Saturday, November 15, 2008

Left Brain, Right Brain, Transcendent Brain

Here is our weekly repost from two years down and back. Again, when I review these things, it's often like I'm reading them for the first time, so while they may be old to you, they're new to me. I suppose it's a way of assimilating mysoph, which is a strange but necessary exercise. Anyway, I usually look for one that keeps my attention, which this one manages to do.


The psychoanalyst James Grotstein proposes a “dual track” theory of human development, in which there is a separate developmental agenda for the self in isolation and the self in relation to others. Recent work in neurology has suggested that we not only have two cerebral hemispheres (left and right), but two consciousnesses, two very different ways of processing data and experience.

In our normal waking consciousness, one hemisphere subordinates the other, so that we have the subjective impression of a unified consciousness, but in reality, it is somewhat analogous to having two eyes or ears. For example, when they are properly functioning, we are not aware of having two eyes. However, the fact that we have two eyes with slightly different points of view creates the experience of visual depth. Likewise, thanks to having two ears, we can have the experience of a bitchin’ stereo.

The right brain allows us the experience of fusion with others, of oneness with creation, of membership in a larger group. But thanks to the left brain, we can have the experience of uniqueness, of our separateness from the group, of what is called individuation. The two hemispheres also think and process information in divergent ways, one in a holistic, translogical and analogical manner, the other in a linear, logical, and digital manner. One cannot understand religious metaphysics without a highly developed, right brain "poetical" sense.

Especially in the West, we have many excessively left-brained thinkers who derive their philosophies from their own handicapped existence. Here I am thinking of someone like the famous materialist Richard Dawkins, whose spiritually barren atheistic theology is all words and no music, and speaks to no one who is firing in both hemispheres.

This is why atheism so quickly devolves into bad theology. The “return of the repressed” guarantees that the shunned hemisphere will exact its vengeance on the philosopher who tries to naively reject it, exposing the illogic of his metaphysics. In fact, Gödel’s theorems may be thought of as the guarantor of a liberating higher Reason that transcends the logic-bound left-brain.

But it is obviously possible to lurch too far in the other direction as well, and to promulgate a philosophy that is almost entirely a product of right-hemisphere thinking detached from logic, such as Islamism, radical feminism, homosexual activism, etc.

In reality, the two hemispheres are not opposed but complementary, a reflection of the irreducible complementarity of relative existence. When I use the words “vertical” and “horizontal,” you should think of them as “empty categories” or mythsemantical placeholders that subsume many other irreducible complementarities in our existence, such as: wave/particle, whole/part, form/substance, male/female, mind/matter, exterior/interior, thinking/feeling, sensing/intuition, analysis/synthesis, group/individual, time/eternity, brahman/maya, Kirk/Spock. None of these dualities can be resolved in the phenomenal world, because the phenomenal world is their product, so to speak.

Thus, it is not so much that we have two brains, but that the different vertices of the two brains create a third thing that transcends either one alone. At least in a healthy individual. It is not that the two hemispheres should become fused or commingled, so to speak. Rather, there is a harmonious relationship between them. Normally we think of the repressive barrier between ego and unconscious as being vital to the maintenance of the ego. However, the boundary is just as vital for the sake of the unconscious, otherwise each world would destroy the other. "Unconscious" and "ego" are really just different points of view that are simultaneously present, like "God" and "Man."

In last Friday’s post, we spoke of Melanie Klein’s theory of the paranoid-schizoid (dispersive) and depressive (integrative) positions. Grotstein has added a third, which he calls the transcendent position, which represents a higher fusion of the dual tracks referenced above. In other words, these complementarities are not to be resolved by ignoring them or attempting to impose one over the other. Rather, they can only be resolved by moving in the opposite direction, toward the anterior, nonlocal wholeness “above,” of which the complementarities are a local manifestation:

“The two time-space worlds are incompatible and must be kept apart. This is the intercourse that is so sacred that it must not be known; it must always remain inscrutable.

“The act of psychic creation involves the most arcane, most mysterious union between two modes of ‘being’ and of ‘valuing’ the data of inner and outer experience. Their intercourse creates ‘thoughts.’ It can never be penetrated. The subject, being ineffable and inscrutable, does not lend itself to objectification but can reveal itself only in ‘transformations in O,’ with which we at best can become resonant in the transcendent position” (Grotstein). In identifying the transcendent position with “transformations in O,” this is another way of describing the O-->(k) directionality described in my book, from knowledge, to wisdom (n), and to being (¶).

Grotstein goes on to say that the transcendent position is not properly regarded as a stage per se, but an ongoing capability that must be won again and again: “Transcendent means having the ability to transcend our defensiveness, our pettiness, our guilt, our shame, our narcissism, our need for certainty, our strictures, in order to achieve or become ‘one with O,’ which I interpret as becoming one with our aliveness or our very being-ness.”

