Monday, November 16, 2009

Apollo to the left of me, Dionysus to the right....

IN a pair of recent posts - Analyze this and the followup Analysister -I brought up the idea of some aspects of a movie (surface story) being readily discernible to the left (logical) brain and some, more subtle parts, to the right (intuitive) brain. I had never thought about this until making the Analyze this post and discussing the way Kubrick's films seem to work on a viewer. For convenience's sake I've included a table below listing the well-known attributes of these two hemispheres of the brain.

Right Brain vs. Left Brain


This theory of the structure and functions of the mind suggests that the two different sides of the brain control two different “modes” of thinking. It also suggests that each of us prefers one mode over the other.


Experimentation has shown that the two different sides, or hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. The following table illustrates the differences between left-brain and right-brain thinking:

Left BrainRight Brain






Looks at parts






Looks at wholes


It suddenly occurred to me that this division between two different ways of thinking sounds very familiar... in fact I've encountered very nearly the same division between ways of thinking - one logical and focused, the other intuitive and 'fuzzy', but in a non-scientific context:

The Apollonian/ Dionysian dichotomy

Apollonian and Dionysian are terms used by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy to designate the two central principles in Greek culture. The Apollonian, which corresponds to Schopenhauer's principium individuationis ("principle of individuation"), is the basis of all analytic distinctions. Everything that is part of the unique individuality of man or thing is Apollonian in character; all types of form or structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed; thus, sculpture is the most Apollonian of the arts, since it relies entirely on form for its effect. Rational thought is also Apollonian since it is structured and makes distinctions.

The Dionysian, which corresponds roughly to Schopenhauer's conception of Will, is directly opposed to the Apollonian. Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian because they break down a man's individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole: music is the most Dionysian of the arts, since it appeals directly to man's instinctive, chaotic emotions and not to his formally reasoning mind.

Nietzsche believed that both forces were present in Greek tragedy, and that the true tragedy could only be produced by the tension between them. He used the names Apollonian and Dionysian for the two forces because Apollo, as the sun-god, represents light, clarity, and form, whereas Dionysus, as the wine-god, represents drunkenness and ecstasy.


I discussed this in an old post on my original blog:

Sorry, I can't link directly to it... I used to hand-code that blog and didn't know how to separate posts, so I can only link to the entire page, but it's the second post. Just scroll down a little bit. I was profoundly taken by this idea when I first encountered it in Camille Paglia's book Sexual Personae, and she really made me aware of these two different modes of perception/cognition. These little tables I posted here and similar ones you see on the web are very brief and only cover the basics, but Paglia dissects it quite deeply. She also relates these modes of thinking to what she terms the Male principle and the Female principle... left brain/ Apollonian being the male and right brain/ Dionysian being the female. Don't oversimplify and think she's making a general division between men and women... people have some of each tendency in their makeup, just as we all use both left and right brain. Many women exhibit strong male tendencies while many men have female tendencies.

Well, when I connected these various ideas together, it became clear to me that they are very real tendencies that exist in all of us. Modern sbrain science, as it often does, is merely re-inforcing ancient wisdom. The Greeks were aware of this dichotomy centuries ago, and now it's been discovered in the very structure of the brain itself... so science has only shown us figuratively where Apollo and Dionysus live. It makes me wonder... how many of the other Olympian gods could be said to embody some part of human nature... god of war... goddess of the hunt, goddess of love.... interesting. And doubtless not new! Only something that hadn't occurred to me before.

So.... taking all this into account... the idea of a dichotomy in modes of thinking that's existed in human nature for a long time and that it's cropped up in various ways, both scientific and mythical/artistic, I began to wonder if it's reared its head in any other ways. And sure enough, a couple similar dichotomies presented themselves to my questing mind.

Dichotomy in politics

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

This is just a section of an article posted here.

To condense these tendencies down to their most basic (for purposes of simplicity) we could call one Focused and the other Vague or Fuzzy. Which then led me to my next (and so far last) revelation...

Rods and Cones


Two different kinds of 'photoreceptors', or neurons, in the eye. Rods are responsible for night vision and peripheral vision... they're not as 'focused' as the cones, which see detail and color. Therefore the vision of the rods could be characterized as 'fuzzy' or vague, but in some way superior to the rod-vision. Have you ever noticed that , if you're looking up into the night sky, very dim stars or very distant galaxies (which at first look like dim stars) can't be seen by looking directly at them (cones) but only by looking a little bit away, activating the rods.

To me all these various dichotomies sound very similar. In fact I'd venture to say taken as a whole they point out the same basic division in the human being... a divergence between different modes of... is it perception, cognition, or interpretation? Hard to say. And I won't make any statements here, aside from bringing up what I think is a very interesting conundrum revealing itself to us in various ways - Mythical (a way of giving meaning to things we don't understand) Scientific (a way of studying nature) and Political -- and that might have a profound meaning as far as what it means to be human.

