The Right Brain as Master

In Iain McGilchrist’s stupendous work, The Master and his Emissary, the author argues that the right and left hemispheres perform similar functions, but in very different ways. McGilchrist contends that the right brain is the superior of the two, hence the name of the book. The subtitle of his book is, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

First of all, I personally do not accept the idea that we think only because we have a brain. In my worldview, the brain is a machine, a computer, that filters our experience, and helps us survive in a very dangerous world. I believe we think with our entire being, body and soul. If we were to be fully aware of all knowledge and comprehend all mysteries, which we are certainly capable of, we would not be able to live a practical life here on earth. We would be so entranced by the knowledge of being one with all things that we wouldn’t be able to function in a practical manner. I am reminded of the story told by Plato about the philosopher, Thales, where he fell into a well while gazing up at the stars.

The Roman poet Ennius summed up the lesson to be learned from the story in the line Quod est ante pedes nemo spectat, caeli scrutantur plagas (No one regards what is before his feet when searching out the regions of the sky). -Wikipedia

We are indeed divine, but if we fully experienced all knowledge all the time, we would not be able to carry on our lives. Our brain filters out what we don’t need to know at any given moment, and it brings things to consciousness when we need them.

McGilchrist believes the right hemisphere of the brain has precedence over the left hemisphere, in that it “underwrites the knowledge that the other comes to have, and is alone able to synthesize what both know into a usable whole” (McGilchrist 4739). 

The history of Western thought has been a wrestling match between the two hemispheres. Western philosophy began as an amazement, an astonishment at the wonder of Being, which is characteristic of the right brain. Around the time of the Stoics, it was in vogue for philosophers to not be astonished or amazed at anything, as if this were a sign of a true thinker. After the left brain becomes predominant, the consensus is that

The mark of the true philosopher becomes not the capacity to see things as they are, and therefore to be awestruck by the fact of Being, but precisely the opposite, to keep cool in the face of existence, to systematise and clarify the world, so that it is re-presented as an object of knowledge. The role of the philosopher, as of the scientist, becomes to demystify (ibid. 4785).

The left brain became predominant around the time of Aristotle, with his emphasis on analytical, calculative thinking. From then until the twentieth century, the left brain, having won the wrestling match, brought us to a world that was devoid of wonder and amazement, that was totally materialistic, being composed of cold, dead matter. But then certain twentieth-century thinkers, such as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Whitehead, began to write from a sense of wonder and astonishment of the world. Even prior to this, Goethe, Coleridge, Schelling,and others began to think in a different way. And with the discovery of quantum mechanics, we became aware that the world was not a mechanistic machine, as many previous thinkers believed. The world was once again mysterious and filled with wonder. The right brain had regained its rightful place, but there was still a long road ahead.

McGilchrist’s theory is not an either/or situation; it is both/and. Both hemispheres work together, but the right brain is meant to be predominant. The right brain “presences” something, and the left brain re-presents it. That’s they way things are supposed to work, but when the left brain attempts to mimic its sibling, things go downhill. McGilchrist’s proof of the right brain’s “primacy of experience” involves the “left hemisphere’s most powerful tool, referential language…[it] has its origin in the body and the right hemisphere: a sort of primacy of means” (ibid. 4814).  One proof is that all language is metaphorical, and metaphor is the domain of the right brain.

With that in mind, the soul spelunker will be very interested in the topic of metaphor, since Soul operates in the realm of imagination and metaphor, or, as Henry Corbin called it, the mundus imaginalis.

In his book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World, Gary Lachman makes the case that the right brain is the realm of esotericism. This also concerns Soul. The esoteric tradition

believes in a living, organic, spiritual, even conscious universe, rather than a dead, mechanical oblivious one. It is also concerned more with the whole than with the part, with the “correspondences” between things–the “network of connections that links everything with everything else”–than with what separates them. It is also more attuned to kind of simultaneity associated with the the right brain than with the sequential thought associated with the left (Lachman 12).

