How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future

Why Left Hemisphere Dominance Has Brought Humanity to the Brink of Disaster and How We can think Our Way to Peace and Healing

By James Olson

The Split-Brain’s Remarkable Effect on Consciousness and Culture

A practical inquiry into the operating systems of the left and right brain hemispheres and their surprising influence over lifestyle, politics, business, and religion.

In 1981 a Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery that each brain hemisphere was independently conscious and had contrasting functions. The public became fascinated, and popular ideas about left- and right-brain-dominant personality types entered the parlance. Yet, this important discussion eventually tapered off. Captivated by the brain’s complexity and supported by improved technologies, researchers turned to narrower concerns, focusing especially on the brain’s various parts—its so-called “modules.” But many of today’s scientists and thinkers are returning once again to consider the split-brain phenomenon, and one result is a startling new synthesis proposed by integral philosopher James Olson, in his book How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future (Origin Press, January 2017). The author’s previous book on philosophy and neuroscience was winner of numerous national awards, including ForeWord Reviews Philosophy Book of the Year in 2011.

Adopting a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, Olson outlines the brain’s role in informing consciousness. He pursues a special focus on problems that result when the two sides of the brain fail to harmonize, such as we experience in mental conflict, both internal and external. Olson posits that each hemisphere houses an operating system capable of managing the relationship of the two hemispheres; further, he identifies the genetic mechanism that determines operating-system dominance.


A holistic look at the science of brain and consciousness

On one level, this book is about the differing perspectives of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, with a particular focus on the effects of brain dominance on our lives, culture, and environment. But it is also about our search for truth, who we are as human beings, and how we can achieve a peaceful world. Scientific research and observation are essential to understanding ourselves, but mere data and analysis lack the crucial dimension of those human experiences, which if cultivated properly lead to wisdom and ultimately to a life characterized by a more holistic approach to spirituality.

This book attempts to marry the findings of science with such intuitive, experientially based truths—those ideas about reality that the great wisdom traditions have always attempted to convey. Only by viewing the whole picture can we gain a full understanding of all dimensions of who we are.


Are you managing your brain—or is your brain managing you?

How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future explores how we can achieve peace—with ourselves, with others, and in the world—by better understanding the functioning of the brain’s two management systems. In a nutshell, this book is about how to achieve peace by understanding how our divided brain processes information, why different brains function differently and perceive the world differently, and how these variances create conflict. This book attempts to convey the means for bridging the gap between our desire for peace and our ability to actually achieve a state of peace. We look at how the brain influences our beliefs, the programming that governs our day-to-day existence. We will see that when our beliefs are limited to the insights of only one hemisphere, they can sabotage even our best efforts to realize our deepest longings and desires. Along the way we will discover that even some of the most apparently insoluble differences we have with others are the result of simple misunderstandings due to differences in perspective. This happens because the holistic and dualistic modes of thinking, taken alone, can produce astonishingly different results.

As an integral philosopher, Olson’s treatment of the subject is integrative and pragmatic. In the first half of the book, he explains the science of how the split brain affects consciousness, then turns to more practical and often provocative matters in the second half—relationships, sexual orientation, the drug war, the “military-industrial-congressional complex,” and religious leadership—even abortion—how which hemisphere directs our thinking and actions impacts our lives.


The benefits of whole-brain thinking

Perhaps the book’s most immediately useful treatment of contemporary life—besides an improved understanding the opposite sex—lies in how How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future addresses the political polarization that is tearing America apart. If politicians and pundits employed a whole-brain perspective, Olson shows, this would allow them to see the complementary nature of the two sides and ultimately unify the country.

In the final analysis, Olson’s scholarly discourse shows that the product of the harmonization of the two hemispheres is peace—in all domains. Ultimately, How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future reminds us that we have the freedom to adjust our perception—and our creativity—through our close attention, and by shifting our brain perspectives at will as the occasion demands.




