The Master and His Emissary – “a Metaphor”

Andy Curzon, (all),

—“McGilchrist makes it clear he is content for his thesis to be seen as a metaphor (see opposite). And in that case it is emphatically a metaphor which works. It underpins, validates, explains a whole slew of intuitions about general practice and life which I have felt and tried to express in (inevitably) inadequate words and which I know are widely shared. It is also a metaphor which fits in the most beautiful way to clarify our entire cultural history. “— James Willis, British Journal of General Practice

it’s a metaphor or parable for understanding ourselves. The neurological model (which I operate under) is sufficiently reductive such that the insights of the metaphor are both more difficult to understand, and easily justify the continuation of analytical specialization. Whereas the metaphor like all we deem ‘meaningful’, attempts to restore a balance between the analytic-operational and the synthetic-experiential.

This is a fairly good book by any measure. But you have latched onto this pretty hard. And while the first half of the book is pretty solid, the second half is too much a polemic by a therapist against his love of dream worlds.

This is not to say that dream worlds of some degree (binding narratives[myths], literature, entertainment) are not something between necessary, useful, and pleasureable, but that there is a vast difference between using them and CONFLATING them with supernaturalism, sophism, and pseudoscience – because of the obvious historical consequences of ‘the easy route’.

Psychiatrists must operate on their patients through suggestion in order to circumvent the problem of resistance to dominance by others. People must learn by their own means and the psychiatrist and teacher who seeks to CORRECT AN ERROR or DEFECT can best use metaphor and parable and thought experiment to cause the audience to circumvent his error or defect.

This THERAPY is very different from teaching people correctly in the first place (PEDAGOGY). And it is this difference between pedagogy and therapy, and the externalities of pedagogy vs therapy that constitute the conflict I have with these people as well as your interpretation of their value. WE all want to eat cake but it is the competition in the markets that makes us able to by forcing us to constantly calculate intertemporal premiums.

From the side of science, the book is an update to Jaynes’s earlier work. And has met with the same skepticism and criticism. Sachs died in 2015 so the most able man to criticize the work isn’t around. Dennett won’t commit to jaynes or gilchrist. And for Janes, Dawkins said it was most likely a work of utter rubbish but that he had no way to know one way or the other.


As far as I know the hemispheres are the result of bilateralization. The dominance of one over the other a necessity of bilateral coordination. The specialization of hemispheres due to the computational demands of observing, forecasting, searching (prey) and acting (predatory). The costs of left and right differ and we work at spending very little time ‘calculating’ as it’s costly. We spend most of our time daydreaming (searching, modeling) and emoting, relying on intuitive free association rather than planning, calculating, and now, computing.

The simplest reduction is a funnel where the senses are collected in the right to make a model (prey), and the right and left negotiate a direction of candidate action, and the left performs the action of manipulation (predator). This solves a host of problems of computational efficiency if or no other reason than both prey(world) and predator (actor) can maintain state at the same time, without falling into the problem we see in many animals, which is that they are vulnerable when concentrating, and therefore toggle between concentration and observation limiting their concentration.

The simplest reduction of consciousness is simply the product of additional recursion and memory (‘distance’ as the author suggests). The fact that this is produced by frontal lobes is something that is fairly new. I would have thought that it was not localized but a function of scale.

The simplest reason for achievement of western civilization is the specialization in left functions. The simplest reason for angst in western civilization is marx’s critique of alienation – although it is just alienation from a known role in a band or tribe, and the loss of calculability and exhaustion of calculating and frustration of trusting when cause and effect are so disassociated in time. The simplest means for the limits of western model are demographic – the cost of abrahamism for the underclasses was something not at the time possible to pay for training in classicism.

The simplest need for binding narratives is to reduce the effort of calculation. The simplest need for ritual is relieving the pressure of calculation. the simplest need for community events (feasts, festivals, rituals) is to reduce the calculative cost of trust. In other words, the neural economy is expensive and needs vacations. And while we may vacation from calculation of work somewhat easily, it requires social order to take a vacation from the construction of trust such that we do not fear we are ostracized or left behind, and can counter the feeling of alienation caused by the division of knowledge and labor.

