Quotes from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

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“None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.
The word 'true' suggest a relationship between things: being true to someone or something, truth as loyalty, or something that fits, as two surfaces may be said to be 'true.' It is related to 'trust,' and is fundamentally a matter of what one believes to be the case. The Latin word verum (true) is cognate with a Sanskrit word meaning to choose or believe: the option one chooses, the situation in which one places one's trust. Such a situation is not an absolute - it tells us not only about the chosen thing, but also about the chooser. It cannot be certain: it involves an act of faith and it involves being faithful to one's intentions.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalise; words depersonalise; words make the uncommon common.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Emotion is inseparable from the body in which it is felt, and emotion is also the basis for our engagement with the world.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Language enables the left hemisphere to represent the world ‘off-line’, a conceptual version, distinct from the world of experience, and shielded from the immediate environment, with its insistent impressions, feelings and demands, abstracted from the body, no longer dealing with what is concrete, specific, individual, unrepeatable, and constantly changing, but with a disembodied representation of the world, abstracted, central, not particularised in time and place, generally applicable, clear and fixed. Isolating things artificially from their context brings the advantage of enabling us to focus intently on a particular aspect of reality and how it can be modelled, so that it can be grasped and controlled. But its losses are in the picture as a whole. Whatever lies in the realm of the implicit, or depends on flexibility, whatever can't be brought into focus and fixed, ceases to exist as far as the speaking hemisphere is concerned.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance – second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole. These gifts of the left hemisphere have helped us achieve nothing less than civilisation itself, with all that that means. Even if we could abandon them, which of course we can't, we would be fools to do so, and would come off infinitely the poorer. There are siren voices that call us to do exactly that, certainly to abandon clarity and precision (which, in any case, importantly depend on both hemispheres), and I want to emphasise that I am passionately opposed to them. We need the ability to make fine discriminations, and to use reason appropriately. But these contributions need to be made in the service of something else, that only the right hemisphere can bring. Alone they are destructive. And right now they may be bringing us close to forfeiting the civilisation they helped to create.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World



“The model we choose to use to understand something determines what we find.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Metaphor is the crucial aspect of language whereby it retains its connectedness to the world, and”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture's purpose was to disclose them.’377”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Music – like narrative, like the experience of our lives as we live them – unfolds in time.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“So the left hemisphere needs certainty and needs to be right. The right hemisphere makes it possible to hold several ambiguous possibilities in suspension together without premature closure on one outcome.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World



“Every thing that purports to be the truth is, according to Heidegger, inevitably an approximation and true things, things that really are, rather than as we may apprehend them, are in themselves ineffable, ungraspable.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Thinking is always thinking, but philosophical thinking is, upon the whole, at the extreme end of the scale of distance from the active urgency of concrete situations. It is because of this fact that neglect of context is the besetting fallacy of philosophical thought … I should venture to assert that the most pervasive fallacy of philosophic thinking goes back to neglect of context … neglect of context is the greatest single disaster which philosophic thinking can incur.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Literal language, by contrast, is the means whereby the mind loosens its contact with reality and becomes a self-consistent system of tokens. But,”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalise; words depersonalise; words make the uncommon common.’388”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“There is always a model by which we are understanding, an exemplar with which we are comparing, what we see, and where it is not identified it usually means that we have tacitly adopted the model of the machine.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World



