Two Ways of Knowing
A creative person is one who can process in new ways the information directly at hand - the ordinary sensory data available to us all. A writer needs words, a musician needs notes, an artist needs visual perceptions, and all need some knowledge of the techniques of their crafts. But in addition, in the creative process, a second mode of mental processing takes place: in an altered state of consciousness, an individual intuitively sees possibilities for transforming ordinary data into an original creation.
Concepts of the duality, or two-sidedness, of human nature and thought have been postulated by philosophers and scientists from many different times and cultures. The key idea is that there are two parallel 'ways of knowing': thinking and feeling, intellect and intuition, objective analysis and subjective insight. Political writers say that people generally analyze the good and bad points of an issue and then vote on their gut feelings. The history of science is replete with anecdotes about researchers who try repeatedly to figure out a problem and then have a dream in which the answer presents itself as a metaphor intuitively comprehended by the scientist. In another context, a person may intuit about another, 'The words sound OK, but something tells me not to trust him': both sides of the brain are at work, processing the same information in different ways.
The brain functions in broadly two quite different modes. The first 'left brain' mode is linear, logical, verbal thinking, which we normally identify as our 'mind' - the 'semantic program' of the left hemispherical cortex. The second 'right brain' mode is holistic, intuitive, non-verbal functioning (one cannot call it 'thinking' but it is a way of knowing) of the right hemisphere. Of this we are usually not consciously aware, except as the results of its functioning, which are passed over to the left hemisphere for analytic verbal interpretation.
This duality of functioning passes over to the manipulation of objects by the hands. The right hand of a person (controlled by the left brain) determines fine detailed movement, such as writing, adjusting mechanisms, using tools or doing anything that requires a sequence of actions. Meanwhile the left hand (controlled by the right brain) establishes an anchor point or reference.
You might say that the left brain is chalk and the right brain the blackboard. The left side is linear, it cannot deal with more than one thing at a time, and it forgets strings of words or numbers rather rapidly. The right side holds the gestalt, the overview. It can compare many things simultaneously and its memory of pictures, feelings and emotions is permanent. It is like 'figure and ground', subject and background, focused imaging and overall perception.
Luria, the great Russian neurologist describes this in his book 'Man with a Shattered World'. He writes of a soldier who received a bullet wound severely damaging the right cortex, yet the man survived, but with very strange experiences. While eating soup, when he concentrated on the soup the spoon disappeared, when he concentrated on the spoon the soup disappeared, and when he concentrated on the flavour the whole room disappeared!
Without this capability music would not be possible. The left hemisphere can concentrate on only one note at a time, while the right hemisphere is able to look at the overall context, of what has been plaid and anticipation of what is to follow, such that improvization and emotional interpretation are possible. Whereas a left-brain dominant musician could merely tune the instrument and play simple tunes robotically.
Mostly our consciousness resides in the left, organizing hemisphere but this does not mean that the right side is inactive - it continues like the shining of stars in the daytime, there but unperceived. If the left hemisphere has become excessively dominant the right hemisphere has reduced opportunity to share in consciousness, being blocked in various ways, and can only express itself in deeply Subconscious functions (often only apparent in dreams). Full consciousness would arise from a collaborative integration of the two sets of processes.
How such blockage comes about is demonstrated in the following example. Imagine the effect on a child when its mother presents one message verbally but quite another with her facial expression and body language. 'I am only spanking you because I love you, dear' says the words, but 'I hate you and will destroy you' say the face and body blows. Each hemisphere is exposed to the same sensory input, but because of their respective specializations they each emphasize one of the messages. The left will only attend to the verbal cues, because it cannot extract information from the facial gestalt and kinesthetic sensations efficiently. The right will attend to the non-verbal cues because it has become specialized to do this and cannot understand the words.
In this situation the two hemispheres might decide on opposite courses of action: the left to approach, the right to flee. Since the left is the organizing hemisphere it can take control of the output channels most of the time but if it cannot 'turn off' the right completely, it may settle for disconnecting the conflicting information from the other side. The mental process in the right hemisphere, cut off in this way from the left hemispheric consciousness that is directing overt behavior, may nevertheless continue a life of its own. The memory of the situation, the emotional content and the frustrated plan of action may all persist, affecting subsequent perception and forming the basis for expectations and evaluations of future input. These may have their effect when the right hemisphere is not blocked and cause irrational misinterpretations.
