It is one of those books you appreciate more after reading the sequels, Home and Lila. And now Jack, which I hope to get for Christmas.
Some people will find a whole lot of it disturbing if they are already afraid of science and don’t want any traditional religious answers about morality to get poked at. That won’t be most of the people that hang out here a lot. BUT … there is another anecdote in the book that
very nearly everybody should find disturbing (and the author himself fully expects people will - it’s part of his point) and that is his story where he demonstrates (by our emotional reactions) how virtually nobody really buys into a version of a recent secular screed which essentially says: “informed adult consent” is the last word on any (especially sexual) ethics. All I will say here is that he has a true anecdote about a German man who ate another man - and Haidt gives enough detail about how that all happened (including a sexual fetish that was involved) that anybody of healthy, sound mind will be shocked by it. I think it’s fair to say that this one anecdote was by far the most shocking thing to read in the book, and minus that, the book could pretty much be considered for general audiences (again … also minus any sensitive fundamentalists who are scandalized by much less.) I forget which chapter that anecdote was in, but it is fairly early on in the book.
[…all this just to say, Randy, that if you’re past that story; then relax. Just bracket that one aside with any other nightmares you deal with, and enjoy the rest of the book … easy sailing from there.]
Just went back to see what else made that list in edition to Gilead and The Righteous Mind and was heartened to find the book that has my worldview in its grips currently, The Master and His Emissary by McGilchrist.
I’m always eager to discuss that book with others who have read it but, as with the Bible, it can’t be read from a purely rational point of view. The same is true for another writer who has been influential shaping my POV, the American Jungian psychologist James Hillman.
From the source you cited:
Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2010)
“My thesis is that for us as human beings there are two fundamentally opposed realities, two different modes of experience; that each is of ultimate importance in bringing about the recognizably human world; and that their difference is rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. It follows that the hemispheres need to cooperate, but I believe they are in fact involved in a sort of power struggle, and that this explains many aspects of contemporary Western culture.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon, 2012)
“Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you…the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and that rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes-the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”
I totally agree. I remember reading his spoiler alert when that story was used to make his case for establishing purity/sanctity as a moral foundation. That is the one I had the most trouble recognizing as relevant to morality … until I read that. Honestly, I so wanted to spit it out of my brain afterwords. But without it I would still be holding that foundation aside as doubtfully belonging.
‘If a man’s concept of God is in error, the more fundamentally committed he is to it, the more damage he will do.’ William Temple, ABC
So I’ve been ‘courting’ Iain McGilchrist’s The Master And His Emissary for quite some time, making forays into the book here and there. I’ve always felt that it had much of significance to say but owing to the nature of the content it isn’t easy to grasp. It is much like reading Jung or Heidegger or Hillman, you have reactions and impressions but can never reduce what that is to series of factual statements. This is because we have two natures and the one he refers to as that of the right hemisphere can never be subsumed by that of the left.
Anyway I just read a passage on “belief” from chapter four which was quite a revelation for me and may be of interest to @Jay313, @Christy, @Mervin_Bitikofer, @jstump and others. I’m curious if anything here resonates for anyone else.
Believing is not to be reduced to thinking that such-and-such might be the case. It is not a weaker form of thinking, laced with doubt. Sometimes we speak like this: ‘I believe that the train leaves at 6:13’, where ‘I believe that’ simply means that ‘I think (but am not certain that’. Since the left hemisphere is concerned with what is certain, with knowledge of the facts, its version of belief is that it is just absence of certainty. If the facts were certain, according to its view, I should be able to say ‘I know that’ instead. This view of belief comes from the left hemisphere’s dispositions toward the world: interest in what is useful, therefore fixed and certain (the train timetable is no good if one can’t rely on it). So belief is just a feeble form of knowledge.
But belief in terms of the right hemisphere is different, because its disposition towards the world is different. The right hemisphere does not ‘know’ anything, in the sense of certain knowledge. For it, belief is a matter of care: it describes a relationship, where there is a calling and an answering, the root concept of ‘responsibility’. Thus if I say that ‘I believe in you’, it does not mean that I think such-and-such things are the case about you, but can’t be certain I am right. It means that I stand in a certain relationship of care towards you, that entails me behaving (acting and being) towards you, and entails on you certain ways of acting and being as well. it is an ‘acting as if’ certain things were true about you that in the nature of things cannot be certain. … I think this is what Wittgenstein was trying to express when he wrote that ‘my’ attitude towards the other is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul. An ‘opinion’ would be a weak form of knowledge: that is not what is meant by a belief, a disposition or an ‘attitude’.
This helps illuminate belief in God. This is not reducible to a factual answer to the question ‘does God exist?’ … It is having an attitude, holding a disposition to the world, whereby that world, as it comes into being for me, is one in which God belongs. The belief alters the world but also alters me. … One cannot believe in nothing and thus avoid belief altogether, simply because one cannot have no disposition toward the world at all, that being in itself a disposition. Some people believe in materialism, they act ‘as if’ such a philosophy were true. …
Nice passage. I do resonate with it. In the Bible, faith is allegiance not just ‘belief’ in the weaker form of knowledge sense. I like the idea of pulling relationship into the concept.
At least minus the brain hemisphere talk, it made me think of things you’d said. So what is my disposition to the world now that maintaining that I don’t have one has been taken off the table? All I know is that the silence of reflection is rich with answers which often outstrip what I can come up with by tinkering with what I think I already know. So whatever else the world may be it isn’t mute, I’m not alone in this.
