Joris Swinkels - 13 oktober 2023

Linker of rechter brein leiderschap?

In this episode of the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, Dr. Peterson discusses the relationship between the brain’s two hemispheres, focusing on the concepts from the book “The Master and His Emissary” by Iain McGilchrist. Dr. Peterson and his guest explore the idea that the right hemisphere of the brain, traditionally seen as secondary, is more reliable and perceptive than the left hemisphere, often associated with dominance. They delve into the importance of differentiation and inhibition between the hemispheres, emphasizing the necessity of chaos and order for meaningful existence. The conversation covers various topics, including the orienting reflex, the interplay between anomalies and patterns, the role of music, and the philosophical implications of evil, choice, and the nature of God. Dr. Peterson and his guest also touch on the concepts of creation and repair, drawing parallels between neurological processes and larger metaphysical ideas. The conversation highlights the complexities of the human experience and the ongoing exploration of fundamental truths.

In the podcast episode, Dr. Peterson and his guest explore a wide range of topics related to neuroscience, philosophy, and human existence. Some key themes and questions that have been discussed include:

  1. Why did the guest choose the title “The Master and His Emissary”?
  2. What is the relationship between the brain’s two hemispheres?
  3. Why is the right hemisphere often perceived as more reliable than the left hemisphere?
  4. What is the orienting reflex, and how does it relate to anomaly detection?
  5. How do the hemispheres process anomalies and patterns?
  6. What is the role of chaos and order in human existence?
  7. How does music relate to patterns and the fundamental nature of the cosmos?
  8. What is the ethical requirement in facing the concept of evil?
  9. Why is there a necessity of evil in the world?
  10. What is the process of creation and repair in the context of philosophy and neuroscience?
  11. How do the concepts of otherness and limitation relate to the creation of the universe?
  12. How does the idea of God evolving over time connect to human existence?
  13. What is the relationship between uncertainty and the pursuit of truth?
  14. What is the significance of death in the context of life and being?
  15. What is the concept of an optimal balance between stability and exploratory capacity?
  16. How does limitation lead to increased generalizability and progress in human understanding?
  17. Why does being require free choice and the real distinction between good and evil?
  18. How do humans navigate the interplay between order and chaos in their lives?
  19. What is the nature of truth, and how does it relate to human consciousness?
  20. How do humans find meaning and purpose in a universe characterized by uncertainty and change?

See her the full transcription:

Welcome to the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast. You can support these podcasts by donating to Dr. Peterson’s Patreon, the link to which can be found in the description dr. Peterson’s self development programmes self Authoring can be found at self

Well, I have a question. I guess I’d like to know a little bit more about why you specifically chose the title The Master and the Emissary.

Yeah, that’s in an attempt to explain what I believe to be the relationship between two brain hemispheres that like most other things in life, they’re inequal and asymmetrical. And that one of the brain hemispheres sees more than the other. That is the one that I’ve designated the master and is the right hemisphere.

That’s a weird inversion because people often think of the left hemisphere as the one that’s like dominant.

They do. They do. Traditionally that’s been the case. But as is becoming ever clearer, the right hemisphere, this has been a real steep learning curve for some people, but that the right hemisphere is in many ways more reliable, sees more, understands more than the left hemisphere, which is like a sort of high functioning bureaucrat in a way. And the idea of the story was simply that certain matters needed to be delegated. Not only because, as it were, the master couldn’t do everything. He needed an emissary to go abroad and do some of it, but also that he must not get involved with a certain point of view otherwise he’d lose what it was that he did see. So that’s what I’m really saying there is that there is a good reason why, evolutionarily speaking, the two brain hemispheres are separate.

And when you say doesn’t get involved, what’s the advantage of that detachment from the involvement?

Well, it’s that Ramoni Cahal, who, you know, is a great histopathologist, one of his findings was that in primates there are more inhibitory neurons than in any other animals and there are more in humans than in any other primate and there are many that’s speaking proportionally. Proportionally. And there are more kinds as well. So we think that about 25% of the entire cortex is inhibitory.


