Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Right Becomes Left So that Left May Become Right

(That title is a reference the the early fathers' wisecrack that God becomes man so that man might become God, or divinized.)

I have no time for a new post, but I have almost enough time to rework this one from four years back, in the hope that it contributes to our recent discussion of the different worldviews of the left and right cerebral hemispheres. (It turns out that at least half of it is new.)

It begins with a little invOcation by Meister Eckhart:

One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather, from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active.

I think Eckhart is describing here the proper "cycle of knowledge," which proceeds from the implicit knowledge of the right brain, to the explicit knowledge of the left, and back to the implicit world of the right, now "enriched," so to speak, by the fruits of the left. It may sound unusual, but I think it's really the pattern in any form of mastery, for example, jazz.

As we've discussed in the past, jazz obviously requires an intense amount of left-brain mastery, e.g., of scales, chords, and harmony. However, in order to improvise -- which is to say, engage in spontaneous improvisation -- one must "unKnow" what is rote and familiar, and surrender to the right.

Here there is a combination of activity and passivity, since one must actively "forget" in order to adopt a position of "passivity" with regard to the implicit compositional skills of the right. It's like "trying" to dream, which cannot be done; rather, one can only surrender to the Dreamer.

It also reminds me of what Bion said about being a psychoanalyst: one must suspend memory, desire, and understanding, in order to "hear" the spontaneous productions of the unconscious mind, which is to say, the right hemisphere.

In fact, I remember my first day on the couch some 25 years ago. My analyst asked something like, "Do you know why you're doing that?" "Er, I don't know... to find a way to blame everything on my mother?" "No, it's in order to silence the left brain, so as to allow the right brain to get a word in edgewise."

Or as Bion said, so as to shed a beam of darkness on the workings of the unconscious mind (which is almost by definition in the right hemisphere).

And this is quite similar to what Joyce was up to in Finnegans Wake, i.e., destroying language in order to save it. I think he was essentially trying to imagine what a right brain language would be like, which is to say, holographic, fractal, endlessly metaphorical, timeless (or multi-temporal), tactile, and synesthetic, all at the same time(less). And despite the difficulty -- if not impossibility -- of ever fully comprehending it, I think he would insist that this type of language presents a more accurate -- or at least realistic -- map of the world, of man, and of history.

This goes to the problem of "saturation," which is when language becomes "dead" because unambiguous. When this happens, the world too becomes drained of poetry, and it so happens that there is a neurological explanation, or at least alibi.

As McGilchrist writes, "new experience of any kind -- whether it be of music, or words, or real-life objects, or imaginary constructs -- engages the right hemisphere. As soon as it starts to become familiar or routine, the right hemisphere is less engaged and eventually the 'information' becomes the concern of the left hemisphere only."

Thus, when language becomes saturated in this manner, we are rendered "half-alive," but then, not really alive at all, since our sense of "aliveness" is in the right brain.

Not to get too far afield, but at least for me, this is one of the purposes of the beer o'clock slackrament. Maybe I'm just lucky, but for me, I'm always just a beer or two away from right brain dominance. My left brain goes down easy.

In his Self and Spirit, Bolton reminds us of the orthoparadoxical idea that twoness, or dualism, is higher than oneness, or monism; or perhaps that One is intrinsically two and therefore three, the latter of which is "higher" than both, since, to put it mythsemantically, the infinite + the finite must (in a manner of speaking, of course) = more than the pure infinite alone.

Here again, this reminds me of the divisional or analytical (or prodigal!) thinking of the left, returning to the infinite mode of the right (back to the father... or mother, depending upon how one looks at it).

We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity.

There is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."

Furthermore, what is the ontological status of this entity who realizes "all is one?" As Bolton says, "Any such answer must include some proof that the self is a reality in its own right, and not just a collective name for a succession of more or less related phenomena with no integrating principle." For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.

This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but on the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else.

Bolton writes that "misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else." And it is the left-brain conception of the world that leaves us with an irreconcilable dualism, in that one side or the other of the dualism must go.

The result is "an almost exact parallel of the Cartesian conception of soul and body where neither has anything in common with the other" (Bolton). The Cartesian says, "I think, therefore I am." The Vedantin says "I am, therefore I think." But the Raccoon says, "God is, therefore I am. And that's why I can fruitfully and objectively think, to boot."

In other words, to say "I am one with God," is a kind of truism, but with important implications, for as Bolton says, "union in this context must mean what it says, and not simply the elimination of one side of the relation." Otherwise, we are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours. You could almost say that the nonlocal Cosmic Right Hemisphere incarnated in a local time and place, or in an earthly, Left Hemispheric way.

24 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

The title alone would lead me to believe there is a crack in the cosmic egg this morning.

1/09/2013 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Sounds like you're making a response to our Franklin Jones follower with this post.

We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity.

1/09/2013 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

As McGilchrist writes, "new experience of any kind -- whether it be of music, or words, or real-life objects, or imaginary constructs -- engages the right hemisphere. As soon as it starts to become familiar or routine, the right hemisphere is less engaged and eventually the 'information' becomes the concern of the left hemisphere only."

This is could be a reason it is easier to learn new languages and modes of thinking when one is young.

Does the right side become less accessible as we age? Or do we just get to thinking we know it all? Am I just an old dog up to my old tricks?

1/09/2013 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.

That deserves an Amen.

1/09/2013 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

neurogastronomy

bullipedia

1/09/2013 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Mushroom,
I have recently given some thought to the matter of learning language when older, because I am doing just that. It seems to me that a shift goes on in learning over the course of our life. We start with a strong ability to memorize and little if any ability to connect the dots, and then gradually move toward the opposite. I am not sure this is a left/right brain thing, perhaps more back/front?

