Austrian Economics Bollox

A citizen of the Internet shared this as if were gospel along with this comment:

Late Professor Steven Horwitz expanding on a Misesian theme. Monetary profit helps allocate resources to higher valued uses. Elsewhere, Mises spoke of profit in a broader sense, “profit” being the goal of every action. In any case, those familiar with what pundits (from the left mostly) tend to say about “profit” may be completely surprised by this take, since it is so contrary to what they often read and hear.

Of course, these are vapid words and wishful thinking. How and why do profits signal that value has been created? I dunno. They just do cuz I said so. The only thing that profits signal is a market that doesn’t understand the true cost of production and consumers can’t be bothered to do it themselves. Mattresses and shaving razor blades are two high-margin consumer goods with mattresses yielding 500 per cent profits and razor blades even higher. These profits represent economic rent and not value. The fact that imperfect information shrouds this excess does not make it ‘value’.

Regarding the mortgage market meltdown of 2007-08, there were houses being built into a market with no buyers. The same ‘value’ being created was demonstrably vapour. Say’s Law was off-target again. Supply does not create its own demand.

Is it no wonder that so many Capitalists are also Protestant Christians who believe in Bible tales as well? Even worse are the Christians who are not Capitalists but are exploited by Capitalism the same way they are exploited by their religion. I guess once you’ve profiled the gullible, you might as well just keep exploiting them until there is nothing left to extract.

The Matter with Things: Chapter Twenty Summary: The coincidentia oppositorum

I have a confession to make. I finished reading the first volume of The Matter with Things about a month ago, and I took a break from reading more of it. I finally got around to continuing, and I read chapter twenty. When I got to the end and turned to the next chapter—chapter twenty-one—, it dawned on me that volume I ended at chapter nine. I had inadvertently skipped volume II and began volume III. Oopsie. I’m lucky it wasn’t a novel, having skipped ten chapters.

Since I’ve read it, I might as well summarise it, Spoiler alert: there are no spoilers to alert. As this chapter is more about exposition and colour, this summary will be much shorter than the summaries of the first volume. I don’t know if this will be a continuing trend. We’ll find out together.

This chapter is labelled the coincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites. Effectively, the chapter wants to impart three main points.

Symmetry

Firstly, asymmetry is the norm. Symmetry is the exception. We perceive things in opposites. This brings attention to bear. Line straight lines, symmetry does not exist in nature. It is something the left hemisphere perspective approximates. No face is symmetrical; planets are not symmetrical. In fact, if one manipulates an image of a face and mirrors one side as both to appear as a face, it becomes obvious that something is amiss.

Excess

The Ancient Greeks had a penchant for moderation. Buddhists have the Middle Path. Everything is poisonous in large enough quantities. Even poisons can be therapeutic at low doses. The point is to retain this perspective.

To be or not to be…or both

This is not about Schrodinger’s cat. We need to break ourselves of the habit of thinking in opposites. Not everything is a dichotomy—black and white. Some things are black and white—and not just a draughts board. McGilchrist opens the chapter with a nice Iriqois about two brothers who were seeming opposites but were nonetheless necessary. In a manner, this is the good versus evil story. Opposition strengthens us. Trees raised in a windless environment don’t have the strength of natural-grown trees.

This story is encapsulated in a story told by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

A faithful man finds in the scriptures that Rabbi X said that a certain thing was true. Later he finds that Rabbi Y said that the very same thing was false. He prays for guidance: ‘Who is right?’ God answers: ‘Both of them are right.’ Perplexed, the man replies: ‘But what do you mean? Surely they can’t both be right?’ To which God replies: ‘All three of you are right.’

In the chapter summary, McGlichrists ends with this:

Just as there is an asymmetry in the relationship of the hemispheres, there is an asymmetry in the coincidentia oppositorum. We need not just difference and union but the union of the two; we need, as I have urged, not just non-duality, but the non-duality of duality with non-duality; and we need not just asymmetry alone, or symmetry alone, but the asymmetry that is symmetry-and-asymmetry taken together.

Summary

As I mentioned at the start, this is a short summary. I really enjoyed this chapter and its lessons. It’s nice to be reminded of such things. This extends to the asymmetry of the hemispheres of the brain. As much as I don’t appreciate the imbalance of the left hemisphere in Modernity, I need to be reminded that we just need to tweak the dial a tab to the right. We don’t need the right hemisphere operating at eleven, to share a reference to Spinal Tap.