So it’s a very strong effect. And the corpus callosum seems to be very largely, in the end, inhibiting function in the other hemisphere. And that is, I think, because over time the two hemispheres have had to specialise. There are reasons why actually it can’t be I’m not going to go into now, but I was talking about just a few days ago at the evolutionary psychiatry meeting. But there are reasons why the corpus callosum has had to become more selective and to inhibit quite a lot of what’s going on in the other hemisphere because it enables the two to do distinct things and of course they have to work together, but usually good teamwork doesn’t mean everyone trying to do the same role.


So differentiation is very important for two elements to work together and inhibition is one way of doing that. So effectively the two takes on the world, if you like, that the hemispheres have are not easily compatible. Right. And we’re not aware of that because at a level below consciousness there’s a metacontrol centre that is bringing them together. So in ordinary experience, we don’t feel we’re in two different worlds, but effectively we are. And they have different qualities and different goals, different values, different takes on what is important in the world and what meaning, or whatever it might have.

Let me ask you about I’ve developed a conceptual scheme for thinking about the relationship between the two hemispheres and I’ve been curious about what you think about it and how it might map on to or not your ideas. So I’ve been really interested in the orienting reflex discovered by sokolov I think back in about 1962, right? He was a student of Lurius. And the orienting reflex is manifested when something, at least in their terminology, something unpredictable happened. I’ve thought much more recently that it’s actually when something undesired happened, happens, and the laboratory constraints obscured that and that turned out to actually be important. And I kind of put together the ideas of the orienting reflex with some of the things I learned from Jung’s observations on the function of art and dreams. So imagine that you have a conceptual scheme laid out and we could say that it’s linguistically mediated, it’s enforced on the world.

And then there are exceptions to that conceptual scheme and those are anomalies. Those are the things that are unexpected. And the orienting reflex orients you towards those.


And so those are things that aren’t fitting properly in your conceptual scheme that you have to figure out. So the first thing you do is react defensively, essentially because it might be dangerous. And then your exploratory systems are activated and the exploratory systems, first of all, are enhanced attention just from an intentional perspective. But then, and this is where the art issue sort of creeps into it, the idea would be something like the right hemisphere generates an imaginative landscape of possibility that could map that anomaly. So you can kind of experience that if it’s at night, like say you’re sitting alone at night, it’s two or three in the morning, you’re kind of tired, maybe you’re in an unfamiliar place and there’s a noise that happens that shouldn’t happen in another room. You can play with that. So, for example, if you open the door slightly and put your hand in to turn on the light and you watch what happens, your mind will fill with imaginative representations of what might be in the room.

Yes. Right. So it’s like the landscape of anomaly will be populated with something like imaginative demons. And that’s a first pass approximation. And it seems to me that’s a right hemispheric function. And then that as you explore further that imaginative domain which circumscribes what might be is constrained and constrained and constrained until you get what it actually is and then specialised and routinized it’s, something like that. Does that seem like a reasonable what do you think about that?

I love that for a whole host of reasons. One is you mentioned defence. And one of the ideas behind my hypothesis is that the right hemisphere is on the lookout for predators, right? Whereas the left hemisphere is looking for prey. And this has been confirmed in many.

Species of I’d never heard that second part.

Amphibians and mammals. Yes.

So when you’re in left hemispheric mode, you’re more in predator mode.

And when you’re in right hemisphere well, I mean, of course we are not lizards or toads or marmosettes or whatever, but in animals, generally speaking, this is the case. Getting and grasping. And after all, our left hemisphere is the one that controls. The grasping hand is left hemisphere. And exploring, which you mentioned, is more right hemisphere. And when a frontal function is deficient, people often go into mode of the hand of that side. And with the left hand, it’s usually exploratory motions, meaningless ones, but trying to explore the environment. And with the right hand, it’s grasping pointlessly at things. So as it were, their automatic thing is with the left hand, the right hemisphere to explore, with the right hand, the left hemisphere to grasp. So when you said exploratory and you said defensive, and you said also opening up to possibilities, these are all aspects of the way the right hemisphere I often say the right hemisphere opens up to possibility, whereas the left hemisphere wants to close down to a certainty.

Right? And you need both chaos and order issues.

Chaos and order. I loved in your talk, you talked about chaos and order, but if I may say so, you seemed and maybe you’d like to gloss that a little. You seem to suggest that it would be good we can’t get rid of chaos, but you seem to imply that it would better if we could. Whereas my view is that chaos and order are necessary to one another and there is a proper sort of harmony or balance.

