Friday, January 11, 2013

Music of the Hemispheres

This is interesting, and it sounds intuitively true: "The approach to music," writes McGilchrist, "is like entering into relation with another living individual."

Turns out that music is alive, or at least might as well be, as far as the right cerebral hemisphere is concerned. For "research suggests that understanding music is perceived as similar to knowing a person" (ibid).

And in fact, more generally, "works of art -- music, poems, paintings, great buildings -- can be understood only if we appreciate that they are more like people than texts, concepts or things" (ibid).

Then again, not all music is alive, is it? There are clearly "degrees" of musical life, although such a concept literally makes no sense to the left brain.

Furthermore, we can't just take refuge in some easily understood concept such as "complexity," because there are very simple forms of music that endure, and extremely complex ones that don't (cf. the pointless virtuosity of most "progressive" rock vs. the seemingly simple music of a classic bluesman such as Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters).

Music is direct person-to-person communication; one might say that the person is somehow embodied in the music.

I just read a biography of Sinatra, and it occurs to me that this was precisely the source of the overwhelming effect he had on (especially) female fans in the early 1940s. That is, it seems that he was the first popular vocalist to use the new technology to forge a deeper intimacy with listeners.

Prior to the perfection of microphone technology, singers relied on megaphones to reach the audience. Singing was a "declamatory art." In order to be heard, they had to project their voices over the band and to the back of the hall, resulting in a formal and stilted manner. There was almost no such thing as "phrasing."

The bottom line is, you can't whisper sweet nothings to a girl through a megaphone. There were plenty of fine voices out there, but Sinatra realized that the microphone "was his instrument, as surely as the pianist's piano or a saxophonist's sax."

Sinatra even preferred a black microphone, as it would disappear into his tux and "give the illusion that his hand was empty, that he was connecting directly with the audience."

I am also reminded of something Paul McCartney said about the early Beatles songs. They were consciously written in the first person, so as to sound as if they were singing directly to the girl: I Want to Hold Your Hand, Love Me Do, Please Please Me, From Me to You, Thank You Girl, P.S. I Love You, Ask Me Why, Do You Want to Know a Secret, All My Loving, etc. It was a big departure when they finally decided to write one in the third person, She Loves You.

An editorial in the February 2013 Stereophile goes to the musical differences between left and right brains. The author writes of auditioning a new piece of equipment with a group of listeners. Some of them heard only "quantitative" differences, such as more bass. But the author writes that he heard things differently -- that "it let me hear music more organically, in ways that touched me deeper."

There it is again: a living person behind or within the music.

The problem is, if you try to listen to the differences, you end up engaging the left brain: equipment reviewers "often discuss certain musical elements to the exclusion of others," and "give short shrift to how the totality of the musical experience affects us....

"When all we talk about is the sound of specific sonic elements, rather than how the entire musical experience makes us feel, I fear we ultimately lead readers astray." We focus "on individual fragments of the sonic experience instead of receiving music as an organic whole."

Again: organic. And receiving. The soul must become actively passive, so to (not) speak, similar to religious experience.

Now that I think about it, this has clear psychopolitical implications. For example, like Sinatra, liberals have perfected the trick of using technology to speak intimately to low-information adolescent girls (of whatever age or gender).

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. Talk radio, for example, has an overwhelmingly male demographic, and the same women who respond to the sweet nothings of the left are extremely turned off by fact and logic. I love Rush, but he does kind of sound like he's declaiming through a megaphone, doesn't he?

Maybe we just need someone with a smooth and seductive voice to convey the message, because if McGilchrist is correct, music is actually prior to speech, and what we say is easily defeated by what our listeners feel.

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.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Liberal Fascism and Left Brain Tyranny

Although there's a fantastic amount of multidisciplinary research in The Master and His Emissary, overall the book is a failure in terms of its prescription, because it essentially tries to use the left brain to find an escape hatch from the left brain.

I think McGilchrist's diagnosis of left brain hegemony is perfectly accurate -- as far as it goes -- but it's a little like Gorbachev's attempt to reform communism from within communism. Once you recognize the essential flaws of communism, the whole thing falls apart.

Even before getting into pathology -- i.e., diagnosis -- we must have a norm. In the absence of a norm, there can be no deviations, no perversion, inversions, regressions, or developmental arrests; nor can there be any meaningful evolution or development.

The function of the mind is to know reality. Thus, everything follows from the two principles embedded in this statement: first, that reality exists; and second, that we may know the truth of it.

The whole "modern turn" in philosophy, beginning with Kant, undermines these principles. It either denies one side at the expense of the other (as in scientism); or conflates them (as in the Chopraesque newage sewage of "perception is reality").

