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.

One final view of the fractured self comes from The Daily Race, a blog on race and discrimination from a Christian perspective. In “A Whole Committee of Selves“, Starlette McNeill writes:

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.

6 thoughts on “The fractured self

  1. Our being is a jumble of variabilities and no two of us are identical. Trying to investigate one’s self is like searching for a needle in a haystack but mind you don’t prick your finger doing so.
    I think having a separate page for your poetry is a good idea. I’ve done that with mine.
    Shirley Anne xxx


    • Yes, I saw. That huge outpouring around 2003. I heard the way to find a needle in a haystack is to make love in the haystack. I am not sure I have identified a “self” but I may have a better idea of how the whole complex process of me works.


  2. Thank you so much for this interesting and challenging perception of what it is to be human. When I was in my 20s I had a very creative, successful and often alcohol raddled B.F, (too sensitive for his own good?) and I told him to have a meeting with his “selves” when he was being especially challenging. To his credit he paused and took in what I said, then grinned and it clearly struck a chord with how it felt to be him.


  3. I was talking the other day about how I felt that I had an unfair portion of right and left-brainedness, which is a stupid way to put it really. I feel that I am partially in tune with both, dissatisfied if trying to accomplish something that doesn’t allow for both, and not completely comfortable with either part of my self. Conclusion: I’m exhausting but also probably a lot like everybody else. Thanks for this!


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