Your Left Brain Is Out For Blood
How a spiritual mindset gives you better perception (and a healthier brain)
The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness. With objective consciousness, it is possible to see and feel the unity of everything. Attempts to connect these phenomena into some sort of system in a scientific or philosophical way lead to nothing because man cannot reconstruct the idea of the whole starting from separate facts.
The human brain is the most complex object (that we know of) in the entire universe. Its 100 billion neurons that interact through 100 trillion connections make Space X rockets look like Tinker Toys and particle accelerators like big merry-go-rounds. In actuality, we have three brains: the Cerebellum (Latin for Little Brain), which is thought to control motor function and possibly some other things, as well as our two big cerebral hemispheres. These hemispheres, linked by some white matter that looks a bit like a serving of Halibut for one, are visibly separate from each other. It looks like two brains.
It’s been known for a long time that these brains have different functions. The left is generally associated with logic, structure, analytics, and the like, while the right tends to be associated with more expansive types of thinking that we might find in the arts and, importantly, in spirituality. While it might be assumed that these two brains are in lockstep—partners in the great endeavor of managing the moment-to-moment functionality of a human being, what some researchers are learning is they might not like each other quite as much as we thought. In fact (and as weird as it sounds), the left brain may have covertly usurped power from the right.
The left brain’s power play
In his book “The Master and His Emissary”, subtitled “The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World,” psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist explains that the right brain is the older sibling, “The Master,” of the left and that for much of history, they had an adversarial yet functional relationship, embodying William Blake’s notion that “Opposition is true friendship.” Yet, sometime around the Industrial Revolution, the partnership collapsed. As explained by Gary Lachman in his fascinating work “The Secret Teachers of the Western World:”
It was at this point that “The Emissary” usurped power from the “Master.” The left brain likes to deal with what is familiar, with what it knows, and in modern times, it has been busy turning the world around it into what it knows best: a machine. Its demand for precision, clarity, definiteness, and parts has created a world that is more and more like itself.
The left brain had drawn blood.
For those who have a hard time understanding how many highly intelligent people are unwilling to entertain the existence of things like a metaphysical reality, the self, love, the soul, or even consciousness itself, this begins to make a lot of sense. When everything is processed through the reductive (and often aggressive) lens of the left brain, we see only parts—ununified fragments in need of analysis and categorization. This analytical tyranny of the left brain produces Scientism—a closed-minded, hyper-analytical devotion to one (and only one) type of thinking.
The current dominance of the left-brainers in our culture has knocked the right-brainers on their heels—causing them to be defensive and hesitant and like many important thinkers in a time of intolerance, has forced them underground. When the left-brainers patrol the ramparts of the intellectual castle, you can try your luck on the moat or just go sleep in the woods. And this is just what has happened. The left brain has pushed the right into the wilderness and has drawn up the portcullis.
The right brain goes underground
In truth, these woods have been occupied for a very long time as there has always been a “mainstream” and an “underground.” In Western Culture, this hidden knowledge (and knowing) of the right brain is called the Golden Chain and consists of three elements—The Hermetic Tradition, Neoplatonism, and the Kabbalah. It has refused to die and, from time to time, makes a resurgence.
There is an imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) that measures how well paved the pathways are between various regions of the brain. Dr. Lisa Miller and a group of researchers at Yale used it to explore “the link between the brain’s white matter tracts and various spiritual orientations.” Specifically, they were interested in measuring what happens in the brain when one has what they call a “Quest Orientation.” Such a person “is characterized by a tendency to journey in life, to search for answers to meaningful personal decisions and big existential questions; to perceive doubt as positive...and open ourselves to the messages of life.”
They tested 24 young adults and found that a key aspect of the Quest mentality—openness to exploring religious and spiritual views “correlates with high white matter integrity in multiple tracts of the brain, including those connecting brain regions in the two hemispheres. In other words, the subjects who reported that they lived in a state of quest—with spiritual lives that included openness to perceiving surprising answers and changing their views—had better-connected brains than those who were less open to change.” In other words, openness to spirituality (having a right brain orientation) gives you a healthier, more functional brain that is able to perceive more of reality. To not be open, as in scientism, stunts the mind—literally.
The benefits of right brain consciousness
More than eight million people have watched “My Stroke of Insight,” a Ted Talk by neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, in which she details the unusual stroke she experienced that caused her left brain to stop functioning for several hours. Given a break from the controlling and uber-analytical thought patterns of her left brain, she got a visceral introduction to the intense perceptual prowess of the right brain. It sounded very reminiscent of those who have mystical experiences. At the end of her talk, she outlined left vs right brain consciousness as a choice.
We have the power to choose who, moment by moment, we want to be in the world. Right here, right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere, where we are; I am the lifeforce power of the Universe. The lifeforce power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is. Or I could choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual. A solid, separate from the flow. Separate from you. Which would you choose?
To have a choice in any matter means that we have awareness of and access to each side of the choice. To choose something other than the materialism that we have been marinated in our whole lives involves coming to the realization that one side of us has dominated and suppressed the other—wreaking emotional, ethical, and spiritual havoc on us all. Perhaps it’s time for a new choice.