When a person is in a right-brain mode of extreme emotion such as love, rage or grief, the pain and emotion and effort is experienced but he is unable to access the postulates, conclusions and other verbally and conceptually stored material in the left, as this is below the boundaries of consciousness - a person overcome is often speechless.
As a result of the more common left-brain dominance, emotions become a symbolic memory ('I was angry') rather than the feeling sensation of what was actually experienced. The person may have a verbal description of events but is unable to experience the emotion and pain thereof. The painful emotions persuade the left hemisphere to hold-off the right side's contribution habitually. Eventually, with reduced nervous traffic between the hemispheres, the nerve fibres of the connecting channel (the corpus callosum) become atrophied with disuse (though this may be stimulated to re-grow with Transformational Psychology techniques) and the potential quality of brain functioning is then severely retarded.
A frequent cause of such blockage is when the right hemisphere contains data that the left finds distinctly uncomfortable - such as the truth! For example, the fact of a bad action may be repressed in this manner, as may any experience that the mind finds embarrassing, unacceptable or unconfrontable. Similarly, deeply held beliefs that have a strong emotional investment become charged areas in the right hemisphere. The person who is left-dominant tends to be governed by words and belief systems often to the exclusion of external reality; a person with an integrated mind uses words as his servants and is in touch with the truth of where he stands.
The average person lives too much in a state of sensory illusion, of indoctrination, to be clear about anything except at rare, lucid intervals. Trance states are much more prevalent than is generally realized; there is rarely an 'objective' state of consciousness. Most of us are in a semi-waking, semi-sleeping trance induced by our cultural and genetic heritage and our personal belief system. To become fully awakened we must be wholly aware of all the influences that bear upon our daily state of consciousness.
For many centuries the Sufis have said that man must learn to use his mind in a different way if he is to progress. That missing link is the recovered integration of holistic right brain functions. Our right hemisphere, with its capacity for appreciating a complex whole, for facial recognition, map reading, maze solving, provides the alternative mode of understanding.
How did we get this way? Left-brain dominance probably came about because of a basic need to survive in a physical world. It may have developed when man changed from simple food-gathering to having to kill for survival - including having to kill others who threatened his survival or territory. Man had to organize in larger groups in order to live. He had to give up part of himself, to deny his own needs and feelings in deference to those of his society. And in order to kill animals and other humans he required some sort of shut-off mechanism to allow such acts.
The point about the split is that one side of our brain can be feeling something while the other side is thinking something very different. The split person can yell at you and not know why he is doing it, though he will manage to rationalize his acts and put the blame on others. With that division of the brain one could think one thing and do another. Feelings could be transmuted into symbolic form, disconnected from their feeling roots - the elaborateness of the ritualistic and symbolic life being commensurate with the loss of self. Man could then murder others for religious reasons or kill others when the state (an abstraction - not himself) was threatened.
As man came to defer to higher authority, his symbolic and repressive hemisphere became more active. He developed all sorts of ideas and rationales that were out of keeping with his feelings. The cultural trance had begun.
Through thousands of years our ancestors added to left-brain dominance because that was the way to get things done. The two specializations work effectively, the left brain supporting the right hand's use of tools, including writing. Our entire system - books, schools, universities, industry, political structures, churches - is fundamentally left-brained in learning, application and operation. We have generally regarded right-brain functions with suspicion, frustration and awe.
In fact we use our right brain throughout our daily lives in many subtle ways. While the left-brain serves our consciousness, the right-brain serves our awareness. Though the left-brain seems to predominate and to coordinate general behavior from both halves, it is the minor side that sees things in a broader perspective. It sees the context and views the parts of an event as its gestalt. It is the right-brain that takes the facts worked out by the left-brain and can make proper conclusions (connections) from them. It makes facts 'meaningful'.