... And with this post, hopefully I conclude this little obsession that began just before Halloween when I happened to catch The Shining on cable TV (little realizing the bizarre series of ideas it would lead me through!) and can now get back to work on my film!!


WalaAkongKwenta said...

I likethis article because it reminds me of my psychology class which i really love

Deirdre Bunny said...

I'm stuck in the middle with you.

Darkmatters said...

Stealer's Wheel... good call!! I had that song running through my head as I wrote the post!

Shelley Noble said...

Another brilliant display of brain capacity, Mike. Your posts truly are like, no far better than, doctoral level lectures. Far more interesting subjects as well.

Fantastic connection between brain hemispheres and levels of perception through the eyes. There's something in that. Perhaps describing the physical mechanism of part of the multi-dimensional reality all around us.

Dan Metalmadcat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Metalmadcat said...

m_) For some strange reason I find some from left and some from right to get familiar with, is that possible? I can't state I am all to one side or the other, or maybe I just don't know myself enough to actually know which side I belong to ?

m+ oh no..

M_+ I'm in travel..I now

Dan Metalmadcat said...

m_) For some strange reason I find some from left and some from right to get familiar with, is that possible? I can't state I am all to one side or the other, or maybe I just don't know myself enough to actually know which side I belong to ?

m+ oh no..wait, these are tendencies, I see.

Thus, with all these dichotomy the fact that we live in a chaotic world means its all "under" control, somehow, someone or something want it to be that way..

Darkmatters said...

No, you're right Dan.... we get info from both left and right. Everyone does. It's just that the left half of the brain and the right half PROCESS information differently. So each part of the brain gets something a little different out of it.

It's like the hands. We both use both of our hands (otherwise it would be really hard to tie our shoes!)... but most of us PREFER one over the other. In fact there's some indication that many left-handed people might be more right-brain dominant, and of course it's a well-known fact that MOST people are both right-handed and prefer to 'listen' to mostly the left half of the brain.

Shelley.... heh... of course none of this is new to you or Yaz... you both had to sit through my interminable emails as I worked all this stuff out!! Thanks for being there! And here too!!

Darkmatters said...

There seems to be a basic misunderstanding about what some of this means. Someone a post or two ago seemed to think I was suggesting the two halves of the brain are somehow completely independent and unaware of what the other is doing, and Dan just indicated that he thought I was saying everyone is either completely right-brain or completely left-brain.

Not so.

Let me try to make an analogy...

As I understand it (I have only a layman's knowledge... I'm no brain scientist!!... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night... and, more importantly, I've been reading a lot of Carl Sagan, which makes you smart, right?) both sides of the brain are fully functional all the time (as long as you're conscious). BUT -- the left side, being the one responsible for focused thought and verbalization, tends to overpower the quieter right brain, which runs silently on a back channel. Think of it like this... the left brain is LOUD and aggressive.... while the right brain is the shy kid sitting in the back of the class keeping to himself. He "gets it" just as much, he just doesn't say much. Most people don't pay much attention to him, they just listen to the loud left brain. But that quiet kid has a lot of wisdom to share if you can just shut up the loud one for a while and let him be heard. This happens when we dream, or meditate... essentially any time you manage to get your subvocalization to stop (that's when you form words in your head or even with your tongue... some people go so far as to mutter quietly under their breath when subvocalizing). Obsessive/ compulsives sometimes can't shut up the vocal left brain, so never get to hear the "quiet voices" emanating from the right.

bRYEnd_of_the_schtick said...

(^tsk yer makin me wants to quote myself on the hippocampus again.
(^ a silly seashelled thing mid brain that seems to store onlycodexed STORAGE locations of memory.
(^ the juggler, as it were.
knot left nore; right.
maleFEmale. only the sorter betwixt them. like a delineated line of inquiry.

(^ and SOME of us cross cheeck and put memories in more than one area, just to safeguard the lossiness from taking it all away in one fell swoop.
grr.. where DID i store that old thang?..
:goes searching for piece on brain functions:..

(^ grr. not that one..

(^ found it!

Darkmatters said...

Heh.. hippocampus. Sounds like a college for aquatic mammals!! Pirouetting 101 anybody?

Yes, I do know about the brains redundant backup systems for memories... though I'm fairly unfamiliar with the hippocampus itself.

Neither of those links seems to work unfortunately.

Prosser... I hope you're not trashing on my theory!??!!


Darkmatters said...

Ok nevermind... they do work. It helps if you pull open this comments window until the whole link is showing!!

I'll look at it when I get a chance.

Darkmatters said...

Ok... WOW!!! Some of your more lucid rightings!! Methingks tis you who are the quiet one in the write corner of the room, absorbing through ozmosister... operating on the backchannel and catching what everybody else misses. Riding the hippocamel down memory lane. Thanks for sharing this!!

minoxidil said...

:)) good

Shelley Noble said...

"...get your subvocalization to stop..." I've been studying meditation techniques for years and you just described the process better than I've ever heard it put before. m..m

And pretty darn good Prosser-speakanese too!