The limitations of left-hemispheric thinking

It seems to me that the greatest challenge of our time, which will either continue to exasperate every other challenge or by being addressed effectively, lead to all of the solutions we need, is our heavy leaning toward left-hemispheric thinking. So much do we do this, that we don’t even know we’re doing it most of the time. I certainly speak for myself.

By attempting to analyse our way out of problems we are doing the exact thing that got us into what ever mess we are choosing to view in isolation in that moment.

So if we are to be able to look at things truly holistically, it seems to me that we must first tackle the tendency to look at things in isolation. Even our attempts to map things out by saying “this system is linked with that system, is linked with the other system” is our reductionist attempt to understand things of infinite complexity and in so doing, limiting the emergence of real solutions to these complex troubles we see around us.

Now obviously, we don’t want to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Logic, reason and the abilities to plan and organise are essential, but should they not respond to the broader awareness available to us through the right-hemisphere?

A question is then, when is the correct point to take the insights of the right-hemisphere and action them? My experience is that I tend to too easily get carried away, thinking I have the solution, then through my attempts to implement it, get lost in the left-hemisphere once again, creating sub-standard solutions.

Another question could be around how much we need to let go of in order for the world to come into greater harmony? Many of the structures, systems and societies of the world may need to crash in order for harmony to emerge. But this would surely be very painful to us. A world more balanced between the hemispheres would perhaps be far less predictable and very unsettling for the left-hemispheric thinkers among us (including myself).

So there’s a courage called for here. Are we going to be that courageous in time?

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Great questions, David! Are you thinking of Iain McGilchrist’s view of the divided brain? This is one of my favourite RSA Animate videos: https://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain

A question is then, when is the correct point to take the insights of the right-hemisphere and action them? My experience is that I tend to too easily get carried away, thinking I have the solution, then through my attempts to implement it, get lost in the left-hemisphere once again, creating sub-standard solutions.

I wonder whether this kind of information is included within the insight itself, assuming of course that we’re willing to listen to it? Personally, I’m still working on unlearning a tendency to demand “reasons” and “evidence” for my own decisions and behaviours prior to action, despite having a clear intuitive guide and motivation for action well in advance of that left-hemisphere rationale.

This isn’t to suggest that intuition has the whole answer and plan all of the time, and that we should immediately follow every impulse … but maybe we don’t need to make left-hemisphere agreement a prerequisite for everything? And maybe we could even turn things around by making sure we always have right-hemisphere agreement for everything.

Sort of a “zoom back out at every stage” and check for intuitive coherence …

Another question could be around how much we need to let go of in order for the world to come into greater harmony? Many of the structures, systems and societies of the world may need to crash in order for harmony to emerge. But this would surely be very painful to us. A world more balanced between the hemispheres would perhaps be far less predictable and very unsettling for the left-hemispheric thinkers among us (including myself)

Another thought-provoking question! :smiley:

I want to dig in a little.

Do you think a more balanced world would be unsettling because it would be inherently less predictable, under all circumstances? Or are our structures, systems and societies currently set up in a way that makes them unpredictable to our intuition?

Hi Kylie,

No I hadn’t seen that talk - thank you fro sharing it.

I like your suggestions regarding the primacy of the role of the right hemisphere, which seem to correspond with McGilchrist/Einstein. I’ll continue to experiment with this.

To your last questions - I think greater unpredictability would emerge from a more balanced approach to life. I expect there would be some domains within society that would remain primarily left-leaning, but I would like to see how we could bring balance to all areas. Which starts with us all bringing more balance to every area of our own lives. This requires courage and commitment of an order I’ve rarely experienced in anyone. I ask myself regularly if I’m truly committed to my life… Often I fear the answer is “no”, which is perhaps due to an underlying nihilism that I believe is majorly informed by the left-hemisphere. Perhaps a side note…

I think a lot of our structures, systems and societies are rather predictable sub-par in the results they produce.

Thank you David for opening this up and both of you for your explorations into this topic.

I have noticed recently that though I approach many things in life through my ‘thinking’ self, I have a strong recoil to any discussions that are full of ‘thinking-ness’. So I leave it for a while and come back to it, and like now, often find a real richness in the topic, sparking off responses that seem to move through me from mind to a feeling about it to awareness of something - insights perhaps or realisations - that have meaning in my mind but also occur somewhere else too.

What also came up for me was wondering what, to you David, left-hemisphere and right-hemisphere thinking/approach means to you. I have an assumption of what you mean, with left-hemisphere meaning logical thinking patterns i.e. working things out, approaching things as a problem with a solution needed; and right-hemisphere being insights that arise from inside and outside of us, feelings, intuitions, gut response. Is that on the ball?

I really hear you on this. I also find myself doing it, I think, when looking at something: this is the problem, how can I map this out, how can I pull it apart and make it logical and understandable, and therefore solvable. Putting things into point a, point b, point c etc. Looking at where we as humans have been generally in the Western world, it doesn’t surprise me that many of us lean on this tool. However, what I have been finding recently is that in actuality I don’t do any one ‘enquiry’ in a bubble: thought-led experiences have other elements involved; intuition, realisations etc. always involve a thought form.

