top of page

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Iain McGilchrist

Top 10 Best Quotes

“The model we choose to use to understand something determines what we find.”

“Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalise; words depersonalise; words make the uncommon common.”

“None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth. The word 'true' suggest a relationship between things: being true to someone or something, truth as loyalty, or something that fits, as two surfaces may be said to be 'true.' It is related to 'trust,' and is fundamentally a matter of what one believes to be the case. The Latin word verum (true) is cognate with a Sanskrit word meaning to choose or believe: the option one chooses, the situation in which one places one's trust. Such a situation is not an absolute - it tells us not only about the chosen thing, but also about the chooser. It cannot be certain: it involves an act of faith and it involves being faithful to one's intentions.”

“Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance – second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole. These gifts of the left hemisphere have helped us achieve nothing less than civilisation itself, with all that that means. Even if we could abandon them, which of course we can't, we would be fools to do so, and would come off infinitely the poorer. There are siren voices that call us to do exactly that, certainly to abandon clarity and precision (which, in any case, importantly depend on both hemispheres), and I want to emphasise that I am passionately opposed to them. We need the ability to make fine discriminations, and to use reason appropriately. But these contributions need to be made in the service of something else, that only the right hemisphere can bring. Alone they are destructive. And right now they may be bringing us close to forfeiting the civilisation they helped to create.”

“Emotion is inseparable from the body in which it is felt, and emotion is also the basis for our engagement with the world.”

“So the left hemisphere needs certainty and needs to be right. The right hemisphere makes it possible to hold several ambiguous possibilities in suspension together without premature closure on one outcome.”

“So thinking is prior to language. What language contributes is to firm up certain particular ways of seeing the world and give fixity to them. This has its good side, and its bad. It aids consistency of reference over time and space. But it can also exert a restrictive force on what and how we think. It represents a more fixed version of the world: it shapes, rather than grounds, our thinking.”

“Every thing that purports to be the truth is, according to Heidegger, inevitably an approximation and true things, things that really are, rather than as we may apprehend them, are in themselves ineffable, ungraspable.”

“The only certainty, it seems to me, is that those who believe they are certainly right are certainly wrong.”

“Although relatively speaking the right hemisphere takes a more pessimistic view of the self, it is also more realistic about it.457 There is evidence that (a) those who are somewhat depressed are more realistic, including in self-evaluation; and, see above, that (b) depression is (often) a condition of relative hemisphere asymmetry, favouring the right hemisphere.458 Even schizophrenics have more insight into their condition in proportion to the degree that they have depressive symptoms.459 The evidence is that this is not because insight makes you depressed, but because being depressed gives you insight.”

Except where otherwise noted, all rights reserved to the author(s) of this book (mentioned above). The content of this page serves as promotional material only. If you enjoyed these quotes, you can support the author(s) by acquiring the full book from Amazon.

Book Keywords:

bottom of page