Path to the Fall

By fall, I don’t mean autumn except perhaps metaphorically speaking. The accompanying image illustrates a progression from the pre-Enlightenment reformation and the factors leading to the Modern Condition and increases in schizophrenia in people, societies, and enterprises.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content.

This image is essentially composited from a later chapter in Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. In it, he outlines a path that commences at the Reformation that led to Lutheranism and Protestantism and further to Calvinism (not separately depicted). Max Weber argued that Capitalism is inextricably linked to Calvinism and the workmanship ideal tradition.

McGilchrists argument is founded on the notion that Catholocism is a communally oriented belief system whilst Protestantism is focused on the individual and salvation through personal work. The essence of capitalism is the same.

Of course, history isn’t strictly linear. In fact, there are more elements than one could realistically account for, so we rely on a reduction. In concert with the Reformation but on a slight delay is the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which led not only to faith in science but then to the pathology of Scientism.

This Protestant-Scientismic nexus brought us to Capitalism and into the Industrial Revolution, where humans were devivified or devitalised, trading their souls to be pawns to earn a few shekels to survive. Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution led to Marxism, through Marx’s critique of Capitalism, but Marxism has the same fatal flaw as Capitalism inasmuch as it doesn’t view people as humans. It does afford them a slightly higher function as workers, but this still leaves humanity as a second-tier aspect and even historicity is elevated above as a sort of meta-trend or undercurrent.

From there, we transition to Modernity, which yields the modern condition and schizophrenics in one fell swoop. This is no coincidence.

Although I end this journey at Modernism, McGilchrist is also leery of the effects of post-modernism as well as philosophy itself as overly reductionist in its attempts to categorise and systematise, valuing signs and symbols over lived experience. His main complaint with postmodernism is that it moves from the objective perspective of Modernity to the subjective perspective, and so there remains no base foundation, which is the shared experience. I’m not sure I agree with his critique, but I’m not going to contemplate it here and now.

In the end, this journey and illustration are gross simplifications, but I still feel it provides valuable perspective. The challenge is that one can’t readily put the genie back into the bottle, and the question is where do we go from here, if not Modernism or Postmodernism. I shouldn’t even mention Metamodernism because that seems like an unlikely synthesis, as well-intentioned as it might be. McGilchrist gives examples of reversals in the trend toward left-hemisphere bias, notably the Romantic period, but that too was reversed, recommencing the current trajectory. My feeling is that if we continue down this dark path, we’ll reach a point of no return.

It seems to be that it’s growing at an increasing rate, like a snowball careening down a slope. It not only drives the left-dominant types further left because an analytical person would reinforce the belief that if only s/he and the world were more analytical things would be so much better—even in a world where net happiness is trending downward—, but it also forces this worldview on other cultures, effectively destroying them and assimilating them into the dark side, if I can borrow a Star Wars reference.

Epilogue

I wasn’t planning to share this story—at least not now. In another forum, I responded to a statement, and I was admonished by Professor Stephen Hicks, author of the book of dubious scholarship, Explaining Postmodernism.

I responded to this query:

If you’re a single mother and have a son I’d suggest putting him in a sport or martial arts to add some masculine energy to his life. It’s not a replacement for the actual father but it can help instil structure and discipline into the core of his being.

— Julian Arsenio

“Perhaps this world needs less discipline and structure, not more,” was my response, to which Hicks replied.

The quotation is not about “the world.” It is about boys without fathers. Evaluate the quotation in its context.

— Stephen Hicks

“Disciplined boys create a disciplined world. Not a world I’d prefer to create or live in. We need more right-hemisphere people. Instead, we are being overwhelmed by left hemisphere types, leading to Capitalism and the denouement of humanity as it encroaches like cancer, devouring or corrupting all it touches.

“In the end, it is about the world, which from a left hemisphere perspective is a sum of its parts. Right-hemisphere thinkers know otherwise,” was my reply. He responded,

You seem to have difficulty focusing. From a quotation about fatherless boys you free associate to [sic] weird psychology and global apocalptic [sic] pessimism. Pointless.

— Stephen Hicks

“I’ll suggest that the opposite is true, and perhaps you need to focus less and appreciate the Gestalt. This was not free association. Rather, it is a logical connexion between the disposition of the people in the world and lived reality.

“Clearly, you are a left-hemisphere structured thinker. The world is literally littered with this cohort.

