Friday, April 12, 2024

Review of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Intriguing Connections = 1) Why Do People Think Differently?, 2) To Cooperate Or To Defect?

Watch Short Review


“Understanding hemisphere difference offers a perspective on the structure of mind which is not available merely by introspection.  If in everyday life we were aware of the discrepancies in the view, or ‘take’, on the world each hemisphere offers, it would render the immediate business of survival impracticable.  For this reason, nature has taken care that these discrepancies should not be part of our everyday awareness.  Even on sustained introspection, we can be only indirectly aware of the fact that reality is constructed from two incompatible world views.  This fact becomes manifest, however, in the disputes of philosophers and theologians over the ages about the very nature of reality.” – Iain McGilchrist, Preface to the New Expanded Edition, Page 28

“The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world we attend to, the very nature of the world in which those “functions” would be carried out, and in which those “things” would exist.  Attention changes what kind of a thing comes into being for us: in that way it changes the world.” – Iain McGilchrist, Chapter 1: Asymmetry and the brain, Page 69

“There is even some evidence that we identify projectively with people with whom we share a common purpose – when we are co-operating in a task, for example – to such a degree that we seem to merge identity with them.  In ingeniously designed experiments where two participants are sitting next to one another, sharing a combined task, but with functionally independent roles, the two individuals appear spontaneously to function as one agent with a unified action plan.” – Iain McGilchrist, Chapter, Page 350


Is This An Overview?

The brain has hemispheres that are involved in every task.  But, the way in which the hemispheres are involved are different.  Their roles are different.  They deal with the same information in different ways.  The different roles of the hemispheres enable the brain to function effectively, but the differences also provide different experiences of reality which creates conflict.  They have different values and priorities.  They function well when cooperating, but their competition with each other creates friction.  Problems occur when giving prominence to a hemisphere over another.  The problems occurring due to the conflict are felt indirectly, through culture.  Social problems develop through lack of tolerance at other methods of thinking, as they appear incompatible, with the other being wrong.



This book contains a myriad of different cultural and philosophical references.  Prior knowledge of the references would enable the reader to better understand the book.  References that can be interpreted to favor the primary claims about the hemispheric differences. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How does the brain use the hemispheres?
•How does each hemisphere experience reality?
•What enables effective functioning of the brain?
•What does each hemisphere process information?
•How do the hemispheres compete?
•What happens when a hemisphere expands? 
•How does the hemispheric competition effect society?
•Can the hemispheric differences be understood through introspection? 
•What has become of empathy?
•Why is there a need to teach people how to read faces? 
•How did evolution effect the brain? 
•What effect does attention have on experience? 
•What is the usual hemisphere division?  Why is it usual? 
•Are the hemispheres symmetrical? 
•How do hemispheres effect language? 
•How does language function?
•How to think about knowledge? 
•How does music effect people? 
•How does the left hemisphere think about responsibility and power? 
•What happens to people when they share a common purpose? 
•How does isolation effect people? 
•How do mainstream claims about what the hemispheres do compare to the author’s findings? 

Book Details
Edition:                  New Expanded Edition
Publisher:               Yale University Press
Edition ISBN:         9780300247459
Pages to read:          622
Publication:             2019
1st Edition:              2009
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          2
Overall          2