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.
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James Olson is an integral philosopher whose studies have included religion, art, psychology and neuroscience. He has attended Oklahoma State University; the University of Vienna; Oklahoma University, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration; and the Kansas City Art Institute. Following the unifying guidelines of philosophy and drawing on his broad education, Olson has made it his mission to help bring the planet’s masculine (dualistic left-brain) and feminine (holistic right-brain) energies into greater harmony, through his advocacy of whole-brain thinking. Olson’s first book, The Whole-Brain Path to Peace earned several national book awards, including Foreword Reviews 2011 Philosophy Book of the Year.
Early Praise for How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save The Future
James Olson Interviews & Published Articles
For How Whole Brain Thinking Can Save The Future
Excerpt featured in Spirituality & Health
Evolve Into Your Ultimate Self with Whole Brain Thinking, January 12, 2017
Excerpt featured in OMTimes Magazine
Excerpt featured in Whole Life Times
Politics with Half a Brain, June/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. James Olson’s original purpose was to help men better understand the thought processes of women, but it quickly became clear that neither hemisphere could be understood in isolation. They are a team. 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 won Roger Sperry a Nobel Prize in 1981 and spawned widespread public interest in how the split in our brain impacts our thinking and other behaviors.
Sperry found that each hemisphere is “a conscious system in its own right” and capable of managing both hemispheres as a whole, thereby helping to explain the basis of the difference between right-brain- and left-brain-thinking, as well as why men and women, as a whole, have different perspectives. But we are not limited by this system; it only makes us specialists in one viewpoint or the other. We are free to choose what to believe; we can always draw on our non-dominant hemisphere once we understand its characteristics—what it is trying to tell us. We just need to better understand our choices so that we might better integrate them and achieve a whole-brain viewpoint.
Taking Sperry’s work to the next level, in a groundbreaking discovery, Olson found that the determination of whether we are right-brain- or left-brain-dominant is governed by genetic dominance. And as he shows, this finding suggests that we have four fundamental systems of consciousness rather than just two: the left brain’s, the right brain’s (both products of complete dominance), a hybrid of the two (a product of incomplete dominance), and a system made up of the two systems working as a team (created by codominance).
What can we learn about the nature of our thoughts and how they affect our decision-making and our lives from looking at the brain?
A lot—at least if we look at the brain’s information management systems, the macro systems of the left and right hemispheres, the systems that orchestrate the whole of the brain’s various functions—what I refer to as the brain’s operating systems.
Why is the exploration of the differences in our brain hemispheres an important study in understanding our lives?
There is nothing that we might learn that is more important than the discovery of who we are. When we have an understanding of how the brain/mind/consciousness complex governs the body and feeds us the information we require in order to guide our lives, we can live in such a way that we can feel good, achieve our goals, and stay out of trouble. And we can build upon the peace that is our natural state of being. Understanding how we think and process information allows greater freedom of choice, as well.
Some benefits of understanding how the split in our brain splits our consciousness
A greater sense of inner peace
How does brain dominance and its perspective affect our sense of peace?
The holistic right half of the brain acts in ways that are generally peaceful. Its operating system is one that seeks harmony and service to others.
Peace of mind is achieved by ending the ideological conflict that is created by the split in our consciousness, a division that occurs because of the lateral split in our brain. But the competitive, combative, security-seeking left is not inclined to cooperate with the right. The left hemisphere’s #1 mission appears to be self-preservation, and to accomplish that goal it needs to maintain self-control, and often, that means to get away from dangers, an act that involves separation. Cooperation, on the other hand, requires us to unite and coordinate. The left hemisphere is equipped and willing to apply destructive methods if necessary to avoid being brought under the umbrella of the right and its quest to bring us into harmony. That doesn’t mean the left brain won’t cooperate, but it is skeptical by nature and must be convinced that its actions are in the interest of self.
How does the split in our brain affect our politics?
Republicans tend to be conservative, whereas Democrats tend to be relatively liberal. The dualistic left hemisphere gives us our conservative values; the holistic right hemisphere gives us our liberal values. Dominance determines which views prevail. Nevertheless, there are many factors that determine a person’s political affiliation, including external forces such as education and propaganda, so brain dominance is just one factor, but certainly there is a strong correlation between a person’s brain dominance and whether he or she is conservative or liberal. The list of hemispheric characteristics on pages 32-34 of my book helps explain the basis of what makes us liberal and conservative. But cultural forces can often prevail over natural forces, so we have many exceptions—for example, having been educated by their parents, people often vote the way their parents do.