“I suggest broadening your worldview so as not to lose the woods for the trees. I recommend Dr Iain McGilchrist as an apt guide. Perhaps reading The Master and His Emissary and/or The Matter with Things would give you another perspective. #JustSaying”

His final repartee is,

And still, rather than addressing the issue of fatherless boys, you go off on tangents, this time psychologizing about people you’ve zero first-hand knowledge of.

— Stephen Hicks

Feel free to interpret this as you will. For me, his attempt to limit discussion to some notion he had in his head and his failure to see the woods for the trees, as I write, suggests that he is a left-brain thinker. Having watched some of his videos, whether lectures or interviews, this was already evident to me. This exchange is just another proof point.

I considered offering the perspective of Bruno Bettleheim’s importance of unstructured play, but as is evidenced above, he is not open to dialogue. His preference appears to be a monologue. This is the left hemisphere in action. This is an example of how insidious this convergent thinking is, and it makes me worry about what’s ahead in a world of people demanding more structure and discipline. Foucault’s Discipline and Surveillance comes to the forefront.

Underrepresented Class

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

I’ve just finished reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary, having paused The Matter with Things to put it to bed. The book is divided into two sections. The first lays down the neuroscientific base whilst the second contains expository forrays. Technically, one might argue that there are three sections as the last unnumbered chapter seems to stand alone from the second part. It’s only one chapter containing some 36 pages, so I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. But this will not be a book review, as highly recommended as it is.

I’ve been a vocal proponent of hiring neurodiverse people into certain roles. Having read the book and absorbed the rationale, it’s easy to see how it aligns with and supports some of my own experiences. In particular, I’ve noticed that many companies hire autism spectrum on the Aspergers end of the scale. These people tend to be hired into IT and programming roles—functions already having reputations for being staffed with socially awkward and low EQ individuals, characteristics of people on the spectrum. It makes sense because left-hemisphere-dominant managers evaluate this hyper-left-hemisphere-dominant cohort as assets. Without getting too deep into the territory of stereotypes, in general, this group are laser-focused and doggedly pursue tasks at hand without tiring. I’ve met plenty of ADHD-diagnosed people in these roles, too—not as many, but also employed in technology-oriented positions.

The underrepresented class are right-hemisphere-dominant people. To be fair, I’ve encountered many Creative people in Agencies, but their right-hemisphere life is separate from their left and not appreciated in the workplace. They mainly exercise their right-hemisphere life outside of office hours on personal passion projects. I’d also be willing to bet that these people are not truly right-hemisphere-dominant. Rather, they have the ability to balance and allow the left hemisphere to take over during business hours.

In some cases, these people happen to have right-hemisphere insights into a project or have some creative inspiration off hours to benefit the work of the next day. But the right hemisphere is not time-boxed. It doesn’t function on demand. In fact, it shuts down on demand, and the left introduces bootleg knock-offs. Of course, this doesn’t matter, as it is probably better than their left-hemisphere managers and clients and good enough in their eyes. I’m not convinced they’d actually recognise the right-hemisphere solution as better because the left hemisphere prefers its own tribe anyway.

If you are reading this and you are saying, “They’re running a business. They can’t wait for weeks or months for a resource to have the epiphany of a creative solution,” you’ve made my point, and you’ve presented strong evidence that you are operating from your left hemisphere as well. There’s no shame in this. The first step is to admit there’s a problem.

My point is not to antagonise left-hemisphere-dominant people or the fact that they’re at home with other like-minded people. It’s only natural. They usually find right-hemisphere types to be too eccentric for their taste anyway.

But these right- or balanced-hemisphere thinkers, not given the space for their right-hemisphere to yield benefit, are likely in a Creative function, whether in art, illustration, copywriting, or some such. They are like unicorns outside of this context.

As for me, I am at times balanced and at times left. At other times, I’m purely right, though this is admittedly short-lived and unsustainable. But in a balanced state—in a right-shifted mode—, this is where my Gestalt comes into play. One of my roles is to evaluate processes. The left hemisphere analyses in components and pieces. Taking an analytical approach, I can document that the knee bone is connected to the shin bone and the shin bone is connected to the ankle bone and so on, but this requires context, something the left hemisphere is weak at. The left hemisphere will tell us that this is the bone connexion process, as it were. But it’s more than this. It’s meaningless without musculature and connective tissue and a nervous system and a circulatory system. And we’d likely want the person to whom the bones belong to be alive. And how do these bones contribute to function and perambulation? This is a larger system thinking approach.

