It takes something powerful — like an epiphany — for us to break from prevailing cultural norms — even the ones we know are harming us. Or who knows, maybe we’ll get scared into it. We’re just past Halloween: let’s look at some scary stuff, from a guy who’s scary smart.
Iain McGilchrist makes his living thinking big thoughts. He lives on the Isle of Skye, off the western coast of Scotland. It’s one of the places I visited just before my first professional show me the money moment. If you can’t have epiphanies on Skye, you’re not trying.
His website introduces him this way:
“[McGilchrist] is committed to the idea that the mind and brain can be understood only by seeing them in the broadest possible context, that of the whole of our physical and spiritual existence, and of the wider human culture in which they arise — the culture which helps to mould [no, that’s not a typo, his website is British], and in turn be moulded by, our minds and brains.”
In other words, he’s a brain-based culture guru. His magnum opus is The Master and His Emissary, in which he reinterprets the major periods of history from the point of view of what was going on in the human brain during those times. In the closing chapter, he speculates about where the current state of culture is trending, given its left-brained dominance.
His predictions are particularly relevant to left-brain dominated law culture, but besides that, they’re just plain fascinating. For the next couple weeks, we’re going to sit back and let some excerpts from his predictions scroll down the screen. When that’s done, we’ll regroup and talk about what they mean to law culture.
“Let us try to imagine what the world would look like if the left hemisphere became so far dominant that, at the phenomenological level, it managed more or less to suppress the right hemisphere’s world altogether. What would that be like?
“We could expect, for a start, that there would be a loss of the broader picture, and a substitution of a more narrowly focused, restricted, but detailed, view of the world.
“The broader picture would in any case be disregarded, because it would lack the appearance of clarity and certainty which the left hemisphere craves.
“In general, the “bits” of anything, the parts into which it could be disassembled, would come to seem more important, more likely to lead to knowledge and understanding.
“Ever more narrowly focused attention would lead to an increasing specialization and technicalising of knowledge. This in turn would promote the substitution of information, and information gathering, for knowledge, which comes through experience. Knowledge, in its turn, would seem more “real” that what one might call wisdom, which would seem too nebulous, something never to be grasped.
“Knowledge that came through experience, and the practical acquisition of embodied skill, would become suspect, appearing either a threat or simply incomprehensible.
“The concepts of skill and judgment, once considered the summit of human achievement, but which come more slowly and silently with the business of living, would be discarded in favor of quantifiable and repeatable processes.
“Expertise, which is what actually makes an expert…, would be replaced by “expert” knowledge that would have in fact to be based on theory, and in general one would expect a tendency increasingly to replace the concrete with the theoretical or abstract, which would come to seem more convincing.”
More next time.