I've long been interested in the very different realities which the left
and right brain hemispheres perceive. I recently read a fascinating account
of the 'pure' right brain perspective in Jill Bolte Taylor's book "My
Stroke of Insight". Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered a
catastrophic stroke in her early thirties due to a undiagnosed AVN. The
stroke wiped out her left brain's functioning almost completely - she lost
the capacity for language production and comprehension, mathematical
reasoning, and a host of other functions to boot. What was left, she
discovered, was a blissful sense of one-ness with the world around her and
the cosmos as a whole. She felt herself as a fluid rather than a solid.
Despite the loss of may perceptual functions, such as the ability to
perceive visual edges, she was still highly attuned to "energy" - energy in
the rather New Age sense of the qualities that pervade a space or emanate
from a person. She was instantly able to perceive the emotion and attitude
that a person brought with them when they visited her, despite being unable
to understand a word of what they said or even distinguish their physical
features. In this left-impaired state she lived in an eternal present,
unable to connect past and future with the current moment. Even after long
and arduous rehabilitation of her left brain functions, which were
eventually restored almost completely to pre-stroke levels, Bolte Taylor
insists that she gained vital insights into the nature of the left and
right brain through this experience, insights that very much support
Eastern teachings about mindfulness and switching off the analytical mind.
According to her experience, it seems to be the left brain mode that
interferes with our native capacity for joy, but that a state of bliss is
always just a "step to the right" away, if we can still the left brain's
Reading this account I was reminded of an idea I used to entertain. We know
that the world we perceive is in a sense a product of the brain. The
reality we see is just the spectrum of reality our brains allow us or are
attuned to perceive. This extends even to something as basic as time.
Nothing in physics defines a moment "now" or an idea of progression. Rather
it seems to be a by-product of the way the brain processes. My wondering
was this: what if the scientific conception we have of reality is a product
not of the whole brain, but specifically of the left brain? In one sense,
this is definitely the case: our scientific theories were developed by the
left brain and reflect a left brain mode of perceiving the world. But what
if this is true in a deeper sense? What if the scientific way of seeing the
world is a product of a one-eyed mode of perception? What if reality has
two hemispheres so to speak? A qualitative and a quantitative aspect?
Such a view would cast a different light on "comp". Bruno's version of comp
(I have no idea to what extent other computationalists embrace the more
radical elements of Bruno's theory, the reduction of physics to arithmetic)
claims to derive consciousness and qualia from mathematics. But this seems
to me to be circular, since qualia were already smuggled in with the
original assumption of computationalism, namely that consciousness
supervenes on computation. This assumption is expressed in "yes doctor",
the "bet" that a digital brain substitution will work. Having made this
assumption, Bruno's reasoning eventually shows that the qualia must inhere
in the purely abstract computation taking place in the mathematical
Platonia of the UD. But this is not deriving qualia and consciousness from
maths per se. It is performing a reductio ad absurdum to remove the
intervening layer of the physical between computation and mind, once the
comp assumption has been made.
The problem I have pointed out before, which Bruno seems not to see, is
that mathematics cannot admit qualia without becoming something other than
mathematics. It turns into a kind of numerical mysticism like numerology or
the kabbalah, which see qualities in numbers. Of course numerology can't be
regarded as mathematics because mathematics is defined by logical axioms
which define purely and simply the relationships between given symbols. It
is certainly the case that there are, provably, non-provable truths within
any mathematical system, but these truths are still mathematical truths,
that is they still pertain to intelligible sentences within that system of
logic. The sentence "2 is creative" (numerology) is like the sentence
"Function x in the UD is happy". It is unprovable, to be sure, but that
doesn't mean it is legitimised by Gödel. In fact it is not "unprovable" in
a Gödelian sense at all. It is simply unintelligible.
Comp, as it is defined, has no need of qualia, and no place for them beyond
the initial assumption of a correspondence between qualia and computation.
Mathematics has no need of any perceiver within the numbers. But because we
know there *is* a perceiver, and because we've assumed this perceiver must
be nothing more than the computational processes which we assume underly
it, we're forced into the idea that maths itself contains consciousness, a
notion that seems to subvert mathematics into something else, kabbalah or
But what if mathematics is pure left-brain reality and qualia are pure
right brain reality? What if our brains, by being split into two distinct
perceptual systems, force the world to be split in the same way, as the
cones of the eye force the world into the primary colours. "Logic" dictates
that everything must be reducible to maths, but the strongly right-brained
person reviles this notion. The problem with the right brain of course is
that is inarticulate and loses every argument it gets into with the left.
It doesn't have the words to argue. It will never do good science. And so,
in this culture of hypertrophied rationality, right brain ways of being are
denigrated as irrational, superstitious, soft, feminine etc. But this
victory of one hemisphere over the other may have come at a cost - the cost
of happiness if Bolte Taylor is right, but also at a philosophical cost,
because increasingly the only reasoning that is seen as valid is
mathematical, when so many (all?) of the great philosophers were led by
heart and instinct as much as pure reason. (And yes, the philosophy-haters
will say I only incriminate philosophy with this admission, but that merely
reasserts the mathematical bias).
Comp suggests qualia arising as a sort of by-product of the maths, but this
does beg the question of why the qualia are necessary at all, just as that
question is begged by the materialist position. Arithmetic would seem to
get along just fine adding one and one without needing to involve any
subject in the business. A view that unifies right and left realities would
suggest that the ontologically prior reality is one which encompasses both
qualia and structure (number). Qualia would have equal footing in such a
This is only speculation of course, but it appeals to me and there is some
phenomenlogical "evidence" for it in the form of Bolte Taylor's
experiences. However, I'm aware that in one sense there can never be real
evidence for it, since our current mode of manufacturing ("finding")
evidence is a product of the left brain dominant wordview, which excludes
qualia from the outset. This leaves this whole idea potentially stranded in
the ridicule zone, due to the cutting of the cultural corpus callosum.
Nevertheless I look forward to anyone's responses.
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