System thinking is a recommendation for looking at processes, but this is right-hemisphere activity. Most people asked to perform this are left-hemisphere-dominant, so they give it short-shrift.

At the end of this rant, my point is that I hear all about equity, diversity, and inclusion, but this cohort is not only underrepresented but almost nonexistent. To be fair, many of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable behind your walls anyway, aren’t likely to prefer the constraint of your walls, and they’d probably feel like outsiders. But this is the challenge with true inclusion.

Classes are a left-hemisphere operation at the start—male, female, black, white, L, B, G, T, and so on. These are left-hemisphere constructs. But since you are already stuck in this place anyway, let’s consider expanding the neurodiverse class to include right-hemisphere people.

The Matter with Things: Part 1 Chapter Orientation

I can’t recommend Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Matter with Things, highly enough. I recommend reading The Master and His Emissary first. I didn’t figure this out until I started reading The Matter with Things, so I am reading them in parallel.

The book arrives as two volumes split into three sections. Part one is the foundation the rest of the book builds on. I’ve recently finished it and summarised each chapter, but I feel a high-level chapter orientation would be in order. Part one contains nine chapters:

  1. Some preliminaries: how we got here
  2. Attention
  3. Perception
  4. Judgment
  5. Apprehension
  6. Emotional and social intelligence
  7. Cognitive intelligence
  8. Creativity
  9. What schizophrenia and autism can tell us

Here’s the breakdown:

Some preliminaries: How we got here

As this book is a follow-up to The Master and His Emissary, published in 2008, Iain has already laid much of the foundation for it. Moreover, he doesn’t assume that you’ve already read The Master and His Emissary, and the work leading up to it, so this is what he outlines here as he drops hints of what’s to come in the chapters ahead.

Attention

This chapter reminds us that we cannot perceive what we don’t attend to, to pay attention to. The world outside just is, and we can attend to this or to that. From there, our perception will develop, perhaps, in turn, drawing out attention elsewhere.

As is a thread throughout, Iain uses various mental illnesses and split cerebral hemispheres to make his points. In this case, he tells us how neuro-atypical people have attention challenges, whether attending to the ‘wrong’ or otherwise inappropriate things or attending to too many things at once, flittering from this to that to the next thing without pause or resolution.

Perception

This chapter articulates how we perceive after attention has been focused. Perception is based on prior experience and knowledge combines with new sensory inputs.

Following the trend of people with hemisphere disturbances, Iain reminds us that people coming from different experiential places will perceive the same scenario differently. And if they are attending to the ‘wrong’ stimulus, their perception may be limited to that context, even if that micro-focused scope is otherwise correct.

Judgment

For some reason, Iain uses the American English spelling of Judgment, which in this case happens to be my preferred rendition, though my spell-checker disagrees.

In this chapter, we move from attention and perception to now being able to make judgements in this space. Of course, if we’ve attended to the ‘wrong’ thing leading to a variant perception, our judgment may be similarly out of order. Following the American trend, let’s say I am watching a baseball match, and the umpire calls a ball thrown out of the strike zone as a strike. If instead, my attention was distracted to another person in the stands picking his nose, my perception of the strike situation would be peripheral at best, and I would be in no place to make a judgment—about the pitch in any case. I may likely have plenty of judgment about the nose-picker.

In a nutshell, judgment is a left hemisphere function. The right hemisphere simply doesn’t care to judge. It’s a dispassionate observer taking in all without even categorising, let alone judging.

Apprehension

In this chapter, Iain explains that he is employing the term apprehension classically to mean to grasp or hold onto. This is a left hemisphere function as well. The right hemisphere is not grasping. Deficits in the right hemisphere don’t allow one to view the world in context as a whole. The left hemisphere will just see things are disconnected parts, so whilst we might grasp and apprehend, our comprehension is deficient. Without a robust big picture, we may just grasp at things indiscriminately.

Emotional and social intelligence

This chapter and the next are about intelligences. As the name suggests, this chapter is concerned with emotional and social intelligence. For me, I think of the Raymond character in Rain Man, itself the result of a misperception of the name Raymond for the phrase ‘Rain Man”. Raymond is devoid of emotional and social intelligence. He is limited to mechanistic cognitive intelligence and is a fine example of what one looks like without the other.

