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.
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 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
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 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 our minds. 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 looks at the effects of genetics and brain dominance on consciousness and behavior. Each hemisphere contains a uniquely conscious system that is capable of managing the whole of the brain. The two systems are radically different in terms of the focus of their attention and how they solve problems, and as a result, a natural conflict exists between them. This means that considering the overall management of the brain, for most of us, the two systems don’t always work together for one reason or another and can even seem to be in opposition. The good news is that the two systems are actually complementary and capable of harmony. But it is up to us, working in the arena of mind, to decide how to integrate whatever information they offer us. In fact, the process of integration is our most fundamental act of creation—and most people are not even aware that they have this opportunity/responsibility.
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—we can learn a great deal. Each side of the brain has its own unique consciousness, with its own way of perceiving people and events, and each uniquely shapes our thoughts and actions. By understanding how the brain influences our thinking, we automatically enhance our ability to recognize why we do some of the things we do, and open ourselves to the possibility of making conscious changes to the way we process our thoughts.
What do you mean by “whole brain thinking”?
For most of us—those of us who genetically inherit the experience of left- or right-brain dominance—whole-brain thinking means that we consciously adjust our natural way of seeing and doing so that we use more of our brain’s capacity. We accomplish this by more fully bringing the non-dominant or recessive side of our brain into our attempts to understand an issue and/or craft a response to it.
Benefits gained by understanding the split-brain's remarkable effect on consciousness and culture
The Brain and Peace
How do brain dominance and 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. The 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.
What is the brain’s role in finding peace?
Peace of mind is achieved by ending the ideological conflict and associated fears that are created by a split in our consciousness—the result of a lateral split in our brain. The competitive, combative, security-oriented left hemisphere is not inclined to cooperate with the peaceful right out of fear of potential dangers that might arise from its openness. Although the right hemisphere monitors our environment for danger, the left hemisphere is responsible for taking action, and to accomplish that goal it needs to maintain control, which often requires that we move away from danger, an act that involves separation. Peace and cooperation, on the other hand, requires us to unite and coordinate.
How does the split in our brain affect our politics?
Republicans tend to be relatively 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. Brain dominance determines which views prevail. 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.
How do we bring our polarized cultural system into greater balance?
Although both sides need to better understand the other, it is especially critical that left-brain-dominants come to understand the value of right-brain ways of seeing and doing. 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. At the same time, right-brain-dominants need to understand that left-brain-dominants have a valuable contribution to make, and learn what that contribution is. Right-brain-dominants also need to understand that since they are inherently focused on the big picture, they have a tendency to overlook important details—one of the specialties of left-brain-dominants.
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, rather than the typical male vantage point which focuses 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 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 left 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 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 often even 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 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 have no reason 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 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 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 had read that sometimes the two sides were reversed—that is, women are sometimes directed by their masculine hemisphere. That led me to inquire what happens to males when the feminine side of their 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?
Since information input to the brain is independent of information output, the two processes are independently variable. As a consequence of this situation, I am convinced we all have two genders, although when both genders are the same, it’s like having one gender, and goes unnoticed. 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, their situation appears to be the result of having two genders that are different. 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, and as a result 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