The result is, on the one hand, a desolate scientism that presumes to know the truth of reality, but without anyone to know it; or, a psychic projection of the nervous system. Thus, the world is either a left-brain scheme or a right-brain dream.

To his credit, McGilchrist is sensitive to this problem, but in the absence of a proper norm, he cannot propose a rigorous solution. Instead, he deals with the problem of left-brain tyranny on pragmatic grounds. He essentially says that the left brain has made a mess of things, so we need to rely more on the right.

He writes of, for example, "the profound kinship" between modernism and Nazism. But do we need to know about neurology to tell us that fascism is evil? Or in other words, is fascism what we call "evil" just because it involves a subjugation of the right brain by the left?

Of the "modernist enterprise," he writes that it involves a left-brain "admiration for what is powerful rather than beautiful, a sense of alienated objectivity rather than engagement or empathy, and an almost dogmatic trampling on all taboos..."

But with no norm other than utility, who's to say they're wrong?

The last chapter of the book is called The Master Betrayed (the master being the right brain). In it he presents a picture of what the world of the left hemisphere would look like, and it looks awfully familiar:

"We could expect, for a start, that there would be a loss of the broader picture, and a substitution of a more narrowly focussed, restricted, but detailed, view of the world..."


"The broader picture would in any case be disregarded, because it would lack the appearance of clarity and certainty which the left hemisphere craves."


"Ever more narrowly focussed attention would lead to an increasing specialization and technicalising of knowledge."


This "would promote the substitution of information... for knowledge, which comes through experience."


Knowledge "would seem more 'real' than what one might call wisdom, which would seem too nebulous..."


"There would be an increase in both abstraction and reification..."


Or, you could just say that the world becomes quantified at the expense of its prior -- and immediate -- qualities.

As a result, "the impersonal world would come to replace the personal..." "Individualities would be ironed out and identification would be by categories: socioeconomic groups, races, sexes, and so on," leading to intergroup competition, resentment, and paranoia. In other words, OBAMA-BIDEN 2012 (not to mention Big Chief Affirmative Token).

"Reasonableness would be replaced by rationality," leading to "a complete failure of common sense." "Anger and aggressive behavior would become more evident in our social interactions," since empathy is located in the right brain. And we can also expect sex to become "explicit and omnipresent," since the real implicit power of sex is located in the right.

The left-brain government of such a left-brain sheeple "would seek total control -- it is an essential feature of the left hemisphere's take on the world that it can grasp it and control it."

Obamacare, the attempt to control the economy via manipulation of aggregate demand, regulation of the world economy under the pretext of controlling the weather, state-mandated redefinition of marriage -- each of these flows from a left-brain fantasy. Oh, and give us your guns, especially those of you who don't buy into the fantasy.

In short, "Individual liberty would be curtailed," and "panoptical control would become an end in itself." The aim would be "to increase the power of the state and diminish the status of the individual.... according to the left hemisphere's take on reality, individuals are simply interchangeable parts of a mechanistic system, a system it needs to control in the interests of efficiency."

People are reduced to the proverbial Bags of Wet Cement, to be shoved around by the state. The state would "play down individual responsibility, and the sense of individual responsibility would accordingly decline." Loss of the implicit structure of the right brain would bring with it a flood of explicit legislation to try to control behavior.

We would see a "loss of insight, coupled with unwillingness to take responsibility," and an "increasing passivisation and suggestibility." "A sense of [existential] nausea and boredom before life would likely lead to a craving for novelty and stimulation." And of course, "Religion would seem to be mere fantasy."

So, what's the real solution? Seems to me I've been blah-blah-blogging about it ad gnoseum for over seven years, and I have no idea how to summarize it. But it's still one cosmos under god, regardless of what the left brain thinks.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Liberal Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- and Reality

A while ago a 'bat named -- wait for it: Mooney -- wrote a risibly tendentious book by that title, except it was called "The Republican Brain," and it was all about the science of how Republicans deny science -- you know, like our crazy belief that world temperature hasn't risen in the past 16 years, or how high taxes retard economic growth.

But it turns out he was all wrong, and that the most sophisticated, cutting edge research proves -- as we've been documenting here for years -- that liberalism is a mental and spiritual disorder with devastating consequences, both personally and collectively, locally and cosmically.

This is all explained in McGilchrists's The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, although you have to read between the brains, since the book is refreshingly free of the kind of demagogic misuse of science that Mooney and I engage in. Nevertheless, turna'bat is fairplay, so here we go.

The first half of the book is a lengthy summary of research into the different hemispheres, while the second half of the book is more speculative, and attempts to use this research to shed light on western history, from antiquity to the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, and on into modern and postmodern times.

Those latter two -- modern, and especially postmodern -- are of the most interest to us, since these are the worlds brought to us via all those "scientific" and rational assumptions of liberalism. As we know, liberals don't only control the levers of government, but their worldview permeates academia, the media, and the culture more generally. It is the shallow water we must swim in and the air we sophicate on.