1/09/2013 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That connect the dots thing is definitely true. I used to have a near-photographic memory, but I could not put things together nearly as well as I do now. I'd say I began to see the change in my thirties. Piaget stopped too soon, or it took me a long time to grow up.

1/09/2013 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I'm thinking about recycling my sheepskin from this former cow college. Studying a Missouri stereotype.

But then we all knew how redefining deviancy was going to end, didn't we?

1/09/2013 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

It also reminds me of what Bion said about being a psychoanalyst: one must suspend memory, desire, and understanding, in order to "hear" the spontaneous productions of the unconscious mind, which is to say, the right hemisphere.

This is true, too, for "seeing" in general. What's the best way to find something? Forget what you're looking for, and ask yourself what you're looking at.

1/09/2013 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Piaget certainly doesn't cover it all. Even after the brain reaches its full form physically around the age of 25-30, there is a gradual change in function. Longer axons grow to connect remote parts of the brain, and distribute processing. Where the young brain lights up brightly in a few areas, the elderly brain set to the same task will show many smaller islets of activity. And that's normal brains which haven't been trained systematically. People who dedicate themselves to excellence in a particular field incur visible changes in their brains over time. The computer metaphor is somewhat limited to describe the human brain.

1/09/2013 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. redefining deviancy, I suspect it goes hand-in-hand with redefining divinity: Lance Armstrong Will Ask Oprah for Absolution, Forgiveness in Interview

1/09/2013 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

There is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."

The natural samayas of wondrous spontaneity,
absence, unity and openness,
all of which are beyond any observance,
all are aspects of each other.

My hidden samaya is intrinsic gnostic awareness
where the commitment and the observance are the same
and where the keeping and the breaking are the same,
and therein are the four commitments that need no heeding,
confidently observed, inviolable, from the first:
the contrived commitments of the eight lower approaches,
I deny, and I call that 'absence';
liberated from lesser obligations, uncommitted,
the media of awareness—body, speech and mind,
are vastly spacious and I call that 'openness';
the way of keeping an inviolable commitment,
a pledge that cannot be observed,
is through holistic, intrinsic gnostic awareness,
that alone, and I call that 'unity';
that intrinsic gnostic awareness,
maintained effortlessly, doing nothing,
that I call 'spontaneity'.

I, the supreme source, have no samaya commitment to keep,
for in the absence of cause and condition, endeavor is redundant.
I am spontaneity itself, so analysis is futile;
I am timeless awareness, so knowledge is vanity;
I am self-sprung, so causes and conditions are unavailing;
I am undiscriminating, so renunciation and self-discipline are pointless:
I am unreal and 'Absence' is my name.

Never becoming concrete, pristine awareness is never reified,
and thus 'openness' is defined;
all is one in pure mind, and thus 'unity' is defined;
all and everything, whatever happens,
as mental events in pure mind
is always complete and perfect,
and thus 'spontaneity' is defined.

-Longchenpa

1/09/2013 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

There's now a list, apparently, of the top professions for psychopaths.

Looks like Left-brain Authority Figures rule the list. Least likely are those who choose more empathetic endeavors.

1/10/2013 04:15:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Interesting list. I wonder how they gathered their data?

1/10/2013 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The list looks suspiciously like common sense. The role of CEO might be attractive to a psychopath, but I doubt that many psychopaths make it to CEO. Salesman, other other hand, is the perfect role for a psychopath.

The researcher may be confusing authoritarian/father figures with psychopaths. A good old-fashioned father could be pretty dictatorial, but that does not make him a psychopath.

A psychopath is manipulating and controlling for the sake of the sense of power. He or she has no concern about how it impacts anyone else. A CEO may be ruthless but, at least prior to the last few years, was expected to produce for the stockholder "family", if nothing else.

1/10/2013 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No time for a post today.

That list strikes me as suspect. For one thing, I have plenty of first hand evidence of psychopathy in psychologists and psychiatrists. And the professions of charity worker, teacher, and creative artist are ideal hideouts for psychopathy. In fact, leftism more generally is the perfect cover for psychopaths. A leftist can literally get away with anything, up to and including genocide.

1/10/2013 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

According to the article, the list is the work of that particular author.

Or as The Dude might say, "That's just, like, his opinion, man!"

1/10/2013 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Gagdad,

I'm curious. What did you think of the exchange/debate between Robert Bolton and Charles Upton over on Sacred Web.

1/10/2013 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I wasn't aware of the debate, but I'm sure I'm on Bolton's side. Upton has some weird baggage, IMO.

1/10/2013 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

History of the Catholic Church starting to bog down. It's the same complaint I always have about European history: one war after another, and endless religious disputes. The mind starts to go numb.

1/10/2013 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Baron Wolfe said...

THis makes sense. I can carry on a conversation while I'm playing a jazz bass line but can't do it when I solo.
I think I use my right brain to learn a tune, then internalize it to my left, but when I solo, I need to use my right brain to make construct it as I go, the same as language.
I also learn tunes much faster now that I'm older but that is probably more to do with experienc than hemispheric transference.

1/10/2013 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Just looking at a quote on the back of The Great Partnership, which I think I'll read next:

"Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean."

Left and Right.

1/10/2013 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Be Left Be Right:
BeReft of the Light
Singly Shining
Simply Sideless
Circular Seamless
Sunlike Sunlight

1/11/2013 04:54:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I am excited to see you all are writing about left brain/right brain. I can't wait to read the next post written prior to this one. The best insight I got from this post was the one about new experience engaging the right hemisphere.

1/12/2013 09:23:00 PM  

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