This chapter reminds us that the right hemisphere not only constructs our sense of self, but it also facilitates the construction of other selves, which allows us to empathise with others. It also allows us to assess intent. It allows us to see the value of the whole of society. Of which we are parts rather than thinking that we are simply parts that make up the whole. This is an important distinction. This is what happens with the ego of the left hemisphere denies the Gestalt of the right.

Cognitive intelligence

This second chapter on intelligence focuses on the cognitive variety. It’s what we think of when we consider IQ scores and such. It’s the reasoning part of the brain. It’s about rote learning and reciting trivia and perceived facts as re-presented by the left hemisphere.

Creativity

In this chapter on creativity, we are told that this is a right hemisphere function. To be creative, the best advice to keep the left hemisphere from engaging and interrupting. Creativity comes to us holistically. It is not the result of a process. It is an absence of process. Thinking and analysis are the antitheses of creativity. This is a case where less definitely is more.

What schizophrenia and autism can tell us

Each of the chapters touches on aspects of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses and situations where the hemispheres get disconnected or out of whack. In this chapter, Iain drives the point home with a focus on these cases and what it can tell us about these neuro-atypical conditions.  

People assume that schizophrenics and autism spectrum people are irrational, but this is precisely incorrect. In fact, it’s the opposite. These people are hyper-rational at the expense of empathy and social intelligence. It’s not a surprise that we are seeing more schizophrenics these days. Neither is it a surprise that we see a modern society that more and more resembles schizophrenia. But I digress.

Summary

This was only meant to give a high-level vantage to connect the chapters of part one of The Matter with Things. I give more comprehensive summaries on my blog. This will give you more of an idea, but my recommendation is to read the book itself as well as The Master and His Emissary which I recommend reading first. Don’t be like me. 

The Matter with Things TOC

Given the number of posts related to Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things, I created a content index followed by a PDF copy of the table of contents for no reason in particular. I hope this doesn’t infringe on any copyrights.

Introduction

Part I

  1. Some preliminaries: how we got here
  2. Attention
  3. Perception
  4. Judgment
  5. Apprehension
  6. Emotional and social intelligence
  7. Cognitive intelligence
  8. Creativity
  9. What schizophrenia and autism can tell us

Part II

  • 10 What is truth?
  • Science & truth
  • 11 Science’s claims on truth
  • 12 The science of life: a study in left hemisphere capture
  • 13 Institutional science and truth
  • Reason & truth
  • 14 Reason’s claim on truth
  • 15 Reason’s progeny
  • 16 Logical paradox: a further study in left hemisphere capture
  • Intuition, imagination & truth
  • 17 Intuition’s claim on truth
  • 18 The untimely demise of intuition
  • 19 Intuition, imagination, and the unveiling of the world

Part III

Other

I may move this to a page rather than a post. Time will tell.

Bang the Jrum Slowly!

I was riding a chrain down a shchreet banging a jrum and eating shrimp.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

If you keep up with English language morphology—and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t?—the opening sentence is a phonetic respelling of ‘I was riding a train down a street banging a drum and eating shrimp’ but for a new generation. Dr Geoff Lindsey created a video, which includes material drawn from his book English After RP: Standard British Pronunciation Today. But don’t be fooled by the RP reference. There is plenty of relevance to the shifts in General American English if ever there was such a thing.

As noted previously, the principle of least effort tends to be a guiding factor for language morphology, and we’re witnessing the conservation of effort driving this shift.

Technically, what’s happening is that, traditionally, we performed some lingual gymnastics gliding (or not) from an alveolar consonant to a post-alveolar shift. The new fashion is to shift the entire structure into a post-alveolar space. Lazy wins. Of course, I’ll expect to hear from vocal prescriptivists, the traditional grammar Nazis, who will insist, “If I see a T in train, I’m going to pronounce it like a T, dammit. No ch-ch as in choo-choo for this ‘adult’.”

I’ve summarised the italicised words in a table.

TraditionIPANouveauIPA
train/tɹeɪn/chrain/t͡ʃɹeɪn/
drum/ˈdɹʌm/jrum/ˈdʒɹʌm/
street/stɹiːt/shchreet/ʃt͡ʃɹiːt/
shrimp/ʃɹɪmp/shrimp/ʃɹɪmp/

Traditionally—which is to say the language spoken by older native English speakers—, the consonant clusters are pronounced pretty much as written. One would pronounce the T or TR in train; the DR in drum; and the STR in street. Shrimp had already made the shift, so we can think of it as a trendsetter.

