Further on the divided brain.

Having freshly listened to another of Dr Jordan Peterson’s interviews, with Dr Ian McGilchrist, the concept of the left brain and the right brain is intensely focused in my perception. In short, Dr McGilchrist’s work posits that the left hemisphere of the brain is centrally focused on precise tasks (giving an example of a bird locking on to a morsel of food hidden amongst stones) whereas the right hemisphere is predominantly dedicated to broader and intangible concepts (such as the purpose of food to the bird, and the presence of potential predators). Listening to the conversation between the two doctors, two particular ideas came to mind.

Why women love romance.

I recently read Pride and Prejudice with my wife. I also watched the 2005 film of the same name. Had I not read the book first, I would have had absolutely no ability to follow some of the plot, and even then, I found following along with the book required much explanation from my wife. One particular example of this was when the protagonist, Elizabeth, ostensibly comes to regret her decision to decline an offer of marriage from Fitzwilliam. It appeared logical to me in the circumstances that Elizabeth should merely express her regret to Fitzwilliam. My wife was forced to explain to me at a great deal of length how this contextually couldn’t occur (both being the custom of the times, the nature of women generally etc.). I still don’t profess to understand this fully. Women typically have an ability to apprehend very complex social queues in an incredibly broad set of criteria almost immediately.

As previously written about, women are typically doing better in the Australian education system, with approximately 55% of high school graduates being women and approximately the same for university graduates (there is variance between different universities, and areas of study; annual figures are released by UAC and individual universities). This has been a reversal of the previous male-dominant education figures that existed prior to the mid-1970’s (graph below from Participation in Education and Training 1980-1994, Long, Carpenter, Hayden (1999))

Dr McGilchrist posits that western society has, over the past few decades, taken on a propensity to focus on matters divorced from their wider context (Dr Peterson gave the example of health orders during the recent coronavirus ‘pandemic’ being made wholly dependent on health advice, whilst ignoring financial, social and overall broader contexts). Extrapolating this trend and giving it thought with respect to the Australian educational system, it seems to tie in coincidentally with the rise of women in the education system. A concise explanation of this trend and the reasons underpinning it (in the United States) can be seen in Christina Hoff Sommer’s PragueU video:


I digress, the statistics on the disparity between our boys’ and girls’ academic results in school and university are widely known. What is less talked about, in my opinion, is that women are being taught to ignore their right-brain functions. They are likely better at ignoring this than their male counterparts (for a myriad of reasons) and ultimately being able to focus on a specific task. Additionally, another interesting statistic that has appeared over the past ten or so years, is a strange occurrence in the world of literature: romance novels are becoming more popular AND younger women are reading them (look up the statistics yourself). Perhaps this is because of an increasing need for our women to engage their right brain in a complex mess of social & value based contextual analysis? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If someone is consistently shutting down their right brain functions, obviously they would be yearning to use it, and what better place than the complex socio-hierarchical-maze that found in romance novels.

Jesus healing on the Sabbath

I don’t profess to be a theologian further than my religious education in school. I am aware of the deep metaphors that exist in the bible, and one in particular stuck out to my while thinking about the divided brain:

In Matthew 12:11 Jesus was tasked with healing a man on the Sabbath, who enquired words to the effect of ‘isn’t it sin to heal on the Sabbath?’ to which Jesus retorted words to the effect of ‘if one of your sheep became stuck on the Sabbath, you would grab it by the horns and yank it up wouldn’t you?’.

As with many bible stories, there are numerous ways to pick apart this story, but for our purposes Jesus is asked to consider the strict observance of the Sabbath rules, and whether the fact that he heals someone is a breach of the same. Jesus is able to understand fully the meaning of the Sabbath, and the rules, and then he is able to criticise the purpose and the applicability of the rule in the circumstance. He concludes that necessity is a sufficient excuse in the circumstances to break the rule.

I’m sure everybody can picture somebody in their field of work, who with overly officious zeal will (without question) apply a strict interpretation of the rules with little-to-no-regard of its utility in the circumstances. Conversely, someone who always cuts corners and doesn’t understand the proper purpose and use for the rules can be equally undesirable. The correct application of the left brain and the right brain would result in a worker who is absolutely conscious of the rules and is able to analyze them in the context of their use and utility in a given circumstance. Jesus implied, in his response, that a strict application of the rules would result in a dead sheep (or the death of the sick in his case), therefore his breach of the rules of the Sabbath was not only warranted but outright desirable.

Working in Law, the applicability of the rules is a near constant struggle especially when it comes to criminal law. Having cut my teeth in local court criminal matters, a good local magistrate considering (in a busy list day) whether or not a low-level driving offence warrants a significant punishment, gives a quick consideration of the person’s whole life circumstances, antecedents, the nature and the explanations for the offence. The sentencing rules give a fairly tight set of criteria for the magistrate to be able to use when deciding on the sentencing, and when I pointed out to my sagacious mentor that some of our submissions were outside of the scope of the law, he eruditely reminded me there is what the law says and there is what the magistrate decides is relevant. The magistrate would be aware of the strict sentencing rules, but would also be aware of the significant negative effects to the person and to the justice system of a time-consuming and flabby strict adherence to the laws were observed. The chance of an appeal or of a negative consequence of giving a reasonable sentence and saving the court’s precious time is desirable, and this required a good mix of left and right brain.

If Jesus was alive today, I wonder if he would change his tune?

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