Let's Get Psychophysical - Newsletter #11
In and Out of Wholes
Hello, it’s Kevin.
Here is your weekly list of 5 things I’ve found that promote wholeness, integration and “waking up” - rather than fragmentation, dis-integration and falling asleep.
In this week’s newsletter we go in and out of wholes…. with parts.
Whole —> Parts —> Whole
This 3-stage process applies to your brain, your attention, and your posture.
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2nd ed, 2019)
by Iain McGilchrist
I am always rereading this book: paperback, digital, audiobook. There is no such thing as a book everyone should read — but this book is as close as it gets for me.
I was one of the first members of Iain’s private membership site Channel McGilchrist. He is a former psychiatrist who lives in the western Highlands, near my neck of the woods, at the bottom of the mountain where they make one of my favourite single malts: Talisker. You get the picture, I'm a fan.
The right and left hemisphere of your brain do things very differently. The difference is not in WHAT they do, but HOW they do it.
Ignore all the silly pop psychology and management theories you have heard on this topic. They are mostly wrong or even backwards. This is the definitive book and man on this subject. Read it twice. Your brain will thank you for it.
Yes, your brain is more like a person than a machine. Actually, it is two persons…
The two sides of the brain have two different kinds of attention. In general, the right experiences reality as a dynamic whole, with everything connected; whereas the left experiences reality as static parts, each separated from one another.
We need them both working together in their own ways to survive.
Take the example of birds - who also have two brain hemispheres. They need to be able to
(a) look for food e.g. see a grain of food in gravel (= left hemisphere,)
while at the same time,
(b) avoid becoming food e.g. keep an eye out for predators (= right hemisphere.)
The fascinating thing is birds use one eye for each type of attention. They prefer to use the eye that is controlled by the relevant hemisphere.
It must use both at the same time - not one after another - if it wants to eat and not be eaten. A divided brain makes this possible.
We humans just have a more complex and sophisticated version of this. But it doesn’t mean we are always conscious of the difference, or know which hemisphere is dominant at any one time. We are two people.
We use language to break up reality into isolated parts so we can understand and manipulate the world more easily (left hemisphere.) The problem is when we often get stuck in the middle stage - map making, seeing the separate parts, “reduce reduce reduce!” - and don’t return it to the territory of the living whole.
“Neurological research reveals a consistent picture of how the two hemispheres contribute to the richness of experience. Essentially this is that
(1) the right hemisphere tends to ground experience;
(2) the left hemisphere then works on it to clarify, ‘unpack’ and generally render the implicit explicit;
(3) and the right hemisphere finally reintegrates what the left hemisphere has produced with its own understanding, the explicit once more receding, to produce a new, now enriched, whole.”
Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary (numbering mine)
by Joe Norman
This is a wonderful short essay by a complex systems scientist. Again, he describes this same dynamic process:
Whole —> Parts —> Whole
“We are all very used to thinking of wholes that are composed by putting the parts together, but we must develop the skill to perceive the wholes that exist and help them express their latent parts that have not yet come to be.”
"The fact, almost always overlooked when the HOW of improving human behaviour is discussed, that a human being functions as a whole and can only be fundamentally changed as a whole."
— F. Matthias Alexander; Man’s Supreme Inheritance
The technique I teach for self-regulating your posture is based on the same 3-stage process.
Whole —> Parts —> Whole
Your posture is a dynamic whole. But we first need to break it up into parts, so we can decide how we want to rearrange them. Then finally we will put it all back together like a reverse Humpty Dumpty.
If you want a practical demonstration of this, then book a 1-to-1 lesson with me. Either reply to this email or message me on Twitter.
Whole > Parts > Whole
The purpose of this simple experiment is to experience your two different types of attention working together.
Look at this picture. You will either see what it is all at once - or not at all.
You don’t see it by putting the parts together, one by one, and then adding them up to a whole. The whole appears in a “gestalt” and only then can you see the different parts within the whole.
If you haven’t recognised it already - it’s a Dalmatian dog. See it now? But you didn’t see an ear first, then a tail, then a collar and put them together “oh it must be a dog.” You just saw a mess of dots and then suddenly all at once you saw the whole: a spotty dog sniffing the ground.
The whole comes first. Then you break it into parts. Then you look at the whole again but this time you see more. It has been enriched and made new by this 3-stage process. Look at the picture again. Whole —> Parts —> Whole
You can make a meditation practice out of this. See if you can focus on a specific “part” e.g. a cup while at the same time paying attention to all the noises you can hear outside, or listen to music. Attend to both at the same time.
You might notice you flick back and forward between them. How does it change during 10-20 minutes of practice?
Have fun going in an out of wholes,
Thanks for reading,
Learn how to stop your posture getting worse as you get older.
Book a 1-to-1 Posture Consultation & “Body Audit” with me.
For more info:
1. Reply to this email, or
2. Message me on Twitter.
On Saturday, while out with my parents who I haven't seen ina good while I happened upon a second hand copy of The Master and His Emissary in a charity shop. £2, good nick. I guess it was meant to be.
It is now in the 'to be read' stack. I loved Cultural Amnesia btw so I am pretty confident you are going to keep you 100% book recommendation batting average intact.