The Teeter Totter of our Brains
How Left v. Right Brain Dominance has Created our World
[This is the seventh and last post in this series. Go to the Introduction if you want to begin at the beginning.]
3 to 4: Transition from the Modern to the Next
The last twenty-five years has seen a rise in the competition between the two hemispheres of our brain. The primary cause or result has been the change in technology. All praise the microchip!
Consider for a moment the everyday technologies that have become common in the past twenty-five years (some already obsolete): Desk top computers, laptops, color televisions, the remote, the VCR, blu-ray, the digital video recorder/tivo, flat screen TVs, digital projectors, fax machines, microwave ovens, CD players, walkmans, mobile phones, text messaging, bluetooth headsets, email, the internet. In the last decade we have added IPods, IPhones, and IPads. Ten years ago the World Wide Web was new. Since then we have added Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google, Wikipedia, and countless other services that fill our days.
These technologies have changed how we communicate with each other and how we access information from the critical to the mundane. They have changed our relationship with time and space. They have actually made our experience of time and space more closely resemble how the physicists tell us it works.
Is it absurd to say that my DVR (Digital Video Recorder) has changed my relationship with time? I stop time, I flashback a moment, I speed time up, I arrest time only to pick it up later. My relationship with space first changed when I went from driving across country to flying. Now, I communicate with friends via Skype with friends continents away. My wife and I recently sat down for dinner with friends on the other side of the continent. I can move through space and time. These experiences confirm the right brain’s view of the world.
Information/Communication Technology is a double edge sword. It plays to both sides of the brain. It has led us into left brained isolation of the person sitting at home in the dark staring at the computer screen with everything in the one mind. At the same moment, our technology has connected and interconnected us through our right brains to each other and the world.
It is a sign of our conflicted time that we both feel and are more isolated from others than we have ever been while we are more interconnected with more people, more intimate than ever. The left brain experiences our existence as isolated and detached from others. The world is abstracted and of our own invention. The world is a projection of the real existence in our brain like the reflections in Plato’s left cave. The mind is disconnected from the body. Our right brain experiences our existence as interconnected to the point of being anonymous; the place where we don’t know where we stop and others begin. We feel our holistic mind, bodies and spirits. The world is a mass of people and ever present stimuli of sense and impulse. The experience of the 21st century varies between differentiation and integration; left and right brain experiences.
The ascending right brain has helped us to experience others as part of ourselves. This is an interesting blend of sensation and abstraction. The last century gave rise to broadest march of equality our world has known. (Please acknowledge the enormous changes prior to lamenting the distance left to traverse.) The class structure has eroded giving us a strong middle class. Women gained the right to vote and greater equality. The Civil Rights’ Movement has not only brought African Americans into balance with the European American but lifted all races. The United Nations meets in respect and peace. Homosexuals are rapidly gaining the same rights as Heterosexuals. The disabled, blind and deaf are finding their place with all others.
The left brain compels us to see ourselves as unique and separate from others and our group. This way of thinking has fostered competition, the capitalism and invention. This differentiation has spawned so many of the advances of the 20th century. The right brain’s shadow lives in our homogenization and integration; in the idea we are the all the same. Communism is as sinister as the idea that every man is an island.
The conflict and interplay between the hemispheres has also played with our relationship between the Individual and the Community. In the even eras, it was all about relationship to the community. There was very little about the individual. In the odd eras, it is all about the individual. We’ve currently gone so deeply into the individual that the image of our time has become the sole person sitting at the computer wearing headphones in isolation. I’m not sure what is coming next, but the challenge is to retain our individual identity while reconnecting with the collective. This is already happening. People who work with young people today speak of their collective hive communication. The youth are more connected to each other than the generation that preceded them. Can we be both interconnected and independent?
The political divide is an example of this split between the left and right brain. It has become so pervasive and divergent. I start to wonder if we are living in separate parallel universes.
4: The Next
We sit at an interesting moment in our human evolution. The two sides of our brain are more advanced than ever. They are also as equally balanced as any other time in human development, except perhaps the Renaissance. One difference is that we have a larger percentage of the population with developed and reasonably balanced brains. The two sides of our brain are more in conflict and divided as any other time in our development.
The two sides of our brains are fighting to see who will be the Master. If either side dominates the other we will retreat to a dark ages. The left brain considers itself more equipped to rule and denigrates and enslaves the right brain. Left in control, our left brains will lead us toward an autocratic and violent dictatorship, which will disintegrate into anarchy and a new dark ages. Remember the fall of the Roman Empire. The right brain is the rightful heir, being older, of the reign. If it gains control, the world will devolve into illiteracy. Our government will erode into fiefdoms and civil wars. Like the Middle Ages, there will be limited culture and no progress. I know this sounds bleak, but at our current conflict level either side could destroy us.
This is why I suspect that our current challenge is in living in the balance between the two sides of our brain. While the Modern Man’s challenge was “to be or not to be” and choosing one side over the other; this or that. Our challenge is to exist in the tension of the opposites; this and that. It seems impossible because these two world views cannot reasonably both be true. At best, it seems that one can be true at one moment while the other is true in another moment. Quantum Physicists call this the Complementarity Principle.
Complementarity is expressed as a duality. Objects may have properties that appear contradictory. While it is possible to observe either property, it is considered impossible to view both properties at one time despite their simultaneous existence. Our challenge is in holding this duality: allowing the contradiction to exist; allowing the opposite properties to be true and have value; and living in the contradiction.
As Einstein discovered, our vantage point within the system affects our observations of the system. Our world view is largely based on the way our brain is seeing the world. The right and left sides of the brain have opposite ways of seeing the world. The world we see, and in the same way the world we create, is based on our way of seeing it. This idea of entanglement affects everything we observe.
Our world, as do our brains and our selves, is both a “one at a time” and “all at the same time” system. Our challenge is to live while holding these opposites; living in both sides of our brains.