Furthermore, the left brain is obsessed with time and the future, while the right brain is more concerned with the eternal and timelessness. According to some split-brain theorists, the right brain is much older than the left, having evolved earlier.

As  McGilchrist points out, “The major difference between the hemispheres lies in their relationship with the unconscious mind…” (McGilchrist 5040). As investigators of Soul, this is really our main concern. Does communication with the unconscious mind come via the right hemisphere, which is then re-presented to the conscious mind by the left hemisphere? Why does such communication occur less now, in general, than in the past? My next post will examine these questions.

 

Works Cited

Lachman, Gary. The Secret Teachers of the Western World. Penguin, 2015. Kindle ed.

McGilchrist, Iain (2009-12-15). The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Kindle ed. Yale University Press.

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The World Soul Needs Us

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826 – 1900 ), Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund) 2014.79.10

 

My practice tells me that I can no longer distinguish clearly between neurosis of self and neurosis of world, psychopathology of self and psychopathology of world. Moreover, it tells me that to place neurosis and psychopathology solely in personal reality is a delusional repression of what is actually, realistically, being experienced (James HillmanThe Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, page 93).

James Hillman’s statement, here, is very profound in light of our current world crises. The psychopathology of self was the focus of twentieth century depth psychology. This was needed to direct the gaze inward, to slow the practices of scientism and materialism that would have us ignore our inner states. Many great teachers arose that led us to better understanding of the soul, our neuroses, our suffering, and our inner beauty. The popularity of depth psychology and other holistic practices in the twentieth century initiated us into a “care of the soul,” as Thomas Moore called it, instead of just gazing out into a world composed of dead matter. Yes, we needed to be brought through that stage of our development in order that, in this century, we could confront the psychopathology of our world. We gazed inward for many years. Now, we must again gaze outward, recognizing that inward and outward are obsolete viewpoints, relics of a past state of consciousness.

If we are to deal with our world’s psychopathology, we must not remain in a state of subjectivity, where we pray, meditate, and seek only our own personal psychological development. The Anima Mundi needs our prayers, our meditations, our imaginations, for She too must develop and individuate.

We have lost the notion that our world is divine. This occurred because of the extreme slant toward the scientific method. We have split off the world from our consciousness. If we want our world to be healthy and to flourish, this must be rectified. One way to do this is for all of us to acknowledge the reality of the Anima Mundi, the World Soul. This includes acknowledging that matter is alive and full of energy. I’m not just referring to atomic energy, but the kind of energy that atomic energy shadows. We have mostly only seen the destructive force of matter’s energy, atomic weapons and atomic meltdowns, but there is a more profound energy that permeates every particle of matter in our universe. Every particle is divine, and is designed to work together with all others, and with human consciousness. Dichotomized human thinking has only split the particles, but what would occur if we learned how to bring them together with our own consciousness? 

There are energies, sparks of divinity, in all material phenomena. Alchemists know that the inner transformative process, which Jung called individuation, reveals the hidden energy within matter. We have concentrated on the inner work that reveals matter’s divine light, but there is also an outer work we must do if this light energy is to be used to heal our world. The great physician, Paracelsus tells us,

That of which we now tell is called lumen naturae and is eternal. God hath given it to the inner body, that it may be ruled by the inner body and in accordance with reason. Therefore all that Man does and should do, should be done from the light of nature. For the light of nature is reason and nothing else (This translation was partly based on the translation in C.G. Jung, On the nature of the psyche, Coll. Works, vol. IX, paragraph 390).

Paracelsus refers to the light of Nature as “reason,” but, according to Jungian analyst, Jolande Jacobi, he means

Intuitive knowledge gained by the experience of nature and implicit in all beings at their birth, in contrast to the knowledge given by revelation [i.e., the light of the Holy Ghost]…In a cosmological sense, it is a secret radiation of nature and makes possible the discovery of the natural mysteries ( (Paracelsus: selected writings, edited with an introduction by Jolande Jacobi, translated by Norbert Guterman, Bollingen Series XXVII, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 289 pp (hereafter called Jacobi, Paracelsus). This quote is from page 255). 

