Video of an interview with Iain McGilchrist focussed on perceiving the sacred hosted by the British Christian think tank, Theos

  • I wasn’t going to respond to your post because I think that we’ve each stated enough about our beliefs to convince me that they’re mostly irreconcilably different and neither of us are likely to change them in the near future.
  • That’s where things stood until last night. But in response to Skov and St. Roymond’s exchange at the end of Adam’s goofy thread, I happened to do a little bit of research and came across:
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Agreed. But I’m curious about what you said earlier:

Have you actually gone to the UK out of curiosity about McGilchrist. Somehow I doubt it but if you have you are a bigger fan boy than I. :wink:

Or perhaps you just meant figuratively as in following his argument? That I’ve done.

  • The only time that I’ve gone to the U.K. was twice in order to change planes, to or from one going to Greece. Waiting in Heathrow Airport lasted no more than a couple of hours. McGilchrist Land was my way of summing up his milieu, where he was born, raised, and educated and what became important to him.

An interesting interview that convinces me that I need to know a lot more on the (presumably) central thesis re left and right parts of the brain. On intuition and faith (or general belief in God), I think we need tradition for context, personal experience(s) for substance, and a specific view on the importance of attributes (such as honesty, trust, love, hatred, deceit, etc) with the importance we confer on truth, beauty, and love. Obviously faith to be authentic, it must involve the entire person; a question that pops in my mind (not sure if it is the right or left :smile:) is what factors, such as cleverness, intellect and talents, impact on how our left and right portions workings.

Naturally, I underscore my remarks with my belief that faith in Christ (belief in God) involves the individual and Christ, a relationship that transcends science, biology and poetry.

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Naturally and you’re in good company. I’m not looking for followers or comrades in arms for a new religious movement. I’m naturally content to follow my own drummer and extend a sincere wish for others to do the same whether that be a path with much company or very little. I don’t think we get to specify the terms on which the truth will be revealed to us. All we can do is be disposed to recognize and know the truth when it is presented to us however that should happen.

By the way @Kendel did earlier recommend the discussion of the hemisphere hypothesis in this same video/podcast which follows immediately after my one minute clip which you can switch to hear it if you like. I was relieved not to get a thorough run through of it again only because that is such familiar ground for me. Profoundly important but there is so much more to the case he makes for the necessity of God which is subtle and in my case at least was effective.

Sometime I want to wrangle over IM’s disparaging remarks about modern art, or I should say, “art he doesn’t like.”

It brings up the question of what is sacred? What does sacred mean? I think in some ways it’s like pornography. “I know it when I see it?”
I think it was in the interview I mentioned above with Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagen, the very problematic idea of “the sacred” came up. And in a book I just randomly chose on my Kindle today – Terry Eagleton’s Radical Sacrifice the first chapter, which is a study of the history, purpose and meaning of blood sacrifice, problematizes the concept of the sacred with:

Without a cement of innocent blood, writes W.H. Auden in Horae Canonicae, no secular wall will ever safely stand. The power of death is pressed into the service of the living, as thanatos for Freud conspires with eros to pluck a civilisation from the mire. In this sense, it is death that brings the value of life into focus. ‘In the experience of killing’, writes Walter Burkert in a comment on sacrifice, ‘one perceives the sacredness of life; it is nourished and perpetuated by death.’

I guess a lot of different things came together today that had to do with “the sacred.” I think I forgot a few of them, too.

But I am interested in thinking together about how one can point to some work of art and declare the presence of sacredness, and to another the presence of profanity.
And how do we understand what “art” is, as well?

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I’d love to hear you ask him that question yourself at one of his Q&A session which he does 3 or 4 times a year for those who have signed on to be part of an extended community (nothing like church, in either a good or a bad way). If you wanted to make a video of yourself asking it I’d be happy to propose it. Not sure how long until he holds another. I did enjoy sharing the Jayber Crow quote with him one time and asking another question too. Naturally the odds of having ones question accepted are small given the number of participants but it does happen. I do think he is interested in art criticism as well as the literary kind though he is famously against using other people’s richly personal and layered creations as trampolines on which ‘experts’ show off their cleverness while reducing the work to something general and boring.

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You actually anticipate the gist of the difference between the two hemispheres in what you wrote. The left hemisphere is that which represents our own best efforts to understand and explain the world through our own deliberative efforts making use of the models and maps we’ve created or adopted about the world. The right hemisphere is the hemisphere which attends not to our own thinking but to the world itself as it presents itself to us, in whatever form that may take. Evolutionarily the left can be thought of as the center that attends narrowly to getting what is needed from the world by recognizing familiar opportunities and employing well practiced procedures while the right is the center which evolved to keep broadly vigilant to possible risks and unusual opportunities. In a nutshell the left evolved to get dinner, the right to avoid becoming dinner.

As for the many philosophic and science results he employs in his case building up to the sacred several are discussed in this video. Definitely not all inclusive but a fairly succinct presentation of those covered in this 39 minute video. Part two is 31 minutes.

The interview with Iain McGilchrist that Elizabeth Oldfield did has made her one of my favourite persons (although there are many) and Iain’s portrayal of his childhood made me quite sad about the direction my childhood took, because despite the adventures that I had, the numerous places I lived in, and the lessons that being initially working class, then an “army brat” as we were called, gave me, I was a “lost boy.” I experienced the spirit of the school Iain attended in Barnstable in Devon and was whisked away by circumstances that I couldn’t control, and I felt thrown into an environment in which I was just a “problem child,” who couldn’t keep up with the curriculum, was out of sync with social habits there, and was all too sensitive. I was, in a way, very much like Iain portrays himself, and many of his attributes that were at least accepted, and at best encouraged in his environment, were met with disinterest in mine, except with my mother, who tried, despite a lack of education, to help me progress. I fled England in the end, for a destination in which I had the feeling that I could expand and grow, which I then did.

Iain’s early intention to study theology, be ordained and then go into a monastery, sounds a lot like a fleeting desire that kindled in me for a short time, despite knowing nothing about studying, about theology or about monasteries. It just seemed like an escape. But what was interesting is his approach to literature which quite amazingly, was something that I had picked up at that early stage in Barnstable, at the age of about thirteen or fourteen, that literature has the task of taking us on a journey and letting us experience things in our mind, from which we can learn. This, as Elisabeth then quipped, leads us to think “about how we read scripture and that I want to imagine someone who’s already written the against criticism for scripture, you know, don’t dissect it into dry doctrines, just let it work on work on you …” which curiously, is how I later approached the Bible.

The strange thing was that, although I was criticised once Christians realised what I was doing, I was having what is often termed as “spiritual experiences” and the hair was rising on the nape of my neck, or in my case my ears turned red, and the impressions needed expression. The literalism that I was practising was acting “as if” it was literally true, like when reading a novel, and going with the story and, importantly, then coming out of it. That was what separated me from the evangelical Christians I was with, but when I went to the protestant church, my experience lame, and my enthusiasm waned, and as Iain says:

“I rather blame I’m afraid the church. I mean in a way they were in a conundrum; they saw congregations dropping, how can we entice people back? By making it all more mundane, and more like life at home, and more simple and more popular? But actually, what people crave is not more of what’s going on at home, because that’s exactly what they are finding is not satisfying. They want to be told there’s something here that will take patience, silence, prayer, some singing and going through rituals, and then you may see it, and you won’t get it by sitting outside it and going, well you do this you do that. I always say it’s like learning to swim by sitting on the bank with a book and saying, okay now I understand, I’ll get in the water and swim. You have to get in the water and swim to understand swimming and I’m afraid the spiritual life is like that.”

Like him, my experience with mindfulness in MBSR training was enormously helpful, and developing a contemplative practise out of that, at first, I overcame the challenge I had of not fitting into the available Christian environments. The practise involved silencing the chatter, reciting words, or verses, but leaving space, and listening rather than speaking. I especially identify with Iain’s comparison with gardening, which I have recently discovered. However, my problem is that, using Iain’s terminology, I am deeply right hemispheric, and although I have a natural inclination to express myself in language, whether English or German, and am deeply moved by language, my experience of life as something so very complex, ambiguous, mysterious, and awesome often evades language, and I struggle to find words. When confronted with my superior’s very left-hemispheric approach to business, despite being in the business of caring, nursing, and ministering to people, the conflict only had one casualty – me.

But Elisabeth’s reflection, being thankful that Iain went to that school, and talking about how important formation is, made me think that a sense of homecoming after being abroad is so valuable. Formation, yes, but it is so valuable to gain an external view of home. That is where I am, outside of England, reflecting on the foundation my mother tried to give me, how I broke away and came back mentally to appreciate it. I don’t know if a seed was planted before I found a booklet on Abraham, but something is there if you are a right-hemispheric type of person, so perhaps that was it.


This was an enjoyable and timely article about an interview with Daniel Dennett

“Is this Tree of Life a God one could worship? Pray to? Fear? Probably not,” reads a much-quoted passage from the book. However, he goes on, it is “greater than anything any of us will ever conceive of in detail worthy of its detail. . . . I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. This world is sacred.”

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Sadly I think the tree he conceives of as God is just the monolith he has constructed from his own ideas. He may not worship it but cannot help but stand in admiration of his own cleverness. Bless his little heart.

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I need to consider at length his point of view - from the obviously scant input from quickly going through these presentations, my initial response is both interesting and yet I seem to have heard it before. Relationships are obvious and important, but I make a plea for caution - if everything is relationships, it becomes so general that I cannot understand why I would love my wife so obviously, since (to make a crude point) why should this not involve everyone and everything in the cosmos.

Nonetheless, a very interesting contribution to discussions on consciousness.


Here is some of Nick Cave’s recent music that I found after I first listened to the interview with Elizbeth Oldfield:

It’s actually hard for me to listen to, although it is incredibly beautiful.

I found this one this evening and tried to listen to it but couldn’t function.

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The second one is playing for me now.

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Indeed it is very compressed and incomplete. Hard for me to imagine what it would be like to just see this without having read the book. It was mostly new for me but this part was less about the brain science more about making the case for God and the sacred.

Well, I have discovered that this is in fact the case, and although I have become “one flesh” with my wife, I have to acknowledge that I can’t have her without everything else. For me, love was always about realising how humanity is united in very many various ways and degrees. We are one, although we are many, and we can’t even manage to separate ourselves from the rest of nature. If we could understand this, that everything is relationships, we might stop killing others and destroying the world we are part of.

My love for my wife is special in that she is what I am missing, my “better half” we say, but my neighbours, even the “prickly” ones, are also enhancements to my limited abilities, just as I enhance them. If we could develop a curiousness about the story of the other, rather than being disturbed by their “otherness,” which is just different experiences, different cultures, different weather, etc., then we might come to realise that we are indeed children of the sacred Unity, going through life and heading for reunion.

I am reminded of the story about the woman who remarried in this life and Jesus is asked whose wife will she be in the next life. What is his answer?

Surely this isn’t a story in the Bible, is it? I can’t imagine remarriage being a thing discussed in Jesus’ time.

  • O ye of little imagination. :laughing:
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Well do you know the punchline then? Whose wife will she be in the ever after?

Matthew 22:23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”