Three days in a row of journaling! I’m on a roll here! Up early–Well 7:30 AM is early for me–cup of coffee at my side, and I am writing. The wife is gone to church this morning, so I may get in at least an hour without interruption. Outside, the world is frosty. I took a quick look at the weather page and see that it is 26 degrees this morning on the central California coast, where my older daughter and her boy friend have taken my camper. The air may be only slightly warmer here, if at all.
My windsurfing buddy and his wife who now live on the Gulf of Mexico are in town for the holidays, so I went out to lunch with them yesterday. We ate and talked for an hour or more. They come this way a couple of times a year to visit their younger son and grandchildren. It is a long drive from here to home. They drive the distance because they have parrots in cages that must accompany them wherever they go.
In the early afternoon yesterday, I fired up the living room fireplace, and read for perhaps four or five hours from the McGilchrist book, which I am continuing to enjoy. It is too difficult within the context of this journal to re-state or even summarize what all I am learning from this book. The ideas themselves are rather dense and quite challenging to my normal way of thinking. Disruptive might be a better way of describing much of the content. I am considering buying a second copy, hard-bound, rather than electronic, so that I can then go through it with a highlighter and mark up the sections that most interest me. I fear that all the pages might become yellow, so how else can one absorb all this impressive information?
Rather than try to summarize or paraphrase, I would rather put into practice in my own life some of what I believe I have learned. That is to say, I think that reading the book is changing some of my long-range view of life and of day-to-day purpose and focus. McGilchrist is a psychiatrist, and has a background in literature as well, perhaps as a professor? I’m not sure, but he seems to know his way around quite easily with some of the classics and with some of the modern forms of art and literature.
I have now moved on to Part 2 of his book, where the emphasis on brain structure is giving way to civilization structure. He is giving a sort of running account of how he sees the beginnings of western civilization having great respect for the right brain, and right brain thinking, but he then shows quite abruptly how it is that left-brain thinking quickly comes to dominate the scene. I am so tempted to go out and buy a bunch of this early Greek and Mycenaean literature and begin reading it, as well as some of the early Roman, particularly Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but there is still much territory to cover in the McGilchrist book, and I really do not want to go on a wide detour until I have completed at least one full reading of the book. In fact, I am even reluctant to spend much time here and now in this journal saying much, until I see the whole picture better.
But to take one example, quite briefly, from what I learned in last night’s reading. I have always had a fascination and a respect for Plato, and less for Aristotle. I think now that I have had it all wrong, and even backwards. I should have less respect for Plato, more for Aristotle, which I find a little shocking, because of my long-time understanding that Plato rules the mind of western civilization. By McGilchrist’s reckoning, Plato does indeed rule the mind of western civilization, but with a negative connotation, in that he is one of the first, the primary thinkers, to introduce left-brain thinking. Because he disliked poetry and theater, and the arts in general, even though people call him a great poet, he squelched the notion of individual expression. Not only that of individuals attempting to follow their right-brain inclinations, but also their love of nature.
For those early Greek poets who found beauty, truth and goodness in nature, and used those mystical forces to propel their art, Plato worked to steal the life from it all through left-brain thinking. He said that nature was not real and not important, that it was unnatural and only a shadow of the true deeper reality, that the deeper reality cannot be known because it is in abstract form. We see only a particular instance of the universal forms, which is more or less what was also taught by St. Paul when he stumbled upon Christianity. Left-brain thinking cannot handle metaphor. It thinks of metaphor as a lie, as deceitful. This goes hand-in-hand with Plato’s supposed great revelation, great wisdom and understanding, to alienate people from experiencing life and becoming inspired to create and enjoy and live with a sense of awe. Early church fathers, per McGilchrist, “froze” metaphorical language, so that they could then work with it to stamp truth out of it.
We have static “truth” now, rather than moving and flowing, beautiful and inspiring life-giving forces from the heavens. This is what I have learned only these past few months when studying Maurice Nicoll. I feel a little bit twisted and confused by all this new material, and yet inspired to learn more and see life anew. I definitely feel a sense of rejuvenation, a new understanding of life-giving forces, going on inside of me, which is what is driving me to start keeping a journal once again. I want to keep a record of my metamorphosis, and sharpen my writing instincts as well, by allowing my own right-brain thinking to awaken and do the work it was always meant to do, but somehow became squashed.
I think opening the flow of life to my right brain might be stimulated through poetry, both reading and writing it. It has to be good poetry, not left-brain poetry. I suspect there exists much of it out there in the world body of literature. I suspect McGilchrist will be talking more about this further along in his book. He has spent too much time defining a huge problem with our modern civilization to not have a prescription for our problem. I looked on his website the other day, and see that he has a series of lectures scheduled out into next year. One of them is for a poetry study group at Oxford, where a project is ongoing to get people to learn to recite poetry, as was done many years ago, and has been nearly forgotten. I don’t know if I could memorize poetry very much, it takes such effort, but I could certainly sit down and read some–especially of the highly metaphorical kind–if it would help stimulate my right brain to begin working better.
I see a huge connection between what McGilchrist is saying about left versus right brain, and what Maurice Nicoll is saying about upper and lower, or inner and outer, man. Probably many spiritually inclined readers make the same observation as they go through these hundreds of pages. It’s just that the language is different. It’s not so much the language of religion, or spirituality, or even literature or psychology, but the language of the neural universe, which is a system of words that I am not so fluent in. I have much to learn and much to think about, and can only get to it in tiny pieces. (My left brain working here to break down things into tiny pieces).
The bibliography of McGilchrist’s book is 56 pages long! He has been quite studious for some 20 years in putting these ideas together, so I would not expect to grasp all of that knowledge very quickly, especially when many of the terms and concepts are new or strange to me. I am hopeful that this journal will help me in my effort to uncover and understand more about what left-brain thinking has done to me and the culture in general, and how it is that I can resist the forcefulness of it.