Eileen Duhné Publicity
(415) 459-2573

Origin Press

Psychology/ Neuroscience/ Self-Help
Paperback Index/Bibliography/Illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-57983-051-9

334 pages • $19.95

Publication date: January 10, 2017


Praise for How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save The Future


James Olson Published Articles

For How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save The Future


Excerpt featured in Common Ground

Using Brain Science to Enhance Creativity  May/June, 2017

Excerpt featured in Spirituality & Health

Sacred Geometry, March 27, 2017

Excerpt featured in Spirituality & Health

The Divine Feminine - As Above So BelowMarch 13. 2017

Excerpt featured in Spirituality & Health

How the Split Brain Affects Our Political Observations, April 27, 2017

Excerpt featured in Spirituality & Health

Evolve Into Your Ultimate Self with Whole Brain ThinkingJanuary 12, 2017

Excerpt featured in OMTimes Magazine

How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the FutureJanuary 14, 2017

Excerpt featured in Whole Life Times

Politics with Half a BrainJune/July, 2016


Q&A with James Olson

How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future is a practical, science-based, self-help book focused on how we can more consciously and creatively manage the information that comes to mind for our consideration. Approaching the subject of neuroscience, particularly neuropsychology, from the perspective of a management-trained, holistic philosopher acting as a science reporter, Olson has followed up on the research into consciousness that earned Roger Sperry a Nobel Prize in 1981 and spawned widespread public interest in how the lateral division in our brain impacts our thinking and other behaviors.

How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save the Future explores the way brain dominance shapes our consciousness and affects our behavior. The human brain, like the brain of most mammals and birds, is split into right and left halves, each half independently managed by its own specialized operating system and providing us with unique insights and distinctive problem-solving capabilities. However, as a consequence of genetics, either side can dominate the operation of the brain as a whole and thus focus our awareness on the output of one of our two specialized hemispheres. This is the structure that creates left- and right-brain dominants. Nevertheless, the limitations of this system are temporary. This is a default system—a starting point. It can be overridden to some degree by learning how each hemisphere contributes to our vision and affects our behavior, and then consciously drawing on both systems.


What can we learn about the nature of our thoughts and how they affect our decision-making and our lives by looking at the brain?

If we look at the brain’s information management systems—which I refer to as the brain’s operating systems—the macro systems of the left and right hemispheres, we can learn a lot. Each side of the brain has its own unique way of perceiving people and events, and influencing our thoughts and actions. By understanding how the brain influences our perception, our ability to recognize why we do some of the things we do is automatically enhanced. By studying the effects of a split-brain we can learn why some of us are so polarized, and see how to reverse it.


What do you mean by “whole brain thinking”?

Most of us experience a genetic condition in which one hemisphere of the brain is completely dominant and the other is recessive. This divides us into right-brain- and left-brain-dominants. Because the two sides of the brain are radically different in terms of how they affect the overall operation of the brain, this polarizes us into two broad categories. An example of this is our division into liberals and conservatives. Whole-brain thinking means that we consciously engage the specialized insights of our recessive hemisphere and thus break out of the limitations of left- or right-brain thinking. We accomplish this by recognizing which hemisphere is recessive, learning how it can help us, and then seeking its guidance.



The Brain and Peace  

What is the brain’s role in developing a sense of peace?

The holistic right half of the brain acts in ways that are generally peaceful since its viewpoint is holistic and constructive. It sees and show us unity and seeks to unify. Its operating system, energized by love, guides us to pursue harmony and service to others.

The dualistic left hemisphere is analytical, which is deconstructive. It takes thing apart. It separates. It is also aggressive and forceful—and needs to be in order to overcome the unity of wholeness that functions to unite us, even against our will. Of course, deconstructive is not always destructive; some things can be reassembled, but the left brain’s process is often destructive, and this is the nature of war: destroy your enemy so they are no longer a threat; destroy his hiding places, his weapons. Because left-brain-dominant individuals are energized by fear, focused on survival, and force-oriented, and since destruction can be a highly effective tool of persuasion, whenever problems arise, force often seems like an acceptable solution. But no one wants to be forced, so conflict inevitably arises when forceful solutions are employed and this approach can often lead to some degree of war.


