Iain McGilchrist

Dr. Iain McGilchrist is a British psychiatrist, neuroscience researcher, philosopher, writer, and former Oxford literary scholar who came to prominence after the publication of his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World in October 2009. His latest book, The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World, was published in November 2021.

He is known for his theory about the differences between the brain’s left and right hemispheres and their effects on society, history and culture. This is not a recasting of Roger Sperry’s split-brain theory and is unrelated to the System 1 and System 2 modes of thought introduced by psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his New York Times bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Jon Evans How do the left and right hemispheres do things differently?

Iain McGilchrist If you want a very simple, single point, it’s that the left hemisphere produces a representation of reality, whereas the right hemisphere actually puts us in touch with the presence of reality. We’re so used to representation that we can’t see how very different it is. Almost everything that we live in now is a representation, a projection on a screen in two dimensions; living in a city which represents certain things but nature is absent from it. So it’s like the difference between a diagram, a theory, a map, and the actual territory of the real world — or the terrain as I prefer to say — in which we live. And the map is very much simpler than the terrain. And that’s not a criticism, because we need simplicity for a map to work. If it had too much information in it, it wouldn’t work. But it’s vital not to mistake the map for the real world.

Source: The divided brain, attention and how we see the world (timestamp 26:34) — Iain McGilchrist in conversation with Jon Evans (host of YouTube channel Uncensored CMO and Chief Customer Officer at System1 Group) and Orlando Wood (Chief Innovation Officer at System1 Group) | Running time 48:35

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Left hemisphere

  • Attention is local, narrow, focused.
  • Sees parts, not wholes.
  • Sees an inanimate world of things.
  • Thinking is decontextualized and systematic.
  • The world is like a map, a schema, a diagram, a theory — something two dimensional.
  • Helps us manipulate the world.
Right hemisphere

  • Attention is global, broad, vigilant, flexible, sustained.
  • Sees the bigger picture and sees things whole and in their context.
  • Sees an animate world where things presence to us, rather than being re-presented.
  • Sees the world that is being mapped.
  • Helps us understand the world.
Source: Iain McGilchrist

In his book Tales of Power (pdf), Carlos Castaneda recounts a conversation in which his teacher don Juan Matus explains the difference between the tonal or first attention (this corresponds with mundane world) and the nagual or second attention (primal world), making similar distinctions to those made by Iain McGilchrist when talking with Jon Evans — see earlier excerpt

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Mundane and primal worlds

The tonal and the nagual

Leunig nails it

TV Sunrise, by Michael Leunig

© Michael Leunig

Iain McGilchrist’s videos

Iain McGilchrist Videos Complete, located elsewhere on this website, provides easy access to every free-to-view video featuring Iain McGilchrist. There are more than 210 videos spread across four pages in alphabetical order.

Go to Iain McGilchrist Videos Complete

Iain McGilchrist’s unknowing contribution to Newcreate

Newcreate | Principal mind-body-spirit sources

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External websites

Channel McGilchrist | Free to view videos1

Iain McGilchrist — Wikipedia

Iain McGilchrist’s YouTube channel2

Left-brain thinking will destroy civilisation | Transcript of a conversation between Iain McGilchrist and Freddie Sayers, Executive Editor of UnHerd, on UnHerd website

Left Brain & Right Brain: 20 Brain Hemisphere Differences from The Master and His Emissary on Sloww website

River Kenna proposes various ways of balancing the hemispheres in this Substack

1. All free-to-view videos appearing on Channel McGilchrist can be found on this website — take a look.
2. All videos appearing on Iain McGilchrist’s YouTube channel can also be found on this website.

This website

Creative imagination at work

How Newcreators use mind, body and spirit to create the new and enrich the world

Iain McGilchrist books and articles

The tonal and the nagual (the tonal corresponds with the left hemisphere and the nagual with the right)

Two forms of imagination: creative and synthetic

Index to entire site

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