Well, yeah, well, okay, I think that’s as deep a question as you could possibly ask. I would say, in some sense, I would say there’s a central theological issue there. And the issue there is in Genesis, the proper environment of humanity is construed as a garden.


And so I see that as the optimal balance of chaos and order, nature flourishes and is prolific and is chaotic. Then if you add harmony to that, you have a garden. So you live in the garden. You’re supposed to tend the garden. So now the garden is created. It’s a walled space because Eden is a walled space. It’s paradise. It’s a walled garden.

That’s it.

Now, the thing is, as soon as you make a wall, you try to keep what’s outside out. But you can’t, because the boundaries between things are permeable. So if you’re going to have reality and you’re going to have a bounded space, you’re going to have a snake in the garden.


Now then, the question is, what the hell should you do about that? Should you make the walls so high that no snake can possibly get in? Or should you allow for the possibility of snakes, but make yourself strong enough so that you can contend with them? And I think there’s answer there that goes deep to the question of even maybe why theological question of why God allowed evil to exist in the world.

I agree with you.

It’s like, well, do you make people safe or strong? And strong is better. And safe might not be commensurate with being like it might not be possible to exist and to be safe.

Well, our existence is predicated on the fact that we die. Well, it’s never safe.

Well, it’s certainly bounded, right? Yeah. It is inevitably wrapped up with that sort of finitude. There’s a lovely Jewish idea, ancient idea. It’s one of the most profound ideas I’ve ever come across. And so it’s a kind of a Zen cone. And here it is. So it’s a question about the classic attributes of God omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. What does a being with those three attributes lack? What kind of question is that? The answer is limitation. And the second answer is that’s the justification for being is that the unlimited lacks the limited.


And so the limited is us.

For anything to come into existence, there needs to be an element of resistance. And so things are never predicated one pole of what is always a dipole.


Everything has that dipole.

Yeah. It’s like a prerequisite for being.

It is, and it’s imaged in the yin yang idea. But it seems to me very important because in our culture we often seem to suppose that certain things are just good and other things are just bad, and it would be good if we could get rid of the bad ones. But actually by pursuing certain good things that are good within measure too far, they become bad and so forth. But let’s go back to your anomaly thing, because Ramachandran calls the right hemisphere the anomaly detector. And so I think that’s a very important point, because there are two ways you can react to anomaly. One is to and both have to be explored. One is to try and prove that it’s not really anomaly, and therefore you can carry on with things as normal. And the other is hopeful. That’s the typical left hemisphere approach, it doesn’t want anything to have to shift.

And quite reasonably, you don’t want to be chaotically shifting if you’re onto a good thing.

Too stressful.

Exactly. It takes too much work and you might actually be mistaken in a way. It’s perfectly correct to be wary, but it’s not correct to be so wary that you blot out anomalies. And there’s a lot of evidence, as I’m sure you know, that the left hemisphere simply blots out everything that doesn’t fit with its tape. It doesn’t see it actually at all.


So there’s a hugely important element in the right hemisphere going, hang on. But there may be another way of thinking that will accommodate this better. And actually, good science needs yes, to be sceptical about anomalies, otherwise there’ll be chaos. But it also needs to be able to shift when anomaly is large enough, or there are quite a lot of them, and they don’t really fit very well into the exactly.

Yes. So there’s another observation that Jung made, which I love this observation. He was trying to account for radical personality transformation. And so his idea was this. And I think it’s commensurate with the ideas of inhibition between the two hemispheres. So let’s imagine the left is habitually inhibiting the function of the right to keep fear under control. It does that all sorts of ways. So imagine that the right is reacting to anomalies and it’s aggregating them. The left can’t deal with them. So the right is aggregating anomalies. And maybe that’s starting to manifest itself in nightmarish dreams, for example. These anomalies are piling up. It’s indication that you’re on shifting sand. Well, so then imagine that the right hemisphere aggregates anomalies, and then it starts to detect patterns in the anomalies. And so now it starts to generate what you might consider a counter hypothesis to the left’s hypothesis.

If that counter hypothesis gets to the point where the total sum, in some sense, of the anomalies plus the already mapped territory can be mapped by that new pattern, then at some point it will shift.


And the person will kick into a new personality configuration. It’s like a Piagetian stage transition, except more dramatic.

It is. And what a Piergetian stage transition is also like and subsumes both is hegelian alphabung, the idea that a thing is opposed by something else. But when there is a synthesis, it’s not that one of them is annihilated. They’re both transformed and taken up into the new whole, which embraces what before looked like an opposition.

Okay, so here’s a question for you. When I read Thomas Coon, I was reading Piaget at the same time, and I knew that Piaget was aware of Coon’s work, by the way. And the problem I had with Coon and the interpreters of Coon is they don’t seem to get something who interpret Kuhn as a moral relativist in some sense. They don’t seem to get the idea of increased generalizability of a plan. So let’s say I have a theory and a bunch of anomalies accrue, and I have to wipe out theory. And so then I wipe out theory, and I incorporate the anomalies, and now I have another theory. So that’s a descent into chaos. That’s my estimation. That’s the old story. So the anomaly disruption is the mythical descent into chaos yes. And then you reconfigure theory with the chaos and you come up with a better theory.


Why is it better? And the answer is, well, it accounts for everything that the previous theory accounted for plus the anomalies.


So there’s progress always. Yes, exactly. But Kuhn is often read as stating that there is no progress, that there’s incommensurate paradigms and you have to just shift between them. But there isn’t cumulative knowledge in some sense.

Well, I think one thing that we probably would both agree about is that we don’t buy the story that because nothing can be demonstrated definitively, utterly to be the case, there is no truth. I mean, I think we both believe that there are truths, things that are truer than other things, and indeed, if certainly act that way well, we couldn’t even talk, could we, if we didn’t? And even to say that there are no truths is itself a truth statement, which is as it’s truer than the statement, there are truths. So everybody automatically has truths whether they know it or not.

Well, you said why I don’t think it’s not only that you can’t talk, you can’t even see because you don’t know how to point.

You wouldn’t know how to discriminate what’s coming into your brain at all. Right, so it’s inevitable. I think we would agree about that. But I think that maybe a slight point of difference between us in that I’m very willing to embrace the idea of uncertainty. And I may be wrong. Perhaps you could expand on that. But sometimes you come across as a man who has certainties that well, it’s.

A peculiar kind of certainty. I’m certain that standing on the border between order and chaos is a good idea.


That’s a weird exactly. Yeah.

You need to be in the sort of slightly unstable position yes, you have.

To be, what would you say, encountering as much uncertainty as you can voluntarily tolerate. And I think that’s equivalent to vogotsky’s zone of proximal development. So when we talked a little bit earlier about the idea of an instinct for meaning so I think what meaning is it’s the elaborated form of the orienting reflex. But what meaning does its function, its biological function, which I think is more real in some sense than any other biological function, is to tell you when you’re in the place where you’ve balanced the stability, let’s say, of your left hemisphere systems with the exploratory capacity of your right. So that not only are you master of your domain, but you’re expanding that domain simultaneously. And I think that when you’re there, it’s kind of a metaphysical place in some sense that you’re imbued with a sense of meaning and purpose and that’s an indication that you’ve actually optimised your neurological function yes.

And perhaps we could gloss the idea of purpose, because I think there’s a difference between people get very confused, I think, about the idea of purpose, particularly whether there’s a problem that suggesting there is a purpose. And I believe there is a purpose or there are purposes to the cosmos, not just to my daily life. Suggests that somehow it’s all been predetermined by God. But this is to misunderstand the nature of time, that there are time, static slices, and God is there, and he’s sorted it all out, and the whole thing’s just unfolding, as Bergson says, like a lady’s fan. Being unfurled is extremely boring and an entirely static and non creative universe. But actually something is at stake. Things are unfolding. They have, overall, a direction. But actually, exactly what that direction isn’t known.

That’s what it looks like.

It’s a fool who says anything positive about the nature of God. But I’m not convinced that God is omniscient and omnipotent either. I think God is in the process of is becoming. God is not only just becoming, but is becoming, if you see what I mean.


So being and becoming more becoming, I think more becoming. Becoming is the important thing.