The first step in healing our world, then, is recognizing that our soul’s path is not simply about improving ourselves, but our world, as well. Healing our world is why we need a developed soul. Then, recognize that all matter is divine and contains enormous energy. There is destructive energy, yes, but there is also a constructive energy, which we have not yet tapped. Alchemists, including all the great teachers from previous centuries, have only scratched the surface in releasing it. Now, at this critical juncture, Nature needs our help.

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World Alchemy

Fantasy, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz – 1921-1922

 

…a mood of world destruction and world renewal…has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the Kairos,–the right time–for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” i.e., of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momen­tous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science. (Jung 123).

There is a great transmutation occurring in our world. We are living in what Karl Jaspers called an Axial period of history. In this era the World Soul is engulfed in alchemical fire in the Hermetic vessel. The image of this sealed furnace is analogous to my image from 2012 of Soul’s Maelstrom. The alchemical vessel was usually shaped round to draw the influences of our spiral cosmos. But instead of water, she is now being purged by a roaring conflagration, where the process of Calcinatio will, hopefully, purge away the dross of the former age. This will take an indeterminate number of years to accomplish.

I am not of the opinion that our current human species will be able to bring about the sort of change our world needs. I believe a new human species will take our place, just as we replaced Neanderthals. The new species may already exist and may already be interbreeding with homo sapiens sapiens. It is too soon to say. I see this new species as possessing a more expanded consciousness. They will have the ability to solve the social, political, and economic problems that we could not.

Even though our species may not be the one to bring about peace on earth, we should not abandon our quest for greater consciousness, for it is this striving on our part which will provide the impetus for a brighter future for humanity.

 

Works Cited

Jung, C. G., The Undiscovered Self. tr. R.F.C. Hull. Mentor: New York, 1957.

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The Revelatory Power of the World Soul

Delphic Oracle, by Heinrich Leutemann

 

In his amazing essay, Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World, James Hillman reminds us that the World Soul is “that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form” (Thought 101). Because of our tendency toward anthropomorphism, we think of the World Soul as some sort of super-entity “above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things” (ibid.), but this is not the case at all. The World Soul presents herself through every animaterial entity as “animated possibility,” her “sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image” (ibid.). In this manner, the World Soul presents herself  to the imagination, her “presence as psychic reality” (ibid.). Everything we experience empirically is filled with soul. “Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing, God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street” (ibid.).

This is phenomenology on a grand scale, a cosmic “display of self-presenting forms” (Thought 102). But this is beyond phenomenology. This is what Hillman calls “archetypal psychologizing” (Re-visioning 138).

All things show faces, the world not only a coded signature to be read for meaning, but a physiognomy to be faced. As expressive forms, things speak; they show the shape they are in. They announce themselves, bear witness to their presence: “Look, here we are.” They regard us beyond what we may regard them, our perspectives, what we intend with them, and how we dispose of them. This imaginative claim on attention bespeaks a world ensouled. More–our imaginative recognition, the childlike act of imagining the world, animates the world and returns it to soul (Thought 102).

This method of inquiry, archetypal psychologizing, concentrates on the question of “what”, while philosophy would ask “why.” Of course, the scientific method would focus on the question of “how.” Even though the “what” has been asked by thinkers from Aristotle to Husserl, archetypal psychologizing is different in that it goes much further, plumbing the depths of the thing. Hillman says “phenomenology stops short in its examination of consciousness, failing to realize that the essence of consciousness is fantasy images” (Re-Visioning 138).  Archetypal psychologizing transposes “the entire operation of phenomenology,” changing it “into the irrational, personified, and psychopathological domain,” taking the question “from the logical to the imaginal” (Re-Visioning 138-139).

