Maps and reality

“The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski, 1931

In his excellent book Taking Appearance Seriously, Henri Bortoft expresses succinctly the effect of the brain’s left hemisphere in overriding the lived experience registered by the right hemisphere (in line with Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary):

“Where the right hemisphere mediates the lived experience of wholeness, the left hemisphere mediates its representation – it replaces experience with a model of experience, which then gets confused with and mistaken for experience itself.”

Not only does this result in scientists confusing their maps of reality with reality itself (see earlier post), it leads to much of our lives being led at second hand, as we focus on our conceptual maps of what is going on, rather than on the real lived experience. This is perhaps a contribution to the disconnection from body mentioned in my post reviewing In Touch.

This is not intended as a criticism of the left hemisphere, indeed this is where social media such as blogs largely reside. It is just that we do need to be aware of what is going on and ‘remember’ our real selves.

Featured image by Allan Ajifo –, CC BY 2.0,


Presence or represent

In his book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought, Henri Bortoft gives an interesting insight into the two modes of being present in the world, which he relates to the left and right hemispheres of the brain as outlined by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary, which he quotes:

“the right hemisphere delivers what is new as it ‘presences‘ – before the left hemisphere gets to represent it.”

Bortoft goes on to say:

“Where the right hemisphere mediates the lived experience of wholeness, the left hemisphere mediates its representation – it replaces experience with a model of experience, which then gets confused with and mistaken for the experience itself.”

This is surely a crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the modern project. Rather than living within the world and nature as an integral part of it (right hemisphere), we live in the world at second hand in the abstracted meaning (left hemisphere) that occurs to us following the experience. Having lost that direct connection with nature as it presences, we treat it as an external object to be exploited and dominated. Look around you – the evidence is before your eyes.

It happened in Europe from about the time following the Renaissance. And it was arguably a necessary development of humanity. Now however, it is becoming imperative to readjust the relationship, so that direct experience of nature has equal status with our abstractions, such as science, technology, economics, capitalism, materialism… Dominance by abstractions is leading us into a nightmare world.

The New Renaissance must involve reconnection with our essential nature, a balance between left and right hemispheres.

My post on Presence gives another perspective on that word.
Featured image by Allan Ajifo, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cause of The Renaissance?

We’ve travelled around Europe a fair amount over the years and it is clear from the evidence of art and architecture that something special happened around the 12th/13th centuries and again the 15th/16th centuries. The Romanesque and Gothic architectures, the paintings and sculptures of Tuscany, the establishment of universities, printing, the beginnings of great literature,…

What was it that led to this original Renaissance? What special combination of circumstances caused that great explosion of the human spirit? Philosopher Jean Gebser had an answer in his book The Ever Present Origin (1949), and it goes back to the basic nature of our own consciousness.

Humanity has gone through four basic ‘structures of consciousness’: the ‘archaic’, the ‘magical’, the ‘mythic’ and the ‘mental-rational’. He dates the period when the transition began from ‘mythic’ to ‘mental-rational’ at around 1225. This was the period when left brain consciousness began to assert itself against the submersion into a right-brain dominated world. For a period the two were in some sort of state of balance which led to the creative explosion of those periods of Renaissance.

Then as time progressed the dominance of left brain was gradually asserted (see The Master and His Emissary), interconnectedness was reduced and the emphasis moved to individuality and competition. Of course, this has been creative in its own way, see the explosion of science and technology, but it has been at a cost of the basic connection with life itself. Hence increasing problems of pollution, environmental degradation, global warming, species extinction, mega-wars, terrorism,…

Gebser postulated that we are on the threshold of a fifth structure of consciousness – the ‘integral’ – which would begin to redress the balance that has gone too far one way. Such a new consciousness would re-establish that creative balance between the two halves of the brain, but at a higher level – leading to a New Renaissance.

Many thinkers have since then built on Gebser’s ideas, including Ken Wilber and Iain McGilchrist.

I am indebted to Gary Lachman’s book The Secret Teachers of the Western World for inspiring this post.

Featured image of Botticelli Venus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons