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Whole Brain, Whole Person: Why Analysis Needs Intuition

A more wholehearted and powerful way of thinking.

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Source: Engin Akyurt/Pexels

Sofi, a successful business executive, had always prided herself on her analytical prowess. She approached life with a hyperrational mindset, meticulously dissecting every decision and situation. Then, a series of personal and professional setbacks left her feeling increasingly disconnected from the world around her.

In therapy, Sofi's perspective expanded. She realized that she had been blind to a subtle discernment available through mindful awareness.

With guidance, Sofi began to pay closer attention to her intuitions and emotions, the here and now, and the immediate world surrounding her. This shift was not without its challenges, as she had to confront deeply ingrained habits and beliefs. However, Sofi experienced a profound transformation. She reported feeling more attuned to the subtle cues and patterns in her relationships and more able to navigate the ambiguities and uncertainties of life with a greater sense of balance and resilience.

This involved a tension between logic and a kind of trust in her own inner feelings as she confronted life's perpetual complications and quandaries. Analysis without intuition is, to borrow from C.S. Lewis, "all the apparatus of thought busily working in a vacuum." Sofi learned to harness her analytical skills while simultaneously allowing her gut to inform and guide her. Not with increased insight but with masterly attunement, ultimately, Sofi began to smartly navigate personal and professional challenges with greater finesse.

Left Brain, Right Brain Stereotypes Are Oversimplifications

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Source: Polina Romanenko/Pexels

Iain McGilchrist, a renowned psychiatrist and philosopher, presented a compelling argument in his seminal work, The Matter with Things (2021), that challenges common misconceptions about the roles of the brain's hemispheres. At the heart of his theory lies the notion that the left and right hemispheres of the cerebral cortex play crucial yet distinct roles in shaping our perceptions and our understanding of the world around us.

McGilchrist (2021) asserted that "just about everything that is said about the hemispheres in pop psychology is wrong because it rests on beliefs about what the hemispheres do, not about how they approach it." This statement is a crucial starting point for reexamining the relationship between objective reality and subjective experience. The popular beliefs about the hemispheres often oversimplify their functions and fail to capture the nuanced and interdependent nature of their roles.

McGilchrist's "Intuition" and Kierkegaard's "Subjectivity"

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Source: Pedro Lemos/Pexels

According to McGilchrist, the left hemisphere of the brain is primarily focused on reductive aspects of reality, while the right hemisphere is more attuned to the holistic and contextual; the dominance of the left hemisphere in modern Western culture has led to a skewed and impoverished understanding of the world, one that prioritizes the objective, measurable, and quantifiable over the subjective, qualitative, and experiential.

In reaction to philosophical efforts toward systematic analysis, the 19th-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, regarded as the father of existentialism, championed the primacy of subjective experience. Kierkegaard's (1992) notion of "subjectivity" emphasizes the importance of an individual's lived experience, personal choices, and the inherent uncertainty and anxiety that come with the human condition.

McGilchrist's insights into the hemispheric differences of the brain provide a foundation for understanding tensions within human experience. By acknowledging anxiety permeating the human condition, Kierkegaard's notion of subjectivity challenges illusions of objective certainty and invites us to embrace complexity and not knowing.

The Limits of Pure Reason

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Source: Una Laurencic/Pexels

McGilchrist suggested that the left and right hemispheres, while distinct in their functions, work in tandem to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the world. The left hemisphere's analytical tendencies are balanced by the right hemisphere's intuitive approach, allowing for a more well-rounded perception of reality. Similarly, Kierkegaard's (1992) emphasis on the primacy of subjective experience does not negate the importance of objective knowledge but highlights the need for a deeper engagement with the world that goes beyond the purely analytical.

Here, McGilchrist and Kierkegaard have harmony with Immanuel Kant (1781), who addressed conflict between reason and understanding. Kant warned that attempts to reason beyond the "limits" of reason result in false understandings. He offered understanding as an alternative to reason in such a predicament. In effect, like McGilchrist, Kant indicated that the narrow scope of reason does best when it collaborates with the wider scope of understanding. Like Kierkegaard, Kant denounced the notion of a "pure reason."

Intuitive intelligence and analytical skills are both essential for effective decision-making. Intuition allows us to quickly grasp the big picture, see patterns, and make creative leaps, while analytical skills enable us to gather and process data, identify trends, and make informed, rational choices. Rely more on analytical skills when facing complex, data-driven decisions that demand precision. Use intuition when you have deep, relevant experience, limited time to gather information, or need to adapt to ambiguity and unpredictability.

Embracing Whole Brain, Whole Person Intuition

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Source: Matheus Bertelli/Pexels

By recognizing the limitations of a purely analytical approach, Sofi was able to tap into a fuller richness within the human experience. Like Sofi, we all face moments of uncertainty and existential tension. By cultivating a deeper awareness and embracing the inherent subjectivity of our lived experiences, we can transcend the narrow confines of pure reason and open ourselves to more nuanced understandings and adept decision-making.

The moral of Sofi's story and the overarching message of this exploration is that a kind of wisdom often lies in the harmonious integration of analytical rigor and intuitive insight. It is in the dance between left and right hemispheres, between the objective and the subjective, that we can find a more wholehearted and powerful way of being in the world.

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Kant I. (1781). Critique of pure reason. Riga: artknoch.

Kierkegaard, S. (1992). Concluding unscientific postscript to philosophical fragments (H. V. Hong & E. H. Hong, Trans.). Princeton University Press.

Lewis, C. S. (1970). Meditation in a toolshed. In W. Hooper (Ed.), God in the dock: Essays on theology and ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company.

McGilchrist, I. (2021). The matter with things: Our brains, our delusions, and the unmaking of the world. Perspectiva Press.

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