I liked your find as well. It seems to me the needed reaction against positivist abuses of recent centuries, and I think one can celebrate this broadening of horizons without being seen as entirely letting go of the value of rationality (but with needed restraint on its Descartian hubris). Things like “God exists” or “Jesus exists” and much more will of course remain necessary entailments if some some understandings are to remain valid. But we should feel released from the pretension toward compulsive proofs of these things in strictly rational terms.
I agree. I also agree that
We have two natures and both are essential. Our conscious involvement carries the responsibility for rationality but pre-consciously our other nature is selecting what comes to our attention. We would be incomplete without either nature. In our conscious minds we are like the emissary in the title of his book and can never possess the big picture for which only our other nature is equipped. Pascal is supposed to have said “the endpoint of rationality is to demonstrate the limits of rationality”. I take that to mean we need to recognize our dependence on our other nature to recognize what ends our rationality are to serve.
No need to shy away from the facts. The capacity for morality had to evolve from primitive beginnings just like the capacity for language. Infants aren’t born with a God-given morality (or conscience) any more than they are born with grammar and speak fully-formed sentences from the womb. Those things must be learned by experience, and the same is true in human evolution.
Research in human psychology agrees, as do childhood development and human evolution. I’ll link the research if asked, but both adults and children make “gut decisions” about moral situations. Only later do adults apply moral reasoning to justify their initial reactions, while children lack the vocabulary to vocalize their moral reasoning.
I seem also one of the few who aren’t fans of Gilead.
There is an arbiter between the hemispheres, which is the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and working memory/executive functions. That is the rider on the elephant. It’s an arbitrary figure to say 99% of mental processes are out of our control yet govern our behavior. Sort of like saying we only use a certain percentage of our brain, which has been debunked for a long time. In most situations, our behavior is automatic/habitual. I don’t have to spend any real decision-making on the routine of making coffee in the morning. The same goes for someone stealing my wallet. I don’t have to spend any time thinking about the morality of that situation. Habitual responses make up most of our daily lives, but they aren’t the center of who we are. Brain research demonstrates that the PFC/executive function takes control when anything novel is encountered. The hemispheres may be two competing sources of raw information and overall approach, but they aren’t two competing centers of decision-making. That occurs in the PFC. We don’t have separate personalities or consciousnesses competing inside one head; there is one center of decision-making in every mind.
Purity makes sense to me when related to taboos. Many species have a “taboo” against sex with parents/siblings. Most of the things we find “digusting” are found by experience to be for our own good and fall into the category of “purity.” Some, however, are seemingly arbitrary and can be attributed solely to culture. Many of the “purity” laws in the Old Testament are termed by orthodox rabbis as the “arbitrary laws” that must be obeyed simply because God decrees them.
Can’t speak to the other two, but I find Heidegger’s prose unreadable and mostly inscrutable.
Sorry I’m slow. Enough for now. I’ll try to get back tomorrow for more and for any replies.
Right. Reason alone can only take us so far. Pascal also said,
The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will. You have rejected the one, and kept the other. Is it by reason that you love yourself?
It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.
The heart, for Pascal, is intuition. One of your hemispheres.
It kind of works as intuition and the elephant. Either way it is largely independent of our rational judgement. Rationality is necessary. Intuition is necessary. Neither can substitute for the other. Being human requires a good sense of balance.
Good to have company on Gilead. Given the recommendations I got here, I really did push it a long way. But in the end, I set that cross down.
I think Pascal had a good integration of reason, intuition/inspiration, and habit. (I don’t agree with him that Christianity alone has reason on its side, but that’s another thread.) From time spent at BioLogos, I have no doubt that reason (evidence) influences belief. How many folks have you seen show up here in a crisis of belief because what they’d been told didn’t agree with the evidence? You’ve been here long enough to see the casualties of fundamentalism. So reason and evidence certainly play a part in belief. Custom, or habit/enculturation, also play their part. Here’s what he said:
There are three sources of belief: reason, custom, inspiration. The Christian religion, which alone has reason, does not acknowledge as her true children those who believe without inspiration. It is not that she excludes reason and custom. On the contrary, the mind must be opened to proofs, must be confirmed by custom, and offer itself in humbleness to inspirations, which alone can produce a true and saving effect.
Oh that is not it at all…sorry. I just could not focus on work at the time of listening to all the examples that we reject by gut morality…brothers and sisters sleeping together, cannibalism, etc. It is a great book so far. Just have needed some lighter listening.
Your life is hard enough as it is, in the time of COVID. It’s not exactly light reading. God bless you for the work you do. It is his own hands you work with.
I’m really liking the Pascal quotes. I think we have to forgive Europeans from fairly long ago who put Christianity on a pedestal in this way. They didn’t have Google for one thing and were less aware of other traditions, though probably not completely so. I like the sentiment of what Pascal is saying in those quotes regardless. And they’re new to me so thanks!
I heard that. And me, I need more stories. You guys are filled with Bible stories and I spent my working life obsessed with nonfiction works in philosophy, psychology and science generally. You know, trying to lock the world into known patterns so I can grasp and make use of it I suppose. It wasn’t until five years ago that I opened the flood gates to novels. I swear my elephant loves them and to think how much I’d been depriving him!
We all do what we can… you more than I, in influencing others to the good.