Brain Hemispheres & Temperament Types: From Dualistic Polarization to Dialectical Synthesis

I am Left Brain; I am Right Brain




The above four charts will be familiar to all those who have explored brain hemisphere theory, Jungian (Meyers-Briggs & David Keirsey) temperament types, and the nine-pointed Enneagram. They all have one thing in common. They are all attempting to provide us with models of brain-mind functioning while giving an account of our irreducible differences in how we process experience and perceive the world.

In his book The Master and his Emissary, Iain McGilchrist postulates an asymmetry between the two brain hemispheres, with the right brain being the more primal side of the brain, the side that sees reality more holistically and organically, that is, closer to the way it really is. In his paradigm experience arises in its immediate “presentation” in the right-brain and then is transferred to the left-brain where it is virtually “re-presented” before returning again to the right-brain in a receptive and generative “reverberating” relationship. The movement is from unity to differentiation to unification, but like Hegel’s idea of thesis, anthesis, and synthesis.

If we correlate this process with the various domains of knowledge we begin to see a division not only between the “what” of knowing but also the “ways” of knowing. The Left Brain versus Right Brain divide includes such dualities as either-or and both-and, logic and paradox expressed in the different casts of mind represented by  the Sciences & Humanities.

But fundamental difference in “casts of mind” can be modeled in quadrants as easily as in dualities between right brain and left brain. The Jungian model does precisely that. It may not be entirely self-evident to everyone how the polarities of introversion and extraversion, intuition and sensation, feeling and thinking, perception and judgment correlate with the right-brain and left- brain preferences. I would propose that the Oceanic Idealist (Intuitive Feeling Type) and the Volcanic Artisan (Sensing Feeling Type) belong to the right-brain preference, while the Ethereal Rational (Intuitive Thinking Types) and the Territorial Guardian (Sensing Thinking Type) belong to the left-brain preference. Poets, Novelists, Musician and Artists have a right-brain family resemblance while Philosophers, Scientists, Mathematicians and Technologists also have a family resemblance. They belong, if you will, to different “tribes” that process experience and perceive the world in different ways.

The Enneagram is based on a triadic model of Feeling, Thinking, and Willing, or Action. The “nine points” are generated by the fact that people tend to either fixate upon, neglect or become avoidant toward one of these three centers of energy and consciousness. The original aim of the Enneagram was therapeutic in the sense of identifying nine different psychopathologies that prevent us from transcending the ego and moving into the universal essence of Being. However, some people today have completely lost sight of its original purposes and using it much like astrologers use the star constellations to proudly declare which of the twelve signs of the zodiac describe them. If our goal is not to become more idiosyncratic and frozen in a limited and parochial conceptions of our self-identity and belonging than we already are, then we need to be willing to give up our over-attachment to any of the nine points and begin to see ourselves as having the expansive potential to “live in all worlds” but without being bound and tethered by any of them. In terms using the Enneagram to move “from Ego to Essence” this means that while we recognize our natural predisposition to identify exclusively with one primary point (and its two wings) that we dare to reach out toward the fullness of humanity in its irreducible diversity. This means that we begin to recognize and honor the archetypal Reformer, Caregiver, Entrepreneur, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Leader, and Contemplative (by whatever words we choose to use) that potentially and latently if not actively dwell within me and within all persons. We will still have our own native temperament preferences and predispositions, but we begin to appreciate how it is that others can and do process experience and perceive the world differently. This does not mean that “anything goes,” or that we no longer make discerning value judgments about the relative healthy or dysfunctional expression of each psychological predisposition. In finding others with whom we can share common ground, one advantage of identifying with both brain hemispheres, with all four quadrants, and with all nine Enneagram points (at least to some degree) is that we learn to live in a bigger and more diverse web of relationships within the ecology of Being.

It is tempting to define our identity and relationships dualistically. The world has been doing this for a very long time, and it does seem that the preferred “either-or” method of the left-brain will continue to do so. At the same time, an excess of “both-and” right-brain thinking at the expense of the may tend to reduce us to non-dual bliss-ninnies who are incapable of critical thinking and empirical judgment. Neither left-brain objectivism (with its vulnerability toward autism spectrum and even schizophrenia) nor right-brain subjectivism (with its loss of capacity for detached critical distance) produces a healthy and fully functional human being. We need a pluralistic, dialectical and integrative approach to thinking and living that values the right-brain contributions of imagination, myth, poetry, literature, music,  arts, empathy and ecology, and the left-brain contributions of information, history, prose, philosophy, mathematics, science, detachment and technology. It is essential to the wholeness of our humanity that we learn to live “between” the dualities of our experience in such a way as to synthesize our horizons into an ever greater and growing Gestalt.




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