Sacking The “Berlusconi Of The Brain”

Berlusconi no longer runs Italy. But is the “Berlusconi of the Brain” still in charge in your own world?

According to Iain McGilchrist, the left hemisphere of the brain is like Berlusconi because it controls the media. It airbrushes reality, creating rational, linguistic arguments to generate an illusory perfect, mechanistic world.

When you combine that idea with the fact that the left brain is more interested in what it already knows than in new things, the result is a hall of mirrors, in which the left brain knows more and more about what it already knows, and is less and less open to new ideas – and to grubby, imperfect reality.

McGilchrist is interested in the effect of that at the level of society and culture. He argues that society is becoming more and more “left-brained” – technocratic, bureaucratic, mechanistic.

He quotes Einstein, who said: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

I’m curious about how all this affects us as individuals. Is it possible for a person to get “stuck” in the world of the left brain? I suspect it is possible – and the fact you’re reading this means that you’re vulnerable.

If you’re the kind of person who reads and reads about how minds work, about how people think, about the structure of communication and human relationships, you’re showing an affinity for the left brain’s view of the world.

The bind is that the world of the left brain is safe and predictable. Those books and websites aren’t going to stab me or rape me. They create a comfort zone where you can relax.

But perhaps they can be damaging, too. They create an idealised notion of how people “should” be: you too can be rich, attractive, talented, famous… if you follow these clever techniques and hand over lots of cash.

And inherent in that notion is the idea that perhaps you’re not yet “good enough” to engage with real people… so you stay in your nice, safe, bookish, nerdy comfort zone of the rational mind.

There is another way to find out about people and the way they think: to get out there and engage with them. But that’s unpredictable, and therefore risky. It requires us to engage the right hemisphere – so we may have to operate without a clear structure or plan, even without language, and to pay attention in a more holistic way. We’ll be way out of our comfort zones very quickly… and then what could happen?

Given the choice, would you sack your own Berlusconi?

Or would you stick with the man who famously said: “The left has no taste, even when it comes to women”?

3 Comments

  • Stewart Mason

    16/11/2011

    I think it is always best to be able to use both faculties of the brain, and be able to gain maximum benefit of them both. When I did my training for the commercial pilots licence, most of my fellow pilots were left brain guys, all about figures, and checklists, and vectors, and graphs. I was embarassed to admit that I was more interested in the way the clouds looked, or the feelings of dropping into a spin and the shudder of the airframe through my fingertips! I was a “danced the skies on laughter silvered wings” guy!
    I spent a while in Bournemouth holed up in a guesthouse cramming for the 14 ground exams, and that guesthouse was used mostly by retired people learning to improve their painting technique, and every week, there would be a visiting professional artist to talk to them on technique. I remember being in one lounge with my head in technical manuals, listening to the artists talk about colour, and shade and light and shape, and in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be with them! It was a sledgehammer moment. I had been ruled by my left brain, and and tried to dismiss and push away the right, until I heard it call! From that day I have sought to try and enjoy both hemispheres, and would really miss either of them!

  • Maarten Aalberse

    18/11/2011

    I’m afraid Iain is losing it.

    I was already very sceptical about his vision on history, but now he begins to rubbish…

  • Judy

    18/11/2011

    I fear it’s me talking rubbish, not McGilchrist! Of course we need both sides of the brain, and I’ve fallen into my own trap and created a false dichotomy.

    My thinking on all of this was well tweaked at the University of Surrey’s Inner Worlds event earlier in the week. Blog post soon!

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