Why do you think that? It’s also a strange segue. I mean, I’m not criticising, but I’m curious. What drove you to that conclusion?

An awful lot of things, really. I think that everything is a process. In fact, I’m writing a book called There Are No Things.

Oh, what are there instead?

There are processes.


And there are patterns.

Patterns. That’s why think music is so powerful.

Music is one of the most mysterious and wonderful things in the universe. And I don’t think it was at all foolish of people to have thought that the planetary motions were in some way. No, it’s a great insight kind of music. I think it is a very important insight.

Well, music and I’ve said this in public lectures that music is the most representative of the arts because the world is made out of patterns. Music describes how those patterns should be arranged.

You’re using representative in a very different.

Way, but it depends on what you mean by representative. So it’s representing the ultimate reality of the cosmos.

Well, I would like to say presentative in and that it’s not representing anything. It is actually when we’re in the presence of music, something is coming into being which is at the core of the whole cosmic process.

I think that’s why people love music.

They do. And, I mean, it’s hardly any originality in the idea, because lots of physicists say this, that the movements of atoms and the movements of planets and so forth are more like a dance or more like music than they are like things bumping into.

I thought of things as patterns that people have made into tools.

I agree with you. And tools are what the left hemisphere is always looking for. It’s always looking for something to grasp, right? It raifies processes that it’s all a matter of time. Every single thing, including the mountain behind my house. If you were able to, which is billions of years old, if you were able to take, as it were, a series of like a time lapse camera, you’d see the thing morphing and changing and flowing. Everything flows, as Heracles once said. Everything flows. It’s just a question of over the time period that you consider it. It’s a question of the tempo. And so taking time out of things and considering them in the abstract derassinated from context, particularly from the flow and from the context of time changes them into something else. And I think that what, in brief, what Plato has done and what a lot of the history of more recent Christianity has done is to thingify God and heaven perfect states that are unaltered and so on.

And I think that it is an ever more wonderfully self exploring, self actualizing process that requires a degree of opposition as a stream in order to have the movement and the ideas and patterns in it.

I’ve had intimate death. Death when I’ve experienced it’s hard to describe these experiences, but when I’ve contemplated death deeply, it has struck me as a fundamental repair mechanism. Like it’s part of the mechanism by which new things that are better are brought into being.


And I mean, you see that in your own being because, of course, without death you couldn’t live because you’re dying. The things about you that aren’t right, even at a physiological level are dying all the time.

They are.

Unfortunately, you also completely die, which seems to be a bit on the unfortunate side. But more cosmically speaking, it does seem to me that death is the is I don’t know, man. I’ve had intuitions or intimations that death is the friend of being. And it’s hard to get my head around that.

I completely agree with you. And indeed, that’s been said by many wiser people than myself, maybe even than yourself. No, but I mean, I think that’s right that death is predicated on life, but also that it shouldn’t be seen as something that’s negative. It’s a necessary stage in the process of being becoming what it is since everything is ramified, since nothing is just isolated. You and I may look as though or feel as though, but as you often eloquently say, we all have a history in time. We come from a place, but also as a culture. We have history. We can’t detach ourselves from it. We’re expressions of it, but we’re also inevitably dependent, as all organisms are, on the environment. Where I end and where the quote environment begins is I don’t like the word environment. Nature, which suggests something that’s always being born whereas environment suggests something around me from which I’m separated.

But anyway, all of that is connected. Yes. So I would see us as like an eddie in a stream or like a wave in the sea that is never separate.

Schrodinger talked about life.

Well, I mean, the coming together of physics with a process philosophy are very strong.

So when does that book come out?

When I finish writing. And I’m very worried that it’s getting bigger. And all the time I’m writing it, I’m seeing more and more of things that I really must get to know more about. And it’s an ever receding well, it’s.

The danger of a book, I know, that aims at something fundamental because you never hit the proper boundaries.

That’s it. I need that wall. Yes.

Yeah. Well, I also had experiences I would say that when I was trying to understand their imaginative experiences, when I was trying to understand, let’s say, the necessity of evil because that’s also a fundamental theological conundrum and a metaphysical conundrum. Why is it that being is constituted such that evil is allowed to exist? It’s Ivan Karamazov’s critique of Alyosha’s Christianity, essentially, what kind of God would allow for this sort of thing?

