These words by Sir Walter Scott, one of my dearest and most loved authors, raise a fascinating discussion…and my own scattered thoughts that follow.
Why do we have such deficits in our emotional receptivity?
Why do we not truly get to know those charming faces?
Why do we tend to read people’s mouths and bodies and not their eyes?
Why do we prefer masturbation over sexual intimacy?
Why is love blind?
In his thought provoking book, The Master and His Emissary, Dr. Ian McGilchrist, shows convincingly that the degeneracy of empathy springs from our failure to manage the two sides of our brain. He persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative “master”, the right hemisphere.
A well-respected friend, whose name you probably know, told me recently about a friend that he felt had made several bad decisions, in recounting the story, he said, “He makes crucial decisions with his emotions rather than his commitments.” At first blush, that sounds logical and true, but upon deeper study, I wonder…is that left-brained thinking?
Do our emotions count? Or should we do as many Christians and religions teach, bury them under the guise of self-denial?
It is the right hemisphere of our brain that identifies emotional expression, says McGilchrist.
Could it be that we have been taught to be wary of “charmers” and guard the deepest layers of our hearts from them?
A snake charmer looks into the eyes of the snake in order to “know” it and charm it.
Interestingly, the left hemisphere of the brain reads emotions by interpreting the lower part of the face. And though the left hemisphere can understand emotional display, it looks not at the eyes, even when directed to do so, but at the mouth.
The right hemisphere alone seems to be capable of understanding the more subtle information that comes from the eyes.
Empathy (a word that is possibly the most important word of the decade to me—perhaps the most important word of my life) is not something one reads in the lower face, where realitively blunt messages—friend or foe—tend to be conveyed.
When it comes to the understanding (and expression) of emotion in language, despite left-hemisphere prepondernace for language, the right hemisphere is superior.
The face is the common mediator of two of the most significant aspects of the right hemisphere’s world: the uniqueness of the individual and the communication of feeling.
For instance, in my paintings, I have been criticized for depicting the female body, but, hopefully, if one looks truly and deeply at the layers of my art—not from a typical left-hemispheric Western viewpoint—but as a whole…one might indeed see the eyes, the face and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the emotion within.
Perhaps, we let the outward beauty of the female (or male) body charm and seduce us or worse—intimidate us or limit our perception—because of our contemporary addiction to pornography—and we miss the real inner meaning. That is, the portrayal of both the layers of body and soul.
Question: Why do you think we have we let an over-dominant left hemisphere lose touch with its natural regulative “master”, the right hemisphere?