In my essay, Images are Prior to Experience, I make the case that “our consciousness is totally dependent upon this vast storehouse of images we call Soul.” Instead of beginning with sensory experience, we should start our search for the elusive “what,” the quiddity of a thing, by allowing the imaginal element of the thing to manifest its chosen image via the World Soul. Initially, there is nothing conceptual about this. Seeing into things is quite different than dissecting them logically. The Anima Mundi, if allowed, will animate the thing with an imaginal presence that can be examined archetypally, eventually resulting in, according to Hillman, the question of “who” (Re-Visioning 139).

By dissolving what into who, we follow one of the main styles of questioning used with the oracles at Delphi and Dodona…Once we know at whose altar the question belongs, then we know better the manner of proceeding (Re-Visioning 139).

This is what Hillman calls “archetypal reversion.” Reversion “connects an event to its image, a psychic process to its myth, a suffering of the soul to the imaginal mystery expressed therein” (Dream 4). This is a phenomenological process where one asks the image to reveal its archetypal foundations, to which god or goddess it belongs. One need not necessarily be an expert in Greek mythology. The archetypes arise in most world mythologies, as Joseph Campbell so aptly demonstrated. As a prerequisite, one should, however, be schooled in the manner in which the archetypes manifest themselves, be it in Greek mythology, Norse mythology, or any other foundational mythology. It just so happens that Greek mythology is very well suited to our Western mindset, since it is the substructural mythology of all Western culture (see my article, Archetypal Psychology and Reversion).

 

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper, 1979.

—. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.

—. The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam: Spring, 1992.

 

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The Pathologizing of the World Soul

Sick Maria, Joaquín Sorolla, 1907

 

The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality (Hillman, Thought, 97).

Does this statement  resonate with you? Do you feel that sense of assent deep within that Hillman is absolutely right? Even though he penned these words in the early Eighties, he is right on the money. He saw it happening even then.

The world is in trouble, just as an individual in Jung’s heyday might have been plagued with symptoms of schizophrenia. And Jung, in his wisdom, would have pointed that person back to health with his amazing therapeutic ideas. In his day, the world was considered isolated from our concerns, something to be ruled over and dominated. In our day, however, the world is no longer separate from us, cold, dead, and material. It is just as much part of us as our organs or senses. But the world is breaking down. Although it has been occurring for some time, last year, 2016, brought us the stark realization that we may be living in the last days. Or, are we?

James Hillman has made the pathologization of the soul one of the main tenets of his archetypal psychology. The evil and ugliness we see in our world are psychopathologizations of the Anima Mundi, symptoms that provide clues as to her psychic state of affairs. According to Hillman, pathologization is “the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective” (Hillman, Revisioning, 57). If the Soul of the World desires to engage in metamorphosis, and we know she does, then, according to Hillman, she will autonomously create abnormal and disordered situations that will ultimately further her transformation. Isn’t that what we’ve been witnessing for many years now? These scenarios seem to be accelerating in their frequency, as well. Does this mean the World Soul is drawing closer to departing from the cosmic chrysalis?

Considering all of this, are the afflictions of the World Soul necessary for her individuation? Again, referring to Hillman, “without psychopathology, there is no wholeness; in fact, psychopathology is a differentiation of that wholeness” (Hillman, Revisioning 108). I think it is safe to say, then, without pathologization, there is no soul-making.

So, all the turmoil we are seeing, especially in the United States, today, will lead to the further metamorphosis of the Anima Mundi, something we are in desperate need of. At some point in the history of the world this may lead to an evolutionary leap in consciousness. That, in turn, may provide the means for establishing Utopia, which American progressives so eagerly crave, although I very much doubt whether that will ever be accomplished. As long the World Soul has a need for individuation, there will be a need for pathologization.

Works Cited
Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.

Hillman, James. The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam: Spring, 1992.

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