What is the brain’s role in finding peace?

Peace of mind is achieved by ending the ideological conflict that is created by the split in our consciousness into two parts. It’s achieved by finding unity. But the competitive, combative, security-oriented left is not inclined to cooperate with the peaceful right out of fear of potential dangers that might arise from the right hemisphere’s openness and lack of fear. Although the right hemisphere monitors our environment for danger, the left hemisphere leads when action is needed. To achieve its goal of security, the left needs to maintain self-control, a response that often requires us to move away from dangers. I believe we find peace by convincing individuals guided by their dualistic left brain that it is to their advantage to coexist in peace with people who are led by the holistic right brain. But misunderstanding and mistrust can easily trigger rational and irrational fears in our skeptical left brain; therefore, if we hope to create peace we must listen to the fears of left-brain-dominant individuals and somehow address them.


Political benefits

How does the split in our brain affect our politics?

The dualistic left hemisphere gives us our conservative values, whereas the holistic right hemisphere gives us our liberal values. In most of us, one of these two will dominate and this will form the foundation of our political leanings, and in the process, polarize us. Since democrats tend to be relatively liberal, it follows that they tend to lead by a dominant right hemisphere. Republicans tend to be relatively conservative, which means they tend to be left-brain-dominants. Nevertheless, there are many factors that contribute to a person’s political affiliation, for example, education, publicity, and peer pressure. But these sources too are shaped by the brain’s lateral split and the effect of hemispheric dominant.


How do we bring our polarized culture into greater balance?

The left brain is security-oriented, skeptical, energized by fear and prone to separation as a way of avoiding conflict. As such, balance would seem to require the education of the collective (cultural) left brain. Left-brain-dominants need to be taught to understand and appreciate the value of right-brain ways of seeing and doing. Left-brain dominants need to recognize that it is ideologically possible to coexist in peace with the cultural right. They need to be shown a path that is acceptable to them—though of course, that does not mean that culture does whatever right-brain dominants want. On the other side, right-brain-dominants need to recognize that left-brain-dominants have a valuable contribution to make, learn what that contribution is, and make use of it. Right-brain-dominants need to understand that since they are inherently focused on the big picture, they often have a tendency to overlook important details—one of the specialties of left-brain-dominants—and that they often make mistakes because of their lack of detailed insight.


Personal benefits

How can understanding the brain hemispheres help men better understand women and promote peace between the sexes?

My goal in writing this book was to explain the holistic perspective, the brain perspective that informs most women. Right-brain-dominant women have a different perception of the world, in large part, because they see it from a different vantage point, a holistic one that sees the world as an integral whole. Contrast this with the typical male whose vantage point focuses on individual aspects of things and does so sequentially, one aspect at a time. To begin to understand women, men need to understand the right-brain perspective. Although there is a lot more to understanding women than understanding their perspective, perspective is the place to start since it tends to dominate their perception and guide their response.


What is the impact of brain dominance and perspective on religion?

The upper management of most religious organizations consists entirely of males, and most males are left-brain directed. Consequently, most religious organizations are directed according to how the dualistic left hemisphere perceives and responds to life. The left hemisphere is inherently focused on the differences and is competitive. Its operating system is predominately focused on physical matters. Consequently, among left-brain-directed spiritual leaders, religious differences are highlighted, creating a natural sense of separation and competition among religions. Since physical choices overshadow spiritual matters, religious leaders tend to focus on physical details such as what kind of food a person can eat and on what days they can eat it, and whether or not they can work on holy days, rather than focus on more important spiritual matters such as unity and peace. Left-brain-directed individuals are more interested in what their thoughts are telling them than in what their feelings reveal, even though the concept of God is probably best understood through feelings such as love and peace. That’s not to say that left-brain-directed individuals are unaware of the right-brain attributes of religion, only that their dominant brain is poorly equipped to deal with them as compared to individuals guided by their right hemisphere. Because left-brain-dominant males make the decisions that guide religion, the institutions they lead tend to be separative and competitive rather than unity-seeking and cooperative. Thus, for the most part, our religious institutions not only shun the reading of each other’s books and avoid an exchange of views, but also tend to set up rules that prohibit such practices. It is ironic that right-brain-dominant women are mentally much better equipped to lead religion than men are, but are not allowed to.


