The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist

In Book reviews on May 27, 2011 at 4:02 am

I guess I probably tended to quite a left-hemisphere way of thinking before I read this book, because much of it absolutely blew me away. In particular, the discussions of language (and its origins in music), the centrality of metaphor in our understanding of the world, and McGilchrist’s perspective on the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness were eye-opening. But this book isn’t simply the sum of its fascinating parts (of which there are many more, by the way), it is an attempt to explain the world we live in, and the way we conceive it and have conceived of it since the Ancient Greeks, in relation to the profound differences the two hemispheres of our brains exhibit.

Perhaps if you already familiar with phenomenology, and have a similar understanding of the arts and history (particularly regarding the role of religion) to McGilchrist, you won’t be as affected by this book as I was. Nevertheless, in taking an empirically-based conception of the differences the hemispheres show in their attitude to the world, and extrapolating from there to explain thousands of years of art, religion, philosophy, indeed, all culture, in the West, and relating that explanation to his own view of what ‘balance’ between the hemispheres would mean, Mcgilchrist has written a book that I doubt anyone wouldn’t find fascinating, bold and profound, whether or not you are ultimately swayed by his case.

Indeed, as he writes at the end of the book, whether it’s a correct explanation of human culture (in relation to hemispheric differences), and I for one am convinced it is, is less important than the fact that his exposition is itself relentlessly stimulating and thought-provoking. Even if it were to be proven wrong, there is nonetheless a profound truth in what he has to say about life, the world, and our way(s) of being in it. Utterly unforgettable.

  1. […] Recommended if you’re interested in the origins of agriculture, and some of its consequences, but not if you’re looking for the grand theory the book claims to contain (for such a book that doesn’t disappoint, check out The Master and His Emissary) […]

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