First approximation?

Why is the denial of brain lateralization so grim, piqued and emotional?

Once again, a post of 2013 circulates on the social media who shouts at us “WRONG” and “Stop it. Please.”

The research cited identifies three parts of the brain, two of which nicely match what McGilchrist says about his “Master”:

  • The Imagination Network
  • The Salience Network

and the third aligns with the “Emissary”:

  • The Executive Attention Network.

The article argues that all these parts work together in creative prcesses. This is what McGilchrist keeps emphazing, for all mental processes. And that structures from both the left and right hemisphere are recruited. This is what McGilchrist does not deny but considers possible:

“If it could eventually be shown definitively that the two major ways, not just of thinking, but of being in the world, are NOT related to the two cerebral hemispheres, I would be surprised, but not unhappy.” (p. 461) and “[I]t seems like a metaphor that might have some literal truth. But if it turns out to be ‘just’ a metaphor, I will be content. I have a high regard for metaphor. It is how we come to understand the world.” (p. 462)

The scientists call their work a “first approximation”. Is this true? Isn’t the idea of different modes of the brain a much older approximation, that has been around in the pre-scientific experience of real life, in knowledge of human nature, and wordly wisdom, for long?

And these two approximations are even closer, in that the post has to admit (in a well hidden footnote) that “There’s some grain of truth to the left brain/ right brain distinction” (about spatial reasoning, language, and the Aha moment.)

So why the grim attacks? Is it just pedantism, cantankerous bossiness, or literalistic orthodoxy?

The very idea that there are different modes, may be unsettling. The complacency that there is just one right way (and of course this is mine) may be threatened. Furthermore, the notion of two hemispheres suggests that the two modes are equitable, i.e., this threatens the superiority of the “left hemisphere” mode.

I think it is a pity that the controversy is stuck in grim denial, while the gradual approximation of the two basic modes would be so fruitful, for learning and understanding. In particular, the concept of “salience” is such a powerful idea which may explain a lot of what makes an expert: It is not an accumulation of propositional facts in the expert’s brain, but rather, his or her performance in recognizing what is salient, for example in a disease pattern and anamnesis of a patient.

Personally, I am much more interested in the understanding of everyday cognition than in the amitious goals of deciphering creativity and problem solving — which appear like gold synthesis to me.

This entry was posted in Cognitive Styles. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to First approximation?

  1. jennymackness says:

    Interesting post. The idea of recognising what is salient seems to fit with Stephen Downes recent talk in Istanbul about The Future of Educational Media –
    where he talks about assessment being a recognition process not a standards-based process.

  2. x28 says:

    Many thanks for your comments. Perhaps I should have mentioned that my thinking about salience and recognition was greatly influenced by Stephen. I hope my few readers will remember how often I have attributed him. My own little contribution is not about recognition itself but how it can be linked to the two brain modes.

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