LGBTQ – The divided brain’s role in determining sexual orientation

Why do we need to understand the forces that determine our sexuality?

The reason is it important that we understand the root causes of gender and sexual orientation is to quell the speculation that we can change who we are and stop the useless, divisive and destructive attempts to change people. If straight people understood that homosexuality is genetically determined and thus a normal part of the diversity of life, they would no longer feel a need to try to change the sexuality of others to match their own. If they knew that gender was a function of the brain’s operating systems, they would understand that no one chooses who they are sexually attracted to, and their fear and opposition would be substantially lessened. It would usher in an end to gender wars.


How did you discover that homosexuality is result of brain dominance?

My discovery began as a result of preparing a table listing the functional characteristics of the two hemispheres. It soon became apparent that the left side gives us masculine characteristics and that the right side gives us feminine characteristics. But I was aware that sometimes the two sides were reversed—for example, women are sometimes directed by a dominant masculine hemisphere. That led me to inquire what happens to these women. This was the event that led me to this discovery.


Is there any science to support your hypothesis?

My approach is like that of someone trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. I have taken a number of scientific discoveries and put them together to form a bigger picture. It is a synthesis of scientific research on brain hemispheres grounded in the research of Robert Ornstein, Iain McGilchrist, Michael Gazzaniga, Roger Sperry, Jill Bolte Taylor, Joseph B. Hellige, Ned Herrmann, Fritjof Capra, Fredric Schiffer, Rita Carter, Daniel H. Pink, Simon LeVay, Ken Wilber, Bruce Lipton, and others.


Do you believe that sexual orientation can be changed?

No. One of three types of genetic dominance determines our brain’s operating system, and from our brain’s operating system we acquire the characteristics that we associate with gender. I see no scientific evidence that we can change the dominance that genetic forces have established. Likewise, I see no compelling antidotal evidence that suggests we can change.


What can you tell us about the diversity we see in the gay community, among gay males, for example?

Since information input to the brain (what we sense of our world) is independent of information output (what we decide to do in response), the two processes are independently variable. As a consequence of this situation, I am convinced that there are two avenues through which gender can be expressed, although when both genders are the same, it’s no different than having one gender, and as a result, the possibility of having two genders has long gone undiscovered. The same diversity that we see in the gay community also exists in the straight community, and for the same reason. Whether someone is an effeminate straight male or an effeminate gay male, the femininity appears to be the result of having this second expression of gender. Note that information input and output affect our sexuality in different ways. Information input determines the body type (sex) that we are attracted to (male or female). Information output creates an external response that shows up as masculine or feminine behavior (or a combination), depending on which operating system is in charge. If a male’s genetically-determined output is guided by a feminine operating system, regardless of whether he is straight or gay, he is going to exhibit some degree of feminine behavior—though such tendencies can vary greatly in strength. Consequently, he might be strongly feminine, or his femininity might be so subdued that it is difficult to observe.

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James Olson

National Media Contact: Eileen Duhné  415.459.2573

James Olson Interviews & Press


James Olson's theory featured in The Atlantic

Science's Stilted Calibration of Human SexualityAugust 7, 2012

James Olson's theory featured in The Advocate

New Theory: Sexual Orientation Determined by Brain Hemisphere Dominance, August 6, 2012 

The Bay Area Reporter

The Brain's Role in Sexual Orientation. July 26,2012

New Dimensions Radio Interview

Audio podcast of James Olson interview with Michael Toms. Sixty minutes