A book for your left and right brain

Not every journey is outward bound. Some of the greatest chart a course across the interior landscape.

That’s what British philosopher Charles Hampden-Turner did when he took on an almost unimaginable challenge – to map out much of the great secular thinking in Western history in one book.

Hampden-Turner published “Maps of the Mind” (Collier Books/Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 224 pages) in 1981, a time when left brain/right brain theories were all the rage in academia and the media. So with apologies to Saab and the car company’s iconic commercial, this is a book for your left brain (provocative text by Hampden-Turner) and your right brain (blue-black “maps,” i.e. drawings by a team of eight illustrators that riff on the old noggin).

The good news is that there’s no reason why you can’t pick and choose – in a spontaneous right-brain way, of course – among the 60 short but incredibly dense chapters, instead of proceeding in an orderly, left-brain fashion. There’s stuff for Freudians and Jungians and folks who are interested in Marxism, existentialism and a whole bunch of other isms. Yet in his introduction, Hampden-Turner apologizes “for the arbitrary nature of inclusions and exclusions in this book.”

“The contents are limited by my own strained comprehension and the gaps in my knowledge and also by my search for an overall coherence which has deterred me from making a mere collection of separate pieces.”

So you won’t find a great deal on Eastern thought or the world’s religions. Not for Hampden-Turner a parsing of Augustine and Aquinas. When religions do appear here they do so as mythologies, as in Map 4, “The Tree With Poisoned Fruit: St. Augustine and Others.” (It’s accompanied by an illustration of a human profile made up of a skeletal tree, a coiling snake and a dangling apple.)

What there is is a lot of is left brain/right brain stuff, which more than 30 years ago held that we were all too left-brainy (verbal, mathematical, linear, organized) and we needed to get in touch with our visual, spatial, artsy, free-associating right-brain side. We now understand that the complementariness of and communication between the two hemispheres of the brain are much more complex than that – particularly in women and left-handers – and that left brain/right brain may work best as a metaphor.

Still, there’s fascinating stuff here. Hampden-Turner has a chapter (Map 24) on psychologist Julian Jaynes, who theorizes that the right brain was once the center of godlike auditory hallucinations that, filtered through the left brain, told human beings what to do, as when the gods direct the Greeks and Trojans in Homer’s “The Iliad.” It was only with the advent of writing in the last several thousand years and apocalyptic volcanic eruptions on the island of Thera in 2000 B.C. that human beings developed conscious thought and discovered the godhead within. You can see why Jaynes is not a hit with the Joel Osteen set. But then, his work has far-reaching implications for schizophrenics, artists, mystics and others who experience auditory hallucinations today.

Perhaps the most moving chapter – the one that spurred Hampden-Turner to write the book – is Map 48, which contains his reflections on the work of anthropologist Gregory Bateson. Bateson’s theories of alcoholism – in which the alcoholic’s mind-over-matter willfulness and lack of balance fuel the very drinking he wants to control until he becomes a runaway train – have found credence in Alcoholics Anonymous, whose members seek sobriety through surrender to community and their individual understanding of God.

Reading of such moments, you realize that no GPS will ever replace Hampden-Turner’s maps of these minds.

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