William Shakespeare, wearing the mask of an imaginary Prince of Denmark – Hamlet by name – suggested that human knowledge is limited.
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Each of us lives alone in a private, perceptual reality. We can communicate with one another only to the degree that our perceptual realities overlap.
There is an objective reality, but we humans are ill-equipped to experience it.
The degree to which you understand the limitations of your private reality is the degree to which you are self-aware.
Dr. Jorge Martins de Oliveira is Director of Neurosciences at the University of Brazil, on the Editorial Board of Brain & Mind magazine, and is the author of “Principles of Neuroscience.”
This is what he has to say about Perceptual Reality:
“Our perception does not identify the outside world as it really is, but the way that we are allowed to recognize it, as a consequence of transformations performed by our senses. We experience electromagnetic waves, not as waves, but as images and colors. We experience vibrating objects, not as vibrations, but as sounds. We experience chemical compounds dissolved in air or water, not as chemicals, but as specific smells and tastes. Colors, sounds, smells and tastes are products of our minds, built from sensory experiences. They do not exist, as such, outside our brain. Actually, the universe is colorless, odorless, insipid and silent.”
“Although you and I share the same biological architecture and function, perhaps what I perceive as a distinct color and smell is not exactly equal to the color and smell you perceive. We may give the same name to similar perceptions, but we cannot know how they relate to the reality of the outside world. Perhaps we never will.”
Dr. Roger Sperry won the Nobel Prize in 1981 for discovering that we don’t have one brain divided into two hemispheres, as much as we have two separate, competing brains. Sperry was able to demonstrate that we have a logical, rational, sequential, deductive-reasoning (SCIENTIFIC) Left Brain, and a romantic, artistic, connection-seeking, pattern-finding, (ARTS & HUMANITIES) Right Brain. He said,
“Each hemisphere of the brain is indeed a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and… both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel.”
Did you notice it? The Left and the Right hemispheres can have “simultaneous, mutually conflicting, mental experiences.” You can have a single experience and walk away with two opinions of what just happened!
“In fact, romanticism and science are good for each other… The scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.”
– Tom Robbins
But what happens if the Left Hemisphere completely ignores the voice of the Right Hemisphere? What happens if the Right ignores the the Left?
C. P. Snow published “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” in 1959. He believed that Science and the Humanities were the driving forces of western society, but they were splitting us into a society of “two cultures.”
Looking back over the culture war that has increasingly devoured us these past 20 years, it would appear that C.P. Snow was right.
In May of 2023 the world renowned neuroscientist Dr. Iain McGilchrist was discussing the (SCIENTIFIC) Left Brain, and the (ARTS & HUMANITIES) Right Brain when he said,
“Something I discovered in medical school, was that this corpus callosum, this connecting band, spent at least half its time, if not more, sending messages to the other hemisphere, ‘You keep out of this, I’m dealing with it.’ So it wasn’t so much facilitating as inhibiting. Primates have more inhibiting neurons than any other mammal and humans have more inhibiting neurons than any primate. In fact, about 19% of the human brain consists of inhibitory neurons telling us where we may not go, which is the important part that resistance, negation, plays in creation.”
Continuing to speak of our split brains, McGilchrist said,
“Attention is actually how our world comes into being. So if you attend to something in one way, you see one thing. If you attend in another, you see something quite different. It’s not that we’ve all got schizophrenia, of course we haven’t… we are all neglecting the Right (ARTISTIC) hemisphere. And if you like, schizophrenia is a case in which the Left (SCIENTIFIC) hemisphere has gone into overdrive and the Right Hemisphere has been wound down, or is not really being listened to. And this leads to delusions and hallucinations. I think we are now in a world which is fully deluded.”
Interviewer: Such as?
McGilchrist: “There are aspects of our culture that have become very vociferous and very irrational, and very dogmatic and very hubristic: ‘This is right and anyone who says other is wrong.’ Now that’s the way the Left Hemisphere likes to be. It’s cut and dry, black and white. But the Right Hemisphere sees nuances, gradations, that there’s good and bad in almost everything.”
Interviewer: Do you think we have ever been in as left-hemisphere-dominated a moment as we are now?
McGilchrist: “No. No. I think this is un-hither-to seen.”
Interviewer: Do you think technology has something to do with that?
McGilchrist: “Yes. And I am a scientist.”
Interviewer: Do you recognize that in the more day-to-day political world as well? Do you think we can learn from your framework when just reading the paper or watching the news? Do you think we need to be thinking, ‘This is left brain stuff, block it out.’?
McGilchrist: “I hope people will apply these ideas. I find that people spontaneously do, in all walks of life, which is very pleasing to find out. During Puritanism it was absolutely not tolerated for you to disagree with a certain way of thinking, which was in fact a very dogmatic, reduced, abstracted way of thinking. But even that did not reach the stage we are at now, where it’s hard to articulate what needs to be articulated. At that time in history, people lived close to nature; they were surrounded by nature. Most people belonged to an inherited culture, a coherent culture which also had a religious element. And art had not been turned into something conceptual, but was visceral and moving. And religion was not presented as something that only a fool or an infant would believe in.”
Interviewer: When does science become Scientism?
McGilchrist: “When it quite simply says that it can answer all our questions. But a moment’s reflection shows that are so many things that are important in our life that science can’t fully explain to us. The beauty of a rainbow, of a wonderful landscape, of a piece of music, its importance and meaning, which is very real. It’s not irrational or unscientific, it’s just beyond the grasp of science and reason.”
“Being reasonable was something I remember from when I was growing up. They were reasonable people and they were admired and the idea of an education was to make you reasonable. But now that has been supplanted by something quite different, which is a rationalizing framework such as a computer could follow, that we’ve been pushed by the development of our machines, the increasing sophistication of our machines, the intoxicating feeling that we have power over the world, into viewing it in this reductionist, materialist way. We’re living in an age of rationalizing and reductionism in which everything can be taken apart, and it’s just the bits. So open oneself to poetry, make a habit of reading good poetry, listening to good music, appreciating a walk in nature, just being aware of one’s surroundings, and then one finds there are good things there, despite the overall picture that I’m afraid I’ve given.”
– Dr. Iain McGilchrist
We began this little soirée with an examination of Perceptual Reality, which tells us that we don’t see things as they are, but as we are.
In other words, how you see things is determined by how you are.
So here’s my question:
How… are you?
Roy H. Williams
Bob Johansen has been forecasting the future for the past five decades. He and his colleagues get it right 60% to 80% of the time. Bob is no pointy hat, crystal-ball-gazing fortuneteller. In addition to helping clients like Procter & Gamble, Walmart, and McKinsey, he is an instructor at the Army War College. Bob tells roving reporter Rotbart that his focus is always ten years ahead. “What,” he asks, “would you do differently today if you knew what to expect in business, culture, and politics in 2033?” It’s hot, tasty, and ready to serve straight-from-the-oven at MondayMorningRadio.com