Off the Pulpit: The Brain, Buber and Being


A decade ago neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist wrote a fascinating book, “The Master and the Emissary.” His thesis is that the different hemispheres of our asymmetric and divided brains perceive reality differently, and that increasