Islands of the mind

In this talk I will very briefly relate my long engagement with the question of hemisphere differences in the brain; and show how this draws attention to the necessity of a balance between sameness and difference in our perception of all that is. The left hemisphere tends to lump similar phenomena into categories, while the right hemisphere preserves the unique nature of the actually occurring instance.

Interestingly one of the most fertile turns of civilisation in the West was that which occurred around the year 650 BC in Greece and led to a sudden eruption of human flourishing in the arts and the sciences equally: it was based on a civilisation that was coming into being in distinct but nonetheless connected centres, on islands around the sea of the Mediterranean, enacting a fertile cross-miscegenation that depended on simultaneous distinction and connexion, difference and yet sameness.

Other societies, such as the Egyptian and Babylonian, had been monolithic in their structure, and their wisdoms were prescribed. Greece was in relation to this a breath of fresh air: a new encounter with experience, as little as possible limited by inherited wisdoms, yet liberated by them into a new synthesis. The idea of the archipelago – units that are independent, yet interconnected – runs, and must run, deep in the Western psyche. I interpret this in terms of what we understand of the two hemispheres of the human brain.


Dr Iain McGilchrist

Iain McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and writer. He 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, and in turn is moulded by, our minds and brains. Iain is interested in a wide range of psychiatric conditions, including depression, psychosis, personality disorders (especially borderline personality disorder), anxiety disorders, chronic low self-esteem, phobias, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as neuropsychiatry.

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