Notice how the T in train shifts to a CH sound (/t͡ʃ/) or how the D in drum shifts to a J sound (/dʒ/). As the video shows, Michelle Obama is a bit ahead of the change curve, as she’s already shifted the S in street to a post-alveolar-friendly Sh Ch (/ʃt͡ʃ/), replacing the ST with a Sh-Ch combination, the S becoming Sh and the T becoming Ch. This trend has not caught on more broadly, but it seems it may be inevitable and allows us to keep this in a nice and tidy box.

In the video, there is a clip recounting a story of a seven-year-old just learning to write (and evidently into Star Wars) who wrote the following.

IMAGE: Watch out for the stormtrooper as written by a 7-year-old native English speaker

Notice that he is trying to capture a quasi-phonetic rendition of the word TROOPER that he hears (correctly) as CHROOPER. Again, this might cause grammar Nazis to go on a rampage. I don’t expect any spelling back-formation reformation to follow suit. We’ll just add this to the “English is not a phonetic language and has a lot of spelling exceptions” adage.

If you are a native English speaker, is this something you notice? If you speak English as a second language, have you noticed this trend? Which camp are you in? Old school or new school?

Orlam – Overwhelem

I’ve decided to do something a bit different. In this, I read a selection from Polly Jean Harvey’s narrative poem, Orlam. The book offers a rather bilingual version of the poem, in both standard English and the Dorset dialect whence hails Ms Harvey.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

The piece I’ve selected is titled Overwehelem. I’m going to recite the Dorset rendition.

Voul village in a hag-ridden hollow.
All ways to it winding, all roads to it narrow.

Auverlooked bog, veiled in vog,
thirtover, undercreepen, rank with seepings;

Jeyes Fluid, slurry, zweat and pus,
anus greaze, squitters, jizz and blood

Breeder of asthma, common warts, ringworm.
Ward of ancient occupations;

ploughshares rusting in the brembles,
half-walls, smuggler's runs and ditches,

blackened heth stones, lured lullabies;
Mummy's going to smack you if you don't . . .

The crossroads a red hanging-post
to GOAT HILL, RANSHAM, OVERWELEM.

Three hoar-stones, one Golden Fleece
connected by a single Riddle.

Gramf'er blackthorn bent by wind.
Shabby mothers trying to die.

A haunted wood in the realm of an Eye. 
A farm of hooks with a rout of Rawles. 

a mother of sorrow, a faterous fiend,
a runstick son and his inward friend,

and a not-gurrel born amongst them:
fouling her fig in the forest,

honking a conk-load of creosote,
downing a dram of diazinon,

flaying a fleece-full of maggots,
gorging a gutful of entrails, 

scrounching the scabs o' engripement,
hoarding the horrible heissens,

bearing the burden of wordle. 

So there you have it. Overwhelem from PJ Harvey’s Orlam.

As I mentioned, the book presents the English side-to-side with the Dorset. As Dorset in the south of Britain is an English dialect, most of the words and form should be familiar. There are a few that are less obvious than others. If you’d like a translation, pick up the book or ask in the comments.

Philosophical Methodology

How do we get from data to theory? And what data qualify? Do the data make the theory, or does the theory lead us to search for data?

Philosophical Methodology: From Data to Theory by Bengson, Cuneo, and Shafer-Landau

No, I am not ready to delve into another book—at least not quite yet. I just happened across Philosophical Methodology: From Data to Theory by Bengson, Cuneo, and Shafer-Landau, and it felt worth noting. Meantime. I’ve got another book to digest.

The Matter with Things: Chapter Six Summary: Emotional and Social Intelligence

Index and table of contents

Intro

Chapter 6 of The Matter with Things is titled Emotional and Social Intelligence, following the previous chapters, Attention, Perception, Judgment, and Apprehension. Chapter 7 is about cognitive intelligence.

The gist of chapter 6 is to convey the importance of emotional and social intelligence in forming a full picture of the world. Absent these, reality becomes increasingly tenuous to retain a grip on because the left hemisphere just doesn’t have the emotional awareness to grasp the full picture. 

Audio: Podcast version of this page content

Content

At the start, this chapter reminds us that the right hemisphere not only constructs our sense of self, but it also facilitates the construction of other selves, which allows us to empathise with others. It also allows us to assess intent. And it goes deeper than this.

McGilchrist shares some anecdotes about schizophrenic patients with impaired right hemispheres who believe that nothing is real and that people are play-acting. In hospital, they perceive the ward to be a stage and the medical staff to be actors.