It’s the ancient question.

Yeah, it’s ancient question. And I mean, part of what I thought about the adversarial element to that, which is that you need a challenge because you’re not forced to bring forth what you could bring forth without a challenge. And the greater the thing that you’re supposed to bring forth, the greater the challenge has to be. You need an adversary. It’s something like that. But then I also thought that it’s possible that being requires limitation. You might say optimal being requires free choice. I know I’m going through a lot of things quickly. Free choice requires the real distinction between good and evil. Without that, you don’t have choice. Well, so maybe it’s possible to set up a world where evil is a possibility but where it isn’t. Something that has to be manifest, where it’s an option open to you and a real option, and it has to be and a challenge that was presented to you.

But it’s something that you cannot move towards if you so desire. And that seems to me to be something like the ethical requirement. That’s the fundamental ethical requirement to avoid evil. I’m sure you that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. That’s not the same issue.

No, it isn’t. And I wonder one could recast it as the need for otherness. God needs something other. And that other, if it’s not going to be just part of God, has got to be free, otherwise there will be no creation. I mean, the nature that there is something other than God, it may, in the end come from and come back to that God or that divine essence or that whatever.

But there’s a wonderful thing I can’t figure out either. Like in the Christian idea, there’s the end of time where the evil is separated from God forever. And I think about that as a metaphysical well, you might think if it’s a form of like, imagine it’s a form of perfection, a form of striving for perfection. You fragment yourself, you challenge yourself, throw what’s not worthy into the fire everlasting, something like that. And so what you end up with retained is much better than what you started with through the trials. Something like that.

Well, that sounds a bit like the dialectical process that were talking about. Right. And you have alluded to a couple of very good Jewish myths, and there’s one in the Lurian Kabbalah about the creation, which I don’t know if you know it, but it’s absolutely riveting to me. The idea is that the primary being Ainsov, the ground of all being, needs something other to come into being, the creation. And that creation, what does that Ainsoff do? Was it his first act? Is it to stretch out a hand and make something? Not a bit. The first act is to withdraw, to create a place in which there can be something other than Ainsov. And so the first stage is called Simsum and sounds negative, as so many creative things do, withdrawal. And then in that space there are vessels and a spark comes out of Ainsov and falls into the vessels and they all shatter.

And that’s called shepherd hakeem, you write? Yes. And then there is the third stage, repair, in which what has just been fragmented is restored into something greater. And so this process carries on and it’s, in my terms, very like what happens with the hemispheres. The right hemisphere is the one that is first accepting. It is sort of actively receptive, if you can put it that way, to whatever is new. You were talking about Elkhen and Goldberg and so on, and then whatever that is then sort of processed by the left hemisphere at the next stage into categories, so it’s bit of that and try to understand it. But of course, whatever it is much bigger than any of the categories, so they all break down and it gets restored in the right hemisphere into a new hole. The tycoon, the repair.

Right. T-I-K-K-U-N-T-I-K. Right.

The kind of easy way of thinking about it is learning a piece of music. You’re first of all attracted to it as a whole. You then realise that you need to practise that piece at bar 28 and you realise that at bar 64 there’s a return to the dominant or something. And then actually, when you go on stage, you’ve got to just forget all about that. But it’s not that work was lost, it’s just that it’s no longer right.


Thank you for listening to the Jordan B Peterson podcast. To support these podcasts, you can donate to Dr Peterson’s patreon account, the link to which can be found in the description of this episode. Dr Peterson’s self development programmes can be

Het leven is iets héél bijzonders!

Maar soms moet je daar even aan herinnerd worden.

Regelmatig deel ik mijn bevindingen en reflecties over het leven. Dingen die ik ben tegengekomen die me opvielen, me verwonderden. Zoals dat vergeven niet de handdoek in de ring gooien is, maar ruimte voor jezelf creëren. Of dat een breakdown het begin is van een breakthrough. Ik leer je op een andere manier kijken naar het leven, zodat je dit kan blijven vieren.

Dingen als deze, die ik graag wil delen met je. Zodat jij je leven net zo gaat waarderen als ik dat doe.

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