Let's begin with the very different manner in which the two hemispheres see and experience the world. No, let's actually begin before that, with the stipulation that man has two cerebral hemispheres for a reason, and that they are complementary, not antagonistic. Or, they are at times antagonistic, but in such a way that it redounds to the benefit of the person "above" them.

McGilchrist (who, I should make clear, comes at it from a purely secular perspective) compares them to "opponent processors," through which "mutually opposed elements... make possible finely calibrated responses to complex situations" -- as when one hand pushes gently against the other hand in order to thread a needle.

Perhaps the most provocative research finding is that our primary experience of the world is located in the right hemisphere, whereas our abstract "mapping" of this same world is located in the left.

Frankly, I don't think we need all this brain research to tell us something we all know -- that there is a primary, lived experience of the whole of reality, over which we superimpose an atomized grid of knowledge. In my book I use the symbols (n) and (k) to distinguish the two. Not surprisingly, it turns out that there is a neural substrate for (n) and (k), but that doesn't mean that knowledge of either type can be reduced to neurology.

Rather, we begin with the principle of the Person, and it is not possible for a Person to incarnate in the absence of the "opponent processing" of the "divided" brain. But of course, the divided brain isn't really divided at all; or, to be perfectly accurate, it is divided so as to be united at a higher level. A non-divided brain couldn't possibly host the unitary person.

Yes, you could say the hemispheres are distinct but undivided, like a certain godhead we know. Which is why we don't subjectively feel as if we are two different persons. We are aware of the input from both sides, but there is something in us that unproblematically (heh) unifies the two -- and it's not just "two," because, as McGilchrist explains, there is also a front-back structure in the brain, i.e., frontal to hindbrain, and a top-down one, i.e., cortex to mammalian to reptilian to Sharpton brain.

(In fact, perhaps only the left brain sees the brain as divided; indeed, McGilchrist points out that the right brain is able to take the perspective of the left into consideration, since it is part of the "whole," whereas the left cannot do this vis-a-vis the holism of the right. It reminds me of how conservatives must deal with liberal arguments, since they permeate the culture, whereas it is possible for a liberal to live in an entirely friction-free cognitive world, since he must go out of his way to deeply understand the conservative point of view in a way that is unfiltered by the left wing hate machine.)

Now, when I say we "unproblematically" (heh) unify our knowledge and experience, I obviously mean problematically, because that's the whole problem, isn't it? We can be anything from a garden-variety neurotic who has difficulty integrating his primitive-down and civilized-up, to a completely psychotic person whose left brain has hijacked his entire personhood, to a tenured Marxist who hasn't left his left brain in 40 years.

But under the best of circumstances, we are all faced with this problem of integration, especially in the contemporary world, since there is a virtually infinite amount of data to consider, so much that no single person could ever literally do it. Which is one of the main reasons left wing ideologues take refuge in their simplistic left brain fantasies of cognitive and social control. This is also what allows the typical low-information liberal voter to nurture his delusions of adequacy.

To cite one glaring example, when monohemispheriacs such as Mr. Mooney talk about the Republican "war on science," what they are mostly referring to is the conservative resistance to scientism. And the resistance to scientism comes from the right brain, which knows full well that scientism is not true because it cannot possibly be true. And it cannot be true because the right brain is precisely what mediates our connection to being as such. The right brain knows of what it speaks, even if it must express itself via the mythopoetic.

One doesn't have to be aware of brain research to understand why the fantasies of scientism are delusional. In every branch of science, the persistent application of purely "left brain" scientific methods has resulted in a right brain view of the world. This is the proper Circle of Being, whereby experience starts in the right, is broken down and categorized by the left, and then re-dreamt by the right.

In physics, for example, we have the uncertainty principle, complementarity principle, and nonlocality. In logic we have Gödel, in math Cantor, in biology Rosen. Such "transformative developments," writes McGilchrist, "validate the world as given by the right hemisphere, not the left." I call them the fundamental orthoparadoxes of (k), and no worldview can hope to be adequate without taking them into consideration.

One way of looking at left and right brains is to see them as processors of Absolute and Infinite, respectively; or of container and contained. Can Absolute "contain" Infinite? No, there is something "above" both, although here we are getting into areas where cutandry language begins to fail. In short, such meta-metaphysical questions can only be handled by the right brain, via poetry, myth, scripture, or the perfect nonsense of coonspeak.

I don't have much time this morning, plus my brain's a little rusty after the extended slackoff, so I guess I'll continue this tomorrow, the weather in my head permitting.

Liberals can fix the weather in the world, just like Mr. Gore said. But what's to be done about the weather in their heads?