As if by a control knob, changes to the right hemisphere may create a diminished sense of reality as well as an intensified sense—of being hyperaware. This is not dissimilar to certain claims by some with heightened lucidity; however, the data do not permit a clear-cut conclusion. On a related note, the intensified sense may also increase emotional reactions, so one might be more prone to crying—whether tears of joy or sadness.  

Abnormal electrical activity in the right hemisphere can heighten a sense of familiarity leading to a sense of déjà vu. A diminished sense has the contrary effect, reducing a sense of familiarity, leading to a sense of jamais vu, ‘never before seen’, Related to déjà vu, there have been cases of déjà vécu, ‘already experienced’ (rather than seen). Together, over 86% of these phenomena are associated with the right hemisphere.

Recall that each hemisphere controls the body contralaterally, so the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body—hands and arms, eyes, and so on. And it’s deeper than this. For example, being the arbiter of empathy, the left hand (being controlled by the right hemisphere) is used for empathetic touch. Beyond humans, bottleneck dolphins tend to stroke other dolphins with their left flippers.

This affects humans and other animals with a sort of left-eye empathy that even affects how babies are held or otherwise attended to, preferring the left side of the body over the right.

Theory of mind (ToM), a topic in its own right, is a right hemisphere-dominant capability that allows us to empathise with another or to put ourselves into another’s shoes. This ability extends to other species like elephants, apes and dogs, whales and dolphins, crows and magpies, and goats and seals.

The left hemisphere is good at understanding the what of actions

The left hemisphere is good at understanding the what of actions, say picking up a cup or flicking a switch; it’s not so great at discerning the why. Recall in a previous chapter the case of the person with right hemisphere damage automatically picking up a pen or pencil but then not having anything particular in mind to write. The left hemisphere noticed the pen as a writing instrument and picked it up. Without the right hemisphere to provide the why, this person just kept accumulating writing implements.

This can be seen in children with autism. They recognise well enough that a person is doing something—performing some action—, but they just can’t understand why.

He tells us that “a huge body of evidence confirms that the right hemisphere is much superior to the left in receiving, interpreting, recalling or understanding anything that involves emotion.”

I’ll just share one example, and McGilchrist provides common responses from persons with both hemispheres intact as well as responses with right hemisphere deficits. For image b, a ‘normal’ response is for the respondent to fill in the boy’s talk bubble with ‘Boy, she’s cute.’ A couple of right hemisphere deficit responses were ‘I wonder how big her allowance is’ and ‘Let’s arm-wrestle’, obviously missing context.

The right hemisphere is responsible for understanding emotion, irony, jokes and humour—and the ability to tell the difference between jokes and lies. When told a joke and given an opportunity to fill in the punchline, the language of right hemisphere deficit patients ‘is often excessive and rambling; their comments are often off-colour and their humour is frequently inappropriate; they tend to focus on insignificant details or make tangential remarks’. Moreover, when asked to reconvey a story, the right hemisphere deficit people produced an ‘abundance of embellishments’ to it.

One subject with right hemisphere resection asked, ‘how do you feel?’ responded ‘With my hands’

Other right hemisphere functions are the ability to grasp the semantic nuance and intonation of a speaker. One subject with right hemisphere resection asked, ‘How do you feel?’ He responded, ‘With my hands,’ but he wasn’t joking.

People who have undergone a right hemispherectomy demonstrate a ‘shallow affect, rigidity, [and] lack of imagination’. The left hemisphere seems to prefer denotative speech whilst the right prefers connotative, hence a broader set of possible meanings. Interestingly, yet perhaps not surprisingly, clichés are the domain of the left hemisphere. Poetry and music reside on the right.

Wrapping up this chapter, the right hemisphere tends to serve as the emotional centre, save for anger, which is a left hemisphere activity.

Perspective

In summary, the left brain is very focused. Damage to the right hemisphere mimics the responses of autistic and schizophrenic individuals who interpret inputs differently and without nuance. This nuance often contains emotional or empathetic content that is lost on this cohort.

I am left wondering if schizophrenia and autism are right hemisphere problems, as it were, or if I would be reading into things to arrive at this conclusion.  

Having completed Emotional and Social Intelligence next up is a chapter on Cognitive Intelligence. I hope you’ll join me.

What are your thoughts? What did you think of this chapter? Were there any surprises? Anything of particular interest?

Leave comments below.