The importance of understanding our dual consciousness is that it is possible to have thoughts that have nothing to do with what one is feeling, and to try to reach and change someone for the better through his thoughts and intellectual apparatus alone, without reference to the necessity for connection, is a vain exercise. The left-brain can be quite aware that smoking causes cancer but the person will still pull out a cigarette. The person is aware but not conscious.
|Verbal description, explicit||Non-verbal awareness, implicit||Linear - one thought following another||Spatial - relational, holistic, synthesizing|
|Sequential, orderly, counting||Simultaneous, spontaneous|
|Rational, conclusions based on reason||Non-rational, willing to suspend judgment|
|Abstract - representing a whole by a part||Analogical - seeing similarities|
|Conceptual, word-symbols||Perceptual, concrete, image-symbols|
|Logical thought, analysis||Intuitive ideas, connections|
|Symbolised, evaluative feelings (head)||Affective feelings and emotion (heart)|
|Convergent, focused (attends to detail)||Divergent, contextual (ignores detail)|
|Organizes actions, masculine||Supportive, receptive, feminine|
|Deals with time, reflective, objective||Has only present time, active, involved|
|Ends oriented, telic||Means-whereby oriented, paratelic|
|Imagines details, fictionalises stories||Constructs contexts, assumptions|
|Short-term symbolical memory||Long-term perceptual memory|
|Hostile weakness, friendly strength||Friendly weakness, hostile strength|
|Hypocritical, lying||Authentic, genuine|
|Defenses: falsifying, fabricating,|
mis-owning, invalidating, or fixating
|Blocks: suppressing, withholding,|
denying, or accepted imprinting
|Defenses: falsifying, fabricating,|
mis-owning, invalidating, or fixating
|Blocks: suppressing, withholding,|
denying, or accepted imprinting
Man is conscious, as are animals, of external stimuli, but to be conscious that he is conscious, to be self-aware, is the introspective faculty that separates him from the animals. But he can only be meaningfully objective about that self when his feelings and contextual understandings are connected and integrated.
Logic is fine for mentally running over the mistakes of the past and for anticipating the future so that we do not commit the same blunders twice. But we cannot actually live in either of these two time realms, and the effort to do so may damage both our minds and bodies. Our task, then, is to learn to free ourselves from the cultural trance, the daydream of illusions, and with an awakened mind, live life today, in fully objective consciousness.
In our daily life we life in two worlds simultaneously, the left and right modes. The left mode is associated with logic, linear thinking, rationality, schedules, time, sequencing, measurements, the obvious, names, dates, deductive reasoning - the things we learn at school. The right mode is about intuition, holistic understanding, expressive movement, art, poetry, emotions, the hidden, the inferred, and imagery - in short, it is the 'ah-ha' state. In therapy, the unconscious is best accessed through the route of images and feelings; answers are then revealed from the unconscious that the rational mind would not otherwise be able to reach.
The right brain, by its very nature, cannot lie; the left brain is an expert at lying - at fabricating answers, telling stories, rationalising, blaming and erecting all of the Ego defenses.
As we converse in normal language, we tell each other anything we want to: details, about admissible feelings, social pleasantries, half-truths, lies or anything we need to say to function in the day to day world. But we may not say what we really think - we may omit information and lie, in order to protect others or ourselves from potentially hurtful truths.
We are, meanwhile, always telling ourselves the repressed truth, both about our conscious reality and also relating to the deeper dimensions of our innermost Self, giving facts about events and information about our motives, but this may not be revealed through the conscious mind. It is our direct feelings, utilizing images and metaphors, and does not disguise itself with pleasantries. The hidden messages occur especially at times when the right-brain is stimulated: when a person is expressing his or her Self emotionally or creatively.
So there is no more need to lie or pretend. To do so is to support power struggle, tyranny, low self-esteem and isolation. Truth conversely brings us closer, though it might take more risk, openness and vulnerability. As human beings we want to be welcomed, for our needs to be honoured, to be able to be strong and still be loved, to be recognized for who we really are. By being honest with our fellow beings and our selves, we can often strike a chord that resonates in every human heart.
Move on to Symbol Space
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