "Other," and the left ("the Emissary") creating a self-directed, self-contained world disconnected from the "Other"--have been instrumental in shaping our culture. He argues that we desperately need to begin to engage the right hemisphere's attunement to broader relationships, capacity for emotion, and ability to empathize if we want to avoid forfeiting the left-brain-oriented civilization we have created. VERDICT With 57 pages of notes and a 67-page bibliography, McGilchrist's dense tome may intimidate some readers, but his fascinating ideas are sure to attract academics and cultural critics.--Candice Kail, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York Economist "McGilchrist describes broad [intellectual] movements and famous figures as if they were battles and soldiers in a 2,500-year war between the brain's hemispheres. . . A scintillating intelligence is at work. . ." - Economist The Sunday Times A landmark new book. . . It tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now.-- Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times -- Bryan Appleyard Evening Standard "A giant in his vital field shows convincingly that the degeneracy of the West springs from our failure to manage the binary division of our brains." -- Book of the Year choice, David Cox, Evening Standard -- David Cox The Guardian To call Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. . . an account of brain hemispheres is to woefully misrepresent its range. McGilchrist. . . persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative 'master,' the right.-- Salley Vicker, The Guardian -- Salley Vicker Literary Review A beautifully written, erudite, fascinating, and adventurous book. It goes from the microstructure of the brain to great epochs of Western civilisation, confidently and readably. One turns its five hundred pages . . . as if it were an adventure story.-- A. C. Grayling, Literary Review -- A.C. Grayling Scientific and Medical Network Review It is no exaggeration to say that this quite remarkable book will radically change the way you understand the world and yourself. . . . It is a genuine tour de force, a monumental achievement.--David Lorimer, Scientific and Medical Network Review -- David Lorimer Bookslut.com "Absolutely fascinating.--Jessa Crispin, Editor of Bookslut.com -- Jessa Crispin Philosophy and Life blog At last! A book on neuroscience that is a thrilling read, philosophically astute and with wonderful science.--Mark Vernon, Philosophy and Life blog -- Mark Vernon The London Review of Books 'Though neurologists may well not welcome it because it asks them new questions, the rest of us will surely find it splendidly thought-provoking. And I do have to say that, fat though it is, I couldn't put it down.' -- The London Review of Books Bookforum Hugely ambitious.--Jonah Lehrer, Bookforum -- Jonah Lehrer PopMatters "This insightful, erudite and thought-provoking examination of the brain's hemispheres can change how you see (or think you see) the world."--PopMatters Guardian Named one of the best books of 2010 by The Guardian -- Best Books of 2010 Los Angeles Times In his fascinating, groundbreaking, relentlessly researched, and eloquently written work, Iain McGilchrist, a consultant psychiatrist as well as professor of English--one wants to say a 'scientist' as well as an 'artist--challenges this misconception. The difference between the hemispheres, McGilchrist argues, is not in what they do, but in how they do it. And it's a difference that makes all the difference.--Gary Lachman, Los Angeles Times -- Gary Lachman Parabola That a book can lead me to question myself is praise indeed--I can think of no higher recommendation. Like any really interesting book, it is to be valued more for this than for any answers it gives.--Felix Dux, Parabola -- Felix Dux The Sunday Times - Bryan Appleyard "A landmark new book. . . It tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now."-- Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times The Guardian - Mary Midgley "This is a very remarkable book. . . McGilchrist, who is both an experienced psychiatrist and a shrewd philosopher, looks at the relation between our two brain-hemispheres in a new light, not just as an interesting neurological problem but as a crucial shaping factor in our culture. . . splendidly thought-provoking. . . . I couldn't put it down."--Mary Midgley, The Guardian Literary Review - A.C. Grayling "A beautifully written, erudite, fascinating, and adventurous book. It goes from the microstructure of the brain to great epochs of Western civilisation, confidently and readably. One turns its five hundred pages . . . as if it were an adventure story." -- A. C. Grayling, Literary Review Scientific and Medical Network Review - David Lorimer "It is no exaggeration to say that this quite remarkable book will radically change the way you understand the world and yourself. . . . It is a genuine tour de force, a monumental achievement."--David Lorimer, Scientific and Medical Network Review Bookslut.com - Jessa Crispin "Absolutely fascinating."--Jessa Crispin, Editor of Bookslut.com Philosophy and Life blog - Mark Vernon "At last! A book on neuroscience that is a thrilling read, philosophically astute and with wonderful science."--Mark Vernon, Philosophy and Life blog Bookforum - Jonah Lehrer "Hugely ambitious."--Jonah Lehrer, Bookforum

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