Light has been shed on our predicament I believe by one of the most significant

Light has been shed on our predicament i believe by

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Light has been shed on our predicament, I believe, by one of the most significant books to appear in recent years. Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary is a survey of recent research into the operation of the two hemispheres of our brain and the implications of such research for our understanding of the development of Western culture. The author combines the experience of a former Clinical Director of the Maudsley Hospital here in London together with lecturing in English literature at Oxford. He traces the aggrandisement of the faculties associated with the left hemisphere -- grasping, foregrounding, and systematizing -- at the expense of the wider perspectives of the right. He suggests that the modern urban environment is itself a projection and a reinforcement of a left hemisphere take on the world. The natural environment (and above all the world of trees), which is commonly experienced as restorative with a healing influence, is a context in which greater balance can be for a while achieved. But he concludes that “what has limited the power of both art and science in our time has been the absence of belief in anything except the most diminished version of the world and ourselves”. Wisdom, the fruit of the Tree of Life, beckons us beyond dogmatism and delusive clarity, whether in religion or science, and involves the cultivation of the beginner’s mind which is not naivety but which lies the other side of mastery in any particular field of study. Silence, stillness and expectant attention to the unexpected broadens our perspective and deepens our awareness; they take us beyond the surface self, the mental ego level, though the dark continent within with its cravings and fears to the spiritual heart located by the Hebrews in the vitals. If, more and more, we act, speak and think from this centre, we grow in sanity and poise and can learn to love without distortions. The Spirit draws us into a breadth of heart and mind; a sense of the beyond that is restorative and creative. In his celebrated essay On the Puppet Theatre , the German poet Kleist reflects on the possibility that we might be able to transcend the crippling effects of excessive self- consciousness through a form of heightened consciousness: “Grace appears purest in that human form which has either no consciousness or an infinite one, that is in a puppet or in a god.” “Therefore”, I said somewhat bewildered, “we would have to eat again from the Tree of Knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?” “Quite right”, he answered. “And that’s the last chapter in the history of the world.” We have moved from an industrial to a knowledge economy. The next chapter, if there is to be a next chapter, is a shift to a wisdom economy in which we shall be able to judge wisely how to use the great powers that the knowledge of the 20 th century has entrusted to us.
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  • Fall '08
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