truth as a “thing” versus a process

First, regarding the left hemisphere:

From everything we know about the hemispheres, we would expect that, in the left hemisphere’s world, truth would be conceived as a thing, rather than a process. Truth, this thing, would be conceived of as existing in the realm of subjectivity (in the mind) as a suitable representation of something conceived of as existing in a realm of objectivity (outside the mind). From this point of view the way to approach truth would be to start with a secure set of facts, and then work upwards by rules of logic, to a series of other facts, putting one secured item on top of another, to build the pyramid of (represented) truth.

The Matter with Things, 382

Regarding the right:

So how would the right hemisphere conceive truth? Rather than conceiving it as a thing, it would experience it as a process, one that, in this case–not just for now, but in principle–has no ending. More importantly, it would see that truth is a relationship. Instead of seeing a subjective realm and an objective realm which should as near as possible mirror one another, it would see a constant reverberation between two (never completely distinct) elements within our consciousness–thoughts and experiences–whereby they ‘answered‘, or co-responded to, one another; this even better accord, or attunement, would be the evolving truth. It would be intrinsically incomplete, but constantly in the process of completing itself; and uncertain, though constantly approaching nearer to certainty; incapable of being grasped except through embodied being, through a consciousness that is in the fleshed and engaged in the world. We would find out what was true only by testing it on the pulse of experience–whether it corresponded with the totality of our experience, not just with one (cognitive) part of it. Because of this it would be unique and necessarily many-stranded.

The Matter with Things, 384

What might be the implications of McGilchrist’s thinking about modern theology, and especially regarding notions of the Trinity?

hemispheric processing and western thought

I am about 50 pages into McGilchrist’s latest book, The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. He is expanding upon the hemispheric thinking he so eloquently described in his book The Master and His Emissary.* Much of our modern thought is dominated by left mode** processing, which is thought to be logical, linear, and reasonable, but it is poor at appreciating the big picture.

McGilchrist writes, “The left hemisphere is aware of much less of what surrounds it–‘sees less,’ in all senses, than the right. It is less tolerant of ambiguity and tends towards exclusive ‘either/or’ thinking; the right hemisphere is more inclusive, inclined to ‘both/and’ thinking” (p. 44).

The implications for this thinking seem relatively obvious in much of western thought and, by extension, western (primarily evangelical) theology. As good as the left hemisphere is at analyzing details, it is exquisitely unaware of what it does NOT know, which is problematic. The same is true of much of intellectual and theological certainty.

*Most of the pop-psychological literature and thinking about hemispheric (left brain/right brain) differences is, frankly, BS. However, McGilchrist is no pop psychologist and has spent a lifetime exploring the science behind hemispheric asymmetry and the implications.

**I prefer the term “left-mode” to “left-hemisphere” because it seems to me that it is the processes, rather than the anatomy, that matter.

be careful little eyes what you see

As a neuropsychologist, my day-to-day work involves assessing how people think and process information. Forgetfulness is people’s primary complaint when they see me; however, I evaluate more than memory. A thorough neuropsychological evaluation examines cognitive skills like memory, attention, and word-finding; emotions like depression, anxiety, or anger; sensory changes; and relational difficulties. Just as our thinking is complex, so are the variables associated with understanding and processing information. Although I use various psychological tests to assist in my evaluations, spending time with well over 10,000 patients over the years, I also notice behavioral trends that provide me with additional insight.

Increased anger and paranoia are patterns I have noticed more over the past few years, especially among my elderly patients. Although their doctors routinely refer them for evaluation of dementia, once they are in my office, their family members will tell me that dad has become much more irritable, judgmental, and paranoid. In my experience, it’s usually men who display this pattern. As a diagnostician, I am asked to determine what is wrong and what factors contribute to cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal changes. In the case of dementia, changes in the structure and function of the brain are generally evident.

However, I have observed increased paranoia and anger often accompanied by constant exposure to cable news. More than once, as family members have lamented these behavioral changes, they have shared their exasperation, saying, “He watches Fox News 24/7” (n.b. I have only heard people say this about right-wing media. It does not, therefore, mean that the same thing does not happen with left-wing media).

Disease or injury can change our brains in drastic ways, but it is also true that experience changes our brains by strengthening or weakening synaptic connections. When we continually expose ourselves to toxic or divisive things, we unwittingly become more toxic and divisive. In truth, it is not only my dementia patients who are becoming this way; it is happening to many of us.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Many of the things we consume, both as edible food and as sensory impressions, have toxins in them. Just as we might feel worse after eating a whole bag of chips, we often feel worse after we spend many hours on social media sites or playing video games. After we consume like that in an effort to block out or cover up unpleasant feelings, somehow we only end up feeling even more loneliness, anger, and despair” (Silence: the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, 2015).

So what can you do? First, understand that regardless of how intelligent, wise, or objective you believe you might be, what you expose yourself to shapes you gradually at first, but the effect can be drastic over time. Second, regardless of what you are taking in, be willing to ask, “what is the message behind the message?” Is this meme/newscast/article encouraging love and understanding or hatred and division? What emotional response are they seeking to generate? Third, set boundaries with people who seem to be driven by divisiveness and hatred; your heart will thank you. Unfollowing people on Facebook or Twitter can be a holy act. Fourth, intentionally turn off the television and do something else. Go for a walk and say hello to your neighbors.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.-Philippians 4:8

*There is a fascinating 2015 documentary titled “The Brainwashing of my Dad,” that provides additional insight into this phenomenon. I watched it on Amazon Prime, though it can be found through multiple sources.

Be a Voice for Wholeness & Human Flourishing

A few weeks ago, Andrea Wenburg interviewed me for her Voice of Influence podcast on the topic of wholeness and human flourishing. We talked about neuroscience, spirituality, and creativity. If you want a short overview of why I speak and write so much about the ideas of wholeness and integration, this would be a great place to start. Andrea is not only a great interviewer, she is a great thinker too. I would encourage you to check out her other materials as well.


We often think of the brain as a warehouse for memory. We imagine that information comes in through our senses, is cataloged, and shelved in the deep recesses of our hippocampus. At some time later, perhaps, the memory may be retrieved and put to use.

But it is more akin to a symphony. It is made not of drab packages containing recollections, but a neuronal harmony recreating the score that we call memory.