The fractured self
Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist, gives a ten minute lecture on Youtube on the different effects of the left and right brain. The left brain has a clear rational focus on the matter in hand, the right brain has an intuitive grasp of context. McGilchrist argues that our society is far too much dominated by the left brain, quoting Einstein:
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society which honours the servant but has forgotten the gift.
He also says that the frontal lobe allows us to step back from the immediacy of experience and response, and judge it: which allows us to deceive another, but also to empathise.
I had been aware that the amygdala in the base of the brain, shared with reptiles, deals with the imperatives of the four Fs, and indeed I have experienced time appearing to slow down, where the amygdala under immediate threat takes over and lays down memories more quickly than the frontal lobe does. If the corpus callosum, the link between the hemispheres, inhibits communication between them, that could explain why writing sometimes seems to float up from my subconscious, or a “muse”: it comes from the other hemisphere.
As a teenager, presenting male, I “threw like a girl” (not a good thing) and twice I threw something without thinking or caring and was surprised to hit the target (in one case, the back of someone’s head). And I read that in playing tennis, after perfecting each stroke and response, the best players show very little brain activity in performing those shots: not all the judging and thinking, just the perfect part of the brain for the shot.
Years ago from the blog Overcoming Bias I got the idea of near and far thinking including the idea that our opinions about particular issues can be very different from the choices we make. My own example was that coming from my particular religious background, I opposed a woman’s right to choose abortion, and would tell people so, until one asked for help in finding an abortion clinic. Then I sought to help her get what she wanted. Ones opinions of the world in general can be very different from ones choices, faced with an actual dilemma.
These selves would include the mammy self, the buck self, the brute self, the hyper-sexualized and asexual self, the Uncle Tom and lack Nationalist self, the house and field negro self, the integrationist and segregationist self, the hopeful and suspicious self, the passing self, the mulatto, quadroon and octaroon self, the coon self, the shuckin’ and jivin’ self, the African self, the nigger/nigga self, the Negro self, the Black self, the African American self. Each has its own personality, position and power.
Octoroon, meaning a person with one Black great grandparent, is a word I find fouler than miscegenation, a word seeing an ancestor as a Taint, and a word symbolising almost but not quite passing as Normal. And I see it in myself. And the shuckin’ and jivin’ self, trying to get by under the radar.
For the power of suppression, consider those people whose most important characteristic is their Welshness, symbolised by Cymraeg, the language. This communal characteristic has become a symbol of identity, even individuality, because it has been so held down in the past.
So what does “I” or “the self” mean? My attempt at an answer tomorrow, but I would be very grateful for answers below.
Some of my verse now has its own page.