Hemispheres

I’ve only read the first four chapters of Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things. My intent is to build up to how his ideas intersect with my workaday life in a future segment, but for now, I’ll summarise some main themes.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content (< 5 minutes)

The chapters I’ve read are

  1. Some preliminaries: How we got here
  2. Attention
  3. Perception
  4. Judgment

The next chapter is Apprehension.

Philosophically, or rather I have an interest in McGilchrist’s ontological model, but that appears not to arrive until the second volume, perhaps in chapters 24 or 25, respectively Space and Matter and Matter and Consciousness. Being that this underlaid my reluctance to engage with this book, I did take liberties and skimmed these chapters quickly in an attempt to discern whether he is a Realist or an Idealist.

Until recently, I’ve been a Realist with reservations, but now I consider myself instead to be an Idealist with reservations—though I may have fewer reservations, so perhaps I am moving in the right direction.

As a Realist with reservations, I felt that there was some underlying reality, but sense-perception and cognitive limitations limited access to it, so correspondence to it was necessarily limited.

As an Idealist with reservations, I feel that there is some underlying reality, and sense-perception and cognitive limitations limit access to it, so correspondence to it is still necessarily limited, so we generate an approximation.

I agree with Donald Hoffman’s assertion of Fitness Before Truth, in summary, that it is faster and more efficient to assess environmental fitness and take penalties where the assessment may have been a false positive. If one recoils in error from a coiled garden hose initially perceiving it to be a snake, the penalty is low. If a delay is incurred to assess some ‘snakeness’ truth value, we may have already been bitten. If we see something charging at us, better to avert and assess than to take time to discern. It’s of little consolation to consider, “Ah. I’m being mauled by a cheetah.” Better to have ducked and covered.

My chapter skimming was not enough to ascertain McGilchrist’s position. I’ll wait until I arrive there in due time. No need to spoil the ending. Given the book’s title, I am leaning toward Idealist, but I may be mistaken.

Moving on, these chapters build on each other. Not so much with narrative content as to represent the necessary chain of perceptual events: attention, perception, and judgment—in this order.

We cannot judge what we can’t perceive, and we can’t perceive what doesn’t come into the sense-perception space. McGilchrist reminds the reader that just because something is in a space where it can be perceived does not mean it can or will be perceived. He cites the example of the invisible gorilla in a basketball game study, which I’ll link to separately.

What we attend to is a matter of the situation and experience. Once we bring our attention to it, we can attempt to perceive it. Is it a snake or just a garden hose?  Finally, we can make a judgment—it was just a garden hose. Silly old bear. Or, I sure am thankful my reflexes are lightning quick.

Winnie the Pooh: Silly Old Bear

McGilchrist provides a plethora of examples, though most are tied to split-brain scenarios, which brings me to my last point. One of his theses is that left-right brain hemisphere differences are real and significant. Some had argued that the left-right representation is false, and he wants to take it back and regain that space by asserting arguments to the contrary.

I expect to discuss this more in an upcoming segment and apply my preliminary thoughts to my comprehension.

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