This problem of ‘computational efficiency’ by funneling is simply a brain structure mirroring neural hierarchy. It is this model that scientists (particularly those that study language) make use of. Certainly Chomsky does.

The idea that consciousness is introspection isn’t new. But he has done perhaps the best job so far of making a case for it. IMO I think his theory is weak, since consciousness will always deterministically result from sufficient recursive forecasting power (memory). I would say instead that consciousness as introspective is a product of the evolution of language, only because by talking we make categories commensurable and calculable and therefore testable to ourselves. In other words, it reduces computational costs.


His second half of the book seems a bit of a Naturalistic fallacy. **Neurons Like Numbers Are Very Simple Things** They have profound plasticity and what we can create with them is bound only by computational efficiency (costs of using them). If we can somehow construct a model, we an imagine the previously inconceivable (relativity being the best example). Most of us cannot imagine that time is merely a function of entropy in space. Our ability to theorize through recursive introspection demonstrates rather vividly that – while costly – we can train at least some humans almost infinitely, and we can be happy as long as socialization is sufficient – by lack of diversity (competitors from cognitive thresholds that are lower).

We can adapt our thinking as have each of the major civilizations: west, semitic, indian, and east asian. And the difficulty appears to arise ONLY when socialization is not maintained along with analytical thought. In fact, the central problem of great thinkers and even prodigies, is the tendency to exit the polity out of frustration – because there is no socialization possible. (not like there was prior to the 20th century, when pre-marxism-communism-postmodernism we were all ‘the same but different’. (a common lament among early 20th century intellectuals.)

Need for training of the intuition for adaptation to modernity, and it’s this lack of training that stoicism / epicureanism provide, and the spectrum of deflationary grammars and inflationary grammars can all be trained – assuming we prohibit the fictionalisms (lying grammars). The fact that all this ‘woo woo’ is flying around still is contrary to the evidence of the adaptability of man, and the utility of adapting to the demands of the era.

Now, the argument that Ghichrist is making, is that the wholistic mind needs greater exercise, and I agree, I just disagree that it needs supernaturalism, sophism, and pseudoscience. And I disagree it needs archtypes and narratives that are counter to the western heroic ethic – the one that dominated the greco roman world, prior to it’s antithesis in semitic abrahamic reliigons.

The similarity I see between Gilchrist and Peterson is that they are both therapists and deal with the many broken people that industrial era and later modernity has produced – and in the states it’s rather obvious that the destruction of the family by mobility, scale of country, diversity, and independence from inter-generational care-taking has been catastrophic. The problem is they are working with the hammer they know how to nail – therapy – rather than removing the conditions that make desocialization and ‘incalculability ‘ (the right can’t model a favorable world).

The point of stoicism was to use reason and discipline to train the intuition. Epicurean-ism to take the opposite route – a materialist and social version of eastern (buddhist) individualist escapism from reality. It is however far easier to teach the dim buddhism’s rituals that stoicism’s rituals (self authoring), but we teach people mathematics which is pretty unnatural and there is nothing unnatural about teaching people disciplined pursuit of virtues as a means of creating the ‘mindfulness’ I intuit Ghichrist and Peters on are trying to construct.


My understanding of our current plight is the need to choose between reconstructing a hallucination (religion) or reconstructing classicism (civic life). My understanding is that only westerners have been able to construct civic life. But that there are bad people in this world who want to reconstruct religion (hallucination).

This is a far more reductive (simple) explanation.

Falling backward into ‘falsehoods’ rather than training people to make use of modernity and organizing society to eliminate alienation is, in my understanding, the choice that separates the west from the rest.

Satisfying demand for computational efficiency across the spectrum of human computations both rational, intuitionistic, and perceptual is simply a market problem

The naturalistic fallacy is that we regress to the past rather than satisfy the market demand that allows us to produce continuous transformation of man from animal to the gods we have the possibility to be

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