Yes, I think that’s it. We would have to let go of a certain something - not sure what that is exactly. Maybe an over-reliance on trusting ‘thinking’ over other forms of enquiry? Letting go of the feeling of control that comes with approaching things analytically? Perhaps even the part of us that likes the recognition of being seen as or feeling intelligent or smart?

Would it necessarily be painful? I’m not sure on that. Maybe we’d all feel an enormous sense of relief it we could approach things using every part of us and have that approach reflected in our systems.

Yes! This makes so much sense, a requirement to check in on all levels of enquiry. What a mmmmm world that could be.

Do you think this unpredictability would be painful? If so, why? And what could be our approach so that it was not only accepted but embraced fully?

Where this discussion is taking me so far is that we all seem to agree that we would all benefit from moving towards a society that approaches its decision making using more ways of enquiry than thinking. And this means a huge amount of trust. Which leaves me with wondering how can we move people into trusting all forms of enquiry?

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I think Kylie’s video does a great job at distinguishing between the approach of both hemispheres. Left being linear and reductionist. Right being divergent and expansive.

As you say, to me it seems more like the letting go of the feeling of control - certain kinds of thinking - as opposed to thinking itself. Thought, emotion, intuition, psychical sensation are all also useful tools. As far as the part that likes being seen as x, y or z - I think the most important thing here is being honest with yourself about those things, instead of trying to overcome them. Whether they serve you is something worth considering - that depends on what your goals are. It is for us to learn to tolerate those traits in others.

As far as pain goes - I’d say it’s both a relief and painful. We let go of the resistance to the discomfort that letting go of control creates, which in a way makes things more easeful. But we then are actively pursuing the unknown, which brings deeper and deeper levels of discomfort. I expect there is a point of being comfortable with discomfort, but perhaps this is a very high achievement.

The pain is generated by our resistance to the way things really are - unpredictable. Understanding universal truths can help with moving forward, for example:

  1. The only constant is change, so things are inherently unpredictable
  2. We are all different, so any attempt to plan on behalf of anyone else will likely be flawed

So with 7 billion different perspectives pulling in 7 billion+ different directions, combined with an ever changing context, all plans/predictions disintegrate on contact with the real world. They can only serve (arguably effectively) as very short term conversational tools for left-brain thinkers.

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Hi David

That’s really interesting! :thinking: (And unexpected!) Thank you.

Now I’m really curious to know your thoughts on the following proposition:

What if the unpredictability is actually already there, but just hidden from the left hemisphere’s view, sort of like a risk-management externality?

Eventually, like any externality, it would come back to bite us, but because we hadn’t seen it, it would take us by surprise. So we would think we’ve been victims of bad luck, of black swans interfering with “the best laid plans of mice and men” … when in truth, we’ve actually just been so focused on the comfort of scheming with the left hemisphere that we didn’t see what the right hemisphere had to show us.

This aligns with the way I felt about much of my experience as a project manager. Right hemisphere (intuition) told me in advance of all manner of things just waiting to go awry, but because there was no “evidence”, I’d seriously struggle to justify any actions I’d take to deal with those risks.

On the flip-side, when I could smuggle in some of those actions, they were often multi-solvers. Getting a comfortable place for a team to work together, for example, would result in all sorts of minor miracles, like:

  • increasing trust amongst team members
  • raising complicity, humour and creativity within the team (AKA “fun” :wink:)
  • reducing the time spent forming, storming and norming … getting to performing much quicker
  • decreasing the time spent on meetings and administration and other communication overheads
  • reducing stress and conflict
  • making it easier for everyone to find things
  • reducing rework (because everyone can see what’s going on)
  • making the project manager (me) less crabby

EDIT:

Just saw this:

Well stated. Things really are unpredictable, and “all plans/predictions disintegrate on contact with the real world.” :slight_smile:

I hear you on the LH-informed nihilism. Another one of those feedback loops I guess.

Maybe we can start digging our way by adding texture and colour back in, turning up the volume on the right hemisphere wherever we can, rather than trying to achieve balance by turning down the volume on the left hemisphere?

For example, I like the way Nora Bateson talks about “warm data” (< 5min intro video) – it’s an invitation, a seduction to fullness and richness, rather than a removal or suppression of anything we get from the left hemisphere.

If using the right hemisphere is enjoyable in its own right, and we can simply make an effort to refrain from pooh-poohing intuition, emotion etc, our full-spectrum humanity may bloom and balance more easily than we think.

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Thank you David, these responses are rich with things for me to enquire into. I can see different approaches opening up in how I explore my own thought processes and how we all may respond to this next possible phase of societal organisation.

Dropped this…

Yes turn up the right, not turning down the left.

:slight_smile:

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