Right Brained

It is written.

Mark 1:2

There are syllogisms, which are a set of premisses that lead to a conclusions. Let’s make an example:

All men are mortal
Paul was a man
Therefore Paul was mortal.

If both premisses are true and of a certain form, the conclusion will be true. Let me give you an example of both premisses being true, but not the conclusion:

All men are mortal
Monkeys are mortal
Therefore, monkeys are men.

These kinds of syllogisms have been used in the past to trick people.

But much more interesting things have been found out lately.

Our brain consists of two halves that are interestingly enough not symmetric and almost totally separated. There is a connection between the two that inhibits more than it allows for dialogue between the two hemispheres.

Those two hemispheres have not only different functions, but as it turns out, very different worldviews.

In the last century, this was commonly communicated as this: the left brain is logic, while the right brain is creative. Which has been debunked in the meantime, but still very alive on the internet with beautiful imagery.

Iain McGilchrist has taken up this field of study again and in the last 20 years has found that the right brain has a holistic worldview and sees things always as part of the whole, while the left brain interprets things separately.

One interesting experiment involves syllogisms and was conducted like this:

People were shown the same syllogism three times: once with their full brain capacity, once with the right brain put asleep using medication, and once with the left brain knocked out.

The syllogism was this:

All monkeys climb trees
Porcupines are monkeys
Therefore, porcupines climb trees.

Obviously, porcupines are no monkeys, and the conclusion is wrong, even though some porcupines actually do climb trees.

With full brain capacity, everybody in the experiment knew that the conclusion was wrong and why.

The same was true when asked with the left brain knocked out. With the old model of the differences of hemispheres, that was not expected, as facts and logic were believed to be hosted in the left hemisphere.

It got even more interesting when the right brain was knocked out. Everybody, and mind you, those were the same people that had been presented with the syllogism before, answered that the conclusion was correct and true.

When asked why they believed it was true, they answered:

Because it is written on this paper.

The worldview of the left hemisphere therefore is a very rule based one. Learning is very hard, because the tools and presumptions are very much given.

The world used to be very much dominated by right brain thinking. Very experiential, going out there to see what the world is truly like.

But with the development of more complex ways of thinking, the left hemisphere got stronger and more dominant and in ancient Greece and Rome it became so dominant that the cultures collapsed. What followed where the dark ages, where the nature of nature was determined from a book.

It was in the scientific revolution that this changed again and we started to look at the real thing instead.

Remember the feud between Galileo and the church? Galileo, thanks to the telescope, looked at the sun and the stars and discovered that the earth circles the sun and not the other way around. The priests looked at the book and it was written otherwise, at least in their interpretation of the creation account.

Looks to me as if the priest were left hemisphere people, while Galileo used both hemispheres and especially did not make the left the master of the right.

The right hemisphere tells us that nothing is certain, as everything is only a partial view, changing and evolving.

The left hemisphere sees things as fixed and certain, categorically clear, either/or. It is frustrated if things are different contextually.

The left is dogmatic, because it helps us interact with the world with our motor skills. It does not help you in your attempt to catch a bird to question the existence of and the definition of a bird.

The left hemisphere is quick with solutions and likes to put things in boxes and categories.

Why am I telling you all this about our neurology in a theological blog?

Our bible and our theology has been mainly formed in an age that was dominated by left hemisphere thinking.

God, knowing this, has used storytelling as the predominant form of teaching in the bible. But we have turned those stories into rules and laws of morality mostly, guidance to our lifestyles, and our explanation is this:

Because it is written in the book.

It seems as if most Christians are dominated by their left brain and have numbed out their right hemisphere.

When we look at the instances this phrase is used in the bible, we might see that it was never used to cut off or kill a dialogue or argument.

So when has it become the killer argument to win a theological discussion? First, I might say that I am speaking especially from a fundamentalist viewpoint and experience, and do not want to make this true for all streams of Christianity.

Obviously, this started alongside the downfall of the Roman empire, that is, when the left brain according to Mr. McGilchrist became dominant. And it has been dominant in traditional circles ever since, with pockets of right brain activities that sadly enough over time just formed new left brain rules.

We see a trend in the world today again towards left brain dominance. Liberal ideas have become just another set of rules, with ideologies dictating how things are.

Because it is written in the book.

We need a strong dose of right brain thinking, with right brain dominance and left brain servanthood.

Going after God is not like chasing a bird. We need to have a clear idea of what a bird is in order to chase it because it flees from us. We can only discover who God is because we only see in part.

The following is not exactly a syllogism, but two premises that we can deduct a conclusion from:

  1. Chasing a bird is a left brain problem of categorization and motor skills.
  2. Chasing God is a right brain experience of holistic thinking.

  • Therefore, we have been looking in the wrong place, using the wrong tools for centuries.