How we Re-Cognise what we Experience

Differentiating between the functions of the left and the right hemisphere of our brain.

What does each brainside actually do?

Chapter two of The Master and his Emissary gives a very extensive description of the differences between the two.

One of the first subchapters is about different forms of attention. Which form of attention belongs to which hemisphere?

There are five types of attention:

  • vigilance
  • sustained attention
  • alertness
  • focused attention
  • divided attention

There is an intensity axis which contains the first three: vigilance, sustained attention, alertness.

And there is a selectivity axis which contains the last two: focused attention and divided attention.

Focused attention on the left

The right hemisphere is responsible for almost every type of attention. Except one. Focused attention does not belong to the right hemisphere.

Focused attention belongs to the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere that is responsible for local, narrowly focused attention.

From detail to whole or from whole to detail

Research shows that if the right hemisphere is not working well, (so the left hemisphere is dominant) there is a tendency to start with pieces and put those pieces together to get an overall picture.

While on the contrary, when the left hemisphere is not working well, (and the right hemisphere is dominant) there is a preference to start with a global approach and go from the overall picture to the details.

Our representation of the world

The sort of attention to the world outside, determines what we ‘see’.  How we ‘know’ things.

In other words we might need to know what is of use to us – but this might be very different from understanding a broader sense, and certainly might inquire filtering out some aspects of experience. Without experiences whatever it is, we would have nothing on which to ground our knowledge, so we have to experience it at some stage; but in order to know it, we have to ‘process’ experience.

We have to be able to recognise (re-cognise) what we experience: to say this is a ‘such-and-such’, that is, it has certain qualities that enable me to place it in a category of things that I have experienced before and about which I have certain beliefs and feelings. This processing eventually becomes so automatic that we do not so much experience the world as experience our representation of the world. The world is no longer ‘present’ to us, but ‘re-presented’, a virtual world, a copy that exists in conceptual form in the mind.

So how we see the world, depends on how we use the selective, focused attention of our left hemisphere.

While at the same time, the right hemisphere is open to everything. Without preconception. Not just focused on what is already known. More flexible. And more broad. Looking beyond the known.

How we re-cognise what we experience


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