Brain Lateralization, Language, and the Reality of the Divine Feminine - Part Two

As a thought experiment, try to imagine what the world was like for pre-literate humans. Certainly their conception of the world was different. But what about their perception of the world, did primitive humans experience a different reality? We naturally want to say no. Our senses have not changed and we inhabit the same reality so it seems obvious that, other than the changes history has wrought, pre-literate humans inhabited and perceived the same world as we do. The whole point of this series of articles, however, is to counter this natural intuition. Not only did ancient humans conceive of reality differently, they perceived a fundamentally different world: a world comprised of intertwined, enduring unities rather than disconnected objects and egos; a world of encompassing Oneness that we might characterize as the Divine Feminine. This reality has been obscured by a cognitive system that has been programmed to experience only what is presented to it as existing in the ‘here and now’. Once we recognize the effects of this neural re-wiring, we can infer back to an underlying reality free of this schematism.

            First, a one paragraph detour into philosophy to dispense with the notions of naïve realism and naïve idealism. Reality is not exactly as we perceive it (naïve realism), but neither do we live in a world of illusion with no perceptual contact with reality at all (naïve idealism a la The Matrix). This is a perennial philosophic problem but let us accept without further elaboration that our relationship with reality lies somewhere between these two extremes; that we are in perceptual contact with reality but that our perceptual and cognitive apparatus misrepresents that reality. We don’t live in The Matrix but, on the other hand, we can never be sure that any aspect of human experience, be it perceptual, emotional, rational, or intuitive, is free of cognitive bias, self-deception, and illusion.[1] However, once we understand the nature of these biases and illusions, we can bracket their effects and infer a reality less obscured by these biases.[2]

            Let us recall the example from Part One[3] that illustrates how the right hemisphere of our brain (RH) can be oblivious to sense-data that the left hemisphere (LH) does not recognize -- the example of Japanese speakers who are oblivious to the phonemic difference between ‘l’ and ‘r’. This sense-data is not perceived; it is not part of the world except as indistinguishable background noise. Consider as well the famous rabbit/duck Gestalt illusion -- sometimes we see a rabbit, sometimes a duck. Now imagine, as analogous to the Japanese speaker, someone raised in a world in which ducks and duck-like creatures do not exist. Would they ever see a duck? Would a Duck-Gestalt ever crystallize as a meaningful pattern? No. Duck-perception would not occur until they were taught to differentiate duck-like features (a LH job) and to recognize duck-like patterns (a RH job). So it is clear that perceptual experience depends upon a repertoire of familiar and pertinent pieces of information that can be picked out by the LH as well as a repertoire of meaningful patterns which can crystallize as a Gestalt for the RH.

            It is a similar kind of experiential obliviousness that has made us blind to the Divine Feminine. This is not blindness to a thing among other things (like a phoneme or duck). To the contrary, it is precisely because the Divine Feminine does not take this form that we are blind to it. We have been trained (brought up, taught, encultured, wired) to be receptive to a particular form of cognitive and perceptual experience -- things, ideas, and egos existing in the ‘here and now’ -- and we have become oblivious to reality that does not take this form. Just like the difference between ‘l’ and ‘r’ to the Japanese speaker, just like a duck-Gestalt to an alien from a duck-free planet, and just like that gorilla to which we are oblivious because we are focused elsewhere,[4] magical or mystical experiences of an interconnected unity, ego-less duration, and the Divine Feminine are not available to us because they do not fit this expected and familiar form of experience. This obliviousness is the result of a radical re-wiring of our neural circuitry, a re-wiring that has become necessary in order to navigate a modern environment permeated with language.

             Primitive language was a RH function and, as such, it acted upon us, and through us, holistically. Primitive language communicates, not by conveying specific abstract ideas or information (as it does now), but by expressing or evoking an emotionally charged situation. A particular guttural cry, for example, did not indicate the idea ‘lion’ (LH) but added to, or helped create, an environment or pattern of uneasiness or alarm in which one might expect a lion (RH). When we hear a sudden cry of pain, we are not apprehending a word and its meaning (LH). The cry triggers an indeterminate Gestalt of pain and alarm (RH) and we are immediately engaged in an altered situation. The RH does not hear the cry as a piece of information to be considered and acted upon. Rather, the cry evokes or suggests a pattern of possibility that crystallizes as a Gestalt apprehension.

            Modern language, on the other hand, is a LH function and is grounded, not in Gestalt experience, but in the perception and processing of units of information. Words and sounds must be recognized, sequenced, and processed by the LH before they can be presented to the RH for meaning apprehension. Each unit -- each phoneme or grapheme -- precedes the whole and must be attended to, one by one, by the LH before meaning can crystallize in the RH. This type of focused attention to specific units is the purview of the LH and this is the form that experience must take -- individual units existing in the ‘here and now’ -- for it to register in the LH.

             Growing up in a literate society demands a complete re-wiring of our neural circuitry to shift language functions from the RH to the LH. The human brain did not evolve to read and write and if we were to somehow lose our culture of reading and writing, there is nothing in the brain -- no inherent neurological process -- that would cause literacy to re-emerge as a necessary feature of being human. To make modern language possible, brain structure that evolved for other purposes is co-opted and reconfigured.[5]

            This radical re-wiring of the brain over-stimulates the LH and habituates the brain to be on the lookout for only a specific form of experience -- experience that takes the form of word or object-like sense-data that the LH can process. It is not the case that the RH no longer engages its environment, monitoring it for danger and opportunity. What is different is that the environment in which the RH is holistically immersed is no longer the perceptual world around it. The world that the RH now inhabits and monitors is, to an overwhelming extent, an interior, abstract, and associative world in which words, concepts, and ideas provide the material for Gestalt crystallizations. That world is a LH creation.

            I will further elaborate the way in which our world has become a LH illusion in the following articles:

  1. In the Beginning was the Word: Words, Naming, and the Objectification of the World.
  2. The Fall of the Goddess: The Activation and Over-Stimulation of Left-Brain Proclivities.
  3. The Construction of the Now: Reading, Interiority, and the Making of the Ego.

[1] For examples of the illusory nature of much of human experience, explained from the point of view of evolutionary biology, see Robert Wright, Why Buddhism is True.

[2] To see this paragraph developed further, see my “What is the Divine Feminine?” in OmTimes:

[3] “Brain Lateralization, Language, and the Reality of the Divine Feminine - Part One”

[4] See Part One.

[5] Wolf, Maryanne Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

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