“The Republic, Plato writes: The stars that decorate the sky, though we rightly regard them as the finest and most perfect of visible things, are far inferior, just because they are visible, to the true realities; that is, to the true relative velocities, in pure numbers and perfect figures, of the orbits and what they carry in them, which are perceptible to reason and thought but not visible to the eye … We shall therefore treat astronomy, like geometry, as setting us problems for solution, and ignore the visible heavens, if we want to make a genuine study of the subject …127 This separation of the absolute and eternal, which can be known by logos (reason), from the purely phenomenological, which is now seen as inferior, leaves an indelible stamp on the history of Western philosophy for the subsequent two thousand years.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“The really interesting finding here, as the authors themselves put it, is that ‘without batting an eye’ the left hemisphere draws mistaken conclusions from the information available to it and lays down the law about what only the right hemisphere can know: ‘yet, the left did not offer its suggestion in a guessing vein but rather [as] a statement of fact”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Although relatively speaking the right hemisphere takes a more pessimistic view of the self, it is also more realistic about it.457 There is evidence that (a) those who are somewhat depressed are more realistic, including in self-evaluation; and, see above, that (b) depression is (often) a condition of relative hemisphere asymmetry, favouring the right hemisphere.458 Even schizophrenics have more insight into their condition in proportion to the degree that they have depressive symptoms.459 The evidence is that this is not because insight makes you depressed, but because being depressed gives you insight.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Man has to awaken to wonder – and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“If there is a tendency for the right hemisphere to be more sorrowful and prone to depression, this can, in my view, be seen as related not only to being more in touch with what's going on, but more in touch with, and concerned for, others. ‘No man is an island’: it is the right hemisphere of the human brain that ensures that we feel part of the main. The more we are aware of and empathically connected to whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, the more we are likely to suffer.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World



“When Lear cries, ‘Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?’, we could reply, on one level, yes – a defect in the right prefrontal cortex.475 But that just illuminates the fact that cruelty does not exist in ‘nature’: only humans with their left prefrontal cortex have the capacity for deliberate malice. But then only humans, with their right prefrontal cortex, are capable of compassion.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Intrinsically caring for another essentially involves a certain disposition, the disposition to experience sorrow at the other's serious misfortune … To be just is to be disturbed by injustice. Pain, suffering, and the loss of pleasure, then, sometimes constitute who we are and what we value. They are essentially woven into our deepest commitments. As reasons flow from our deepest commitments, we will sometimes have non-instrumental reason to suffer.473”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“It is rather odd to find Dunbar referring to dance as useless: ‘dancing, a phenomenon that probably ranks, along with smiling and laughter’, he writes, ‘as one of the most futile of all human universals’.126 I say it is odd because he of all people ought to be able to see past its apparent uselessness to the individual, to its supposed usefulness to the group. Perhaps he does, and calls it ‘futile’ tongue in cheek. But I'd rather agree with him, nonetheless, that smiling, laughter and dance are – gloriously – useless: how many of us really believe that when we dance, laugh, or smile we do so ultimately because of some dreary utility to the group to which we belong? Perhaps there is no end in view. Perhaps these spontaneous behaviours are pointless, with no purpose beyond themselves, other than that they express something beyond our selves. Perhaps, indeed, the fact that so many of our distinguishing features are so ‘useless’ might make one think. Instead of looking, according to the manner of the left hemisphere, for utility, we should consider, according to the manner of the right hemisphere, that finally, through intersubjective imitation and experience, humankind has escaped from something worse even than Kant's ‘cheerless gloom of chance’: the cheerless gloom of necessity.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“The much lauded objective evidence is never triumphantly there; it is a mere aspiration or Grenzbegriff [limit or ideal notion] marking the infinitely remote ideal of our thinking life … [But] when as empiricists we give up the doctrine of objective certitude, we do not thereby give up the quest or hope of truth itself. We still pin our faith on its existence, and still believe that we gain an ever better position towards it by systematically continuing to roll up experiences and think. Our great difference from the scholastic lies in the way we face. The strength of his system lies in the principles, the origin, the terminus a quo of his thought; for us the strength is in the outcome, the upshot, the terminus ad quem. Not where it comes from but what it leads to is to decide.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


“Because the medium of the resulting work is not conventionally-referring language, whatever meaning it has will not be expressible in any other terms than those of the work itself. It is not an arbitrary meaning: because we cannot give a ‘correct’ translation into some other medium, it does not follow that we can give the work any meaning we care to.”
― quote from The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World



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