How Society Thinks in 2035
Understanding the structure and function of the brain has helped shape our society
A postcard from Gracey about how the brain works
June 9, 2035
You will know that a person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective. A person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective.
By 2020, we’d learned much more about the brain than the simplistic “left is analytical, right is creative” meme. We knew that all mental activities used both sides of the brain, and that information passes back and forth many times a second while being processed. We’d also understood the differences in each hemisphere better.
The right hemisphere primarily lets us be aware of the world, and looks for the connections, or the “between-ness” everywhere, whereas the left allows us to grasp, and, hence, manipulate the world. The left hemisphere’s world tends towards fixity, whereas that of the right tends towards flow. The left is not good at understanding the world. Its attention is narrow, its vision myopic, and it can’t see how the parts fit together. It is good for only one thing — manipulating the world. The left hemisphere’s values are those of utility and pleasure, whereas the right is concerned with meaning, purpose and happiness.
“While the right hemisphere grounds our experience, the left dissects it. The right hemisphere is at home in our ‘embodied existence’ in art and in religion. The left is at home in designing tools with which to master and understand the world. The left hemisphere treats us and our environment as an assemblage of machines; the right hemisphere treats us as people. The left systematises while the right empathises.” — Adam Zeman, Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology, University of Exeter in A Brain of Two Halves
“The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known — and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.” — Iain McGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary.
We’d also learned by 2020 that once we understood the structure and function of the brain, we could build societies with the characteristics of each hemisphere.
“[The differences between left and right hemispheres] provides the key to understanding the major cultural movements of human history.” — Adam Zeman, Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology, University of Exeter
Different societies and cultures throughout history have been predominantly either left or right brained. The Renaissance period from the 14th to the 17th Century became known for it’s artistic and cultural developments — typical right brain characteristics.
The Industrial Revolution — from about 1760 to 1840 — relied on predominantly left brain thinking to transition to new manufacturing processes. Western civilisation’s rapid progress since 1760 in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics has been powered by left brain thinking.
The West’s predominance of left brain thinking started shifting during the counterculture of the 1960’s — the Hippie Movement, as it became known.
By 2020, most countries around the world had recognised the need to nurture right brain thinking. Progress was initially slow, but now — in 2035 — there is no longer a single country on earth that isn’t predominantly right brained.
Differences Between Left and Right Brain Societies
You may recognise that in your world:
- your friends value what you think over what you feel,
- you’re rewarded for what you do rather than who you are,
- most of the older generation care more about the me rather than the we,
- attention to detail is more important than the big picture,
- everyone focuses on personal gain rather than community wins,
- knowledge (represented by a certificate) is valued more highly than wisdom (which can’t easily be measured and proven),
- business cares about profits rather than people,
- simplicity is celebrated, complexity is avoided,
- everyone strives for authority rather than equality,
- predictability is valued more than chaos or change,
- groups of individuals seek differences rather than similarities,
- people prefer the mechanical to the living,
- business and sport are competitive rather than compassionate,
- you’re taught to specialise rather than generalise,
- everything in life is distinct, rather than interconnected, living, embodied entities,
- everyone is judgmental rather than forgiving.
The simple reason is because your education system, which was established during the Industrial Revolution, focused on developing left brain characteristics only. In my world, the way we think is opposite to the way you think in your world, and this way of thinking influences everything we do.
“How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it? This is a paradox that has often been noted, and has sometimes been attributed to a fundamental perversity, a sort of ‘pure cussedness’, in human nature.” — Owen Barfield, British philosopher, author, poet, and critic. 1898–1997
The way a society behaves depends entirely on which hemisphere of the brain is developed by its education systems.
Questions to Explore
- What are the core differences between left and right brain thinking? Ask Google
- Why is empathy important? Ask Google
- Why isn’t empathy taught at school? Ask Google
- Which of the planet’s biggest challenges could be solved with empathy? Ask Google
- How can humans be so compassionate and altruistic — and also so brutal and violent? Ask Google
- What is the difference between a culture of honour and a culture of empathy? Ask Google
- What is the Prisoner’s Dilemma? Ask Google
- The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist
- The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning by Iain McGilchrist
- The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
- Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited by Marcel Kuijsten
Postcards from 2035 is a series of profoundly simple interlinking ideas describing life in a highly desirable society, where everything and everyone is advanced, happy, intelligent and problem-free. It’s a blueprint of the world we need to create. The best thing you can do to help us get there is to share with your friends and get the conversation started with the questions this postcard has raised.