Where might we start if we are to bring our polarized cultural system into greater balance?
The key would seem to be the education of the collective (cultural) left hemisphere about the value of their right hemisphere, leading to whole-brain thinking. The design of the brain is such that left hemisphere is relatively isolated and does not understand the right hemisphere, something that tends to create a fear of right-brain values. Fear then causes excessive division, with the result being polarization. Further contributing to the division, the cultural right is not always sufficiently respectful of the cultural left (and vice versa)—and often makes mistakes. The cultural left brain needs to know that it is to its advantage to coexist in peace with the cultural right—though of course, that does not mean we do whatever right-brain dominants want. There will always be some tension between the two because of their different insights and values, but there need not be distrust and disrespect. I believe that people led by the left brain can be brought to a more cooperative state by employing methods that the left brain values, such as logic and reason—whole-brain thinking is logical. But this approach requires that we understand the vision and motives of the liberals and conservatives correctly—and distinguish their errors from their insights—and to be able to integrate their insights. Right brain individuals, like left brain individuals, make many mistakes and these mistakes often get attributed to liberal or conservatives values, when in actuality, they are simply the failure of people to understand themselves and their world, and the consequent decision-making errors that are made—decisions that are often made on the basis of selfishness, a left-brain quality that pollutes the decisions of liberals and conservatives alike.
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. Women have a different perception of the world, in large part, because they see the world from a different cosmic vantage point, a holistic one that sees the world as in integral whole, rather than the typical male vantage point, which is to focus on individual aspects of it in a sequential process. 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 genetically determined perspective, perspective is a great 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. The dualistic hemisphere is inherently focused on the differences among religions and is competitive. Its operating system is predominately focused on physical matters; consequently, physical choices tend to overshadow spiritual matters in the minds of left-brain-directed spiritual leaders. As a result, they are led to focus on minor details such as what kind of food a person can eat, and on what days, or whether they can work on holy days, rather than 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, but 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 some 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 males rely on the left brain to guide them and are in charge of decision-making, religions are inherently separative and competitive rather than unity seeking and cooperative. Thus, for the most part they resist the reading of each other’s books or learning from an exchange of views, and tend to set up rules that inhibit 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 – How our dominant hemisphere determines sexual preferences
How did you discover that homosexuality was the result of a reversal in brain dominance, and would you explain what brain dominance reversal is?
My discovery began as a result of preparing a chart 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 had read that sometimes the two sides were reversed—e.g., women are sometimes directed by their masculine hemisphere. That led me to inquire what happens to males when the feminine side of the brain is dominant? That was the trigger that led me to this discovery. By dominance reversal I refer to a reversal of the prevailing pattern of dominance, meaning the one most of us experience, which in males is the operating system that gives us masculine characteristics, and in females, the operating system that gives us feminine characteristics.
Do you believe that sexual orientation can be changed?
No. 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 establish. 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?
I am convinced we all have two genders (as a result of brain input and output being independent variables), but when both genders are the same, it’s like having one gender, and as a result, this characteristic has long gone undiscovered. The same diversity that we see in the gay community also exists in the straight community for the same reason. Whether you are an effeminate straight male or an effeminate gay male, it appears to be the result of having two genders. The input of information to the brain establishes the gender that determines the body type (sex) that we are attracted to (male or female). Brain output then creates an external response, and it too depends on which genetically determined operating system is controlling the flow of information. So if a male’s genetically determined output is guided by an operating system that is feminine, regardless of whether he is straight or gay, he is going to exhibit some degree of feminine tendency—though such tendencies can vary greatly in strength, so he might be strongly feminine, or his femininity might be so subdued that it is difficult to observe.
James Olson Interviews & Press
FOR PREVIOUS BOOK THE WHOLE BRAIN PATH TO PEACE
James Olson's theory featured in The Atlantic
Science's Stilted Calibration of Human Sexuality, August 7, 2012
James Olson's theory featured in The Advocate
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