In the past, I have described this as playing along the infinite shore where the waves of eternity break upon the sands time. In fact, this is what I am attempting to do in most of my posts. If they “resonate” in you, that is probably why. You’re just smelling the salt air and Coppertone.

Many of the fine paradoxables of Jesus may be regarded as murmurandoms from the transcendent position. In fact, in considering who he was, how could they be otherwise? I should do a post on that....

It's fair to say that my book was an effort to write from the transcendent position, in order to resolve our complementary ways of knowing reality, the “scientific” and the “religious.” Remember, in the absence of the transcendent position, science merely becomes bad religion, while religion can become bad science.

Yesterday a reader hinted that I may be edging close to gnosticism, writing that “I believe I understand your point about overly literal interpretation of text obscuring the path to enlightenment/salvation, but it does seem a tad dismissive.” If so, that is not my intent. It is just that I am trying to avoid looking at religion with just the left or right hemisphere, but to do so from the transcendent position. Thus, if someone asks me if this or that event in the Bible is literally true, I cannot provide a simple answer. It’s much more complicated than that. The answer is not yes (with the right brain) or no (with the left), but a very different sort of “yes” that emanates from O. More of a yeah, baby!

In order to elaborate, I have to veer into another major area, and I don’t know whether to do it today or wait until tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll just lay down some of the broad themes here.

No, what's the rush? Mañana.....


walt said...

I was just reading about the life of Rene Guenon, and specifically about the contents in his The Symbolism of the Cross. I saw no mention of right/left brain theories, but the subject matter seemed to parallel what you said in to day's post.

I believe you have mentioned that Guenon influenced your thinking. Am I correct in connecting this up, or have I stretched this one too far?

And you're right -- though I recall this post from before, so much has changed that it reads like "new" information. Thanks!

Gagdad Bob said...

Guenon was a major influence on Schuon, but Guenon himself can leave me a little cold. All of his main ideas are present in Schuon, only given more flesh and blood.

QP said...

>>Thus, if someone asks me if this or that event in the Bible is literally true, I cannot provide a simple answer. It’s much more complicated than that. The answer is not yes (with the right brain) or no (with the left), but a very different sort of “yes” that emanates from O. More of a yeah, baby!<<

Yeah, B'obby! You are my contemporary.

I also like O. Fielding Clarke's way of saying it, in For Christ's Sake:

"Theology in general, instead of acting as a beacon-light to guide the people of God, the laity, as they confront the problems of living for Christ in the world, has for generations been taking refuge in an ever more minute study of
Christian origins. Theology is less and less about God and God's world, and more and more a department of ancient history, absorbed in minute details of historical and literary
criticism. The whole business is wildly out of proportion."

Alan said...

Drudge report: Tech industry elite seek charter for 'religious harmony'

This from the industry that houses the most intelligent spiritually-stupid people.

Gagdad Bob said...

They actually sent me an email asking for my input. I can't even imagine dealing with an organization featuring the likes of Karen Armstrong and Tariq Ramadan. What a sick joke.

Robin Starfish said...

I referenced this Dali painting yesterday over at Walt's. It was a big waker-upper to me back when. Powerfully triangulates transcendence, IMHO.

Gagdad Bob said...

I like that. The O, the three, the cross, all from the perspective of the timeless cosmic center... It just goes to show you that it's still possible to innovate an icon.

BTW, very eery around here today. The fires are about 12-15 miles away, so it's snowing white ash outside....

Gagdad Bob said...

Since a mobile home went up in flames, I guess you could call it trailer ash...

Robin Starfish said...

Just saw the fire on tv - looks bad. Hope you're in a fire-safe neighborhood, Bob.

Gagdad Bob said...

Why do you say that? I want a new house.

Jim said...


Get out of there and move north to Humboldt, I'll find you a great home. Rains a lot here so we don't have many fires.

walt said...

Screw Humboldt -- move further north to Oregon, and I'll sell you my house. Rains a lot here too. (Full disclosure: there's a porcupine that lives in the yard.)

Gagdad Bob said...

Wait for the house to burn down, collect insurance money, and move to NoCal or Oregon.

Sounds like a plan.

Alan said...

NoCal or Oregon - what, you aren't enough of a minority where you are?

Btw, the smoke looks like a huge mushroom cloud from southern OC.

Robin Starfish said...

Idaho's the reddest state, don't forget, and lots of open space. You could sell, er, burn your house in Orange County and buy 4 up here for the same price.

Like half the population here did over the past 5 years.

Oh yeah, lots of raccoons. 19 trapped this year up at my mom's house. 24 last year. They get relocated to, heh heh, blue neighborhoods to continue their mischief, er, God's work.

Gagdad Bob said...

Were you the first Raccoon your mother trapped?

walt said...

Oops - I forgot about the red/blue thingy. Perhaps you should scratch Oregon from the list. I will just burn my house down and become a wandering sadhu ... in the direction of Idaho: where Raccoons abound!

ximeze said...

Here's a red/blue thingy for ya:

Coping with adversity

How people cope with disappointment says a lot about them. In 2004, psychologists reported an influx of patients distraught that their candidate John Kerry, had lost. Some called it Post Election Stress and Trauma Syndrome.

Four years later, those who are disappointed in the results of the recent election seem to have reacted quite differently. According to several sources, they are flooding gun dealers.

With many people deciding to go ahead and purchase the gun they always wanted while they still can, this may be an interesting Christmas shopping season.


Jim said...

Yea, come to think of it Humboldt is a bright blue, perhaps I to will burn down house and start to wander in direction of redder pastures.

Where did I put that box of matches?

Zoltan said...

I have just discovered your blog, via a comment on Kyle-Anne Shiver's.

I am charmed. Thank you.

You cannot be unaware that you are re-language-ing, eugenically IMO, the likes of Parmenides and Tillich, especially Tillich.

The genius of Teilhard comes through strongly, in the tonal drive for sublimated teleological fulfillment as liberation and light.

The creative expressive development, the symbol creation, is brilliant and effective. Some of it roots and flourishes.

I am in a position to appreciate these matters and express my admiration for what is going on here.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How many here suffer from loneliness? Even in the midst of other people? Even if one is married?

It's a kind of pain. I call loneliness "social pain," analogous to physical pain in the body. It is the experience of feeling not connected enough.

When I turn to God, about 60-70% of the pain is effaced, but I seem to require people to hit the last 30-40% of the discomfort.

Sometimes I'll go get a massage even when I don't need one, just to be touched and to hopefully talk to the masseuse a little bit. Sometimes they are not in too much of a hurry to yak about this and that.

Or I'll get a haircut; same thing.

On the other hand, sometimes my SO smothers me and I feel like I need time alone; I have trouble telling her this, as it may hurt her feelings.

Family gatherings can be a trial. After abut one hour, I've had enough and I'll want to be alone in my apartment.

Then, 24 hours later, I'm lonely and I'm back at the masseuse's office. I can't win.

Any one else have trouble getting the right mix of company and solitude? Is this related to right brain and left brain integration?

Van said...

NoCal? Ore? Idaho(rolling on the ground like a baked po-tay-toe)? Please.
Left? Right? Top? Bottom? Or centered synthesis?
If you want centeredness, then that puts you smack dab in the St. Louis area.
Fire Ins money'll buy twice the house PLUS a finished basement.
What more could you ask for? Aside from beaches... and mountains...geez I miss mountains. Got lots of deer in the raccoons & backyard though.

You'll have to supply your own mountains.

walt said...

Sure Van: deer, raccoons ... and Rams.

I can take note of these things, being late of the SF Bay Area. We'll see tomorrow which team is the worst!

julie said...

Or there's always beautiful Arizona. Speaking as someone who's lived in the Northwest, the Northeast and California, Arizona is my favorite place. The cost of living is decent, and there's a nice mix of urban and rural. You already know what the heat is like, so that wouldn't be much of a change. We have very few natural disasters - no earthquakes or tornadoes and fires are rare (unless you live up north). And it's a fairly red state. And we have mountains - petite, but definitely not just glorified hills.

Of course, having said that I also wouldn't mind migrating up toward Idaho or Montana some day, but I think it'll be a while before that's an option for us.

Re. today's post, I thought it tied in nicely with the MOTT series as well.

Gagdad Bob said...

Theodore Dalrymple live and uncensored, in five parts.

Anonymous said...

Guenon was a kook period. His counter-initiation stuff started out not sounding particularly crazy, but when he started putting these spiritual agents into human bodies...well, he could have been at home around Ron Paul's tinfoil hat internet crowd.

Anonymous said...

Van said,

"If you want centeredness, then that puts you smack dab in the St. Louis area."

East St Louis to be exact. Centerdness Central. ;*)

Van said...

Anonymous said "East St Louis to be exact. Centerdness Central. ;*)"

Centeredness is not a suicide pact. Go west, ol' man, go west(past either city & into the Counties).

debass said...


What part of Humboldt are you in? Didn't know any raccoons were up here. I'm playing some blues and rock at the Blue Lake Casino this Friday. Stop by if you can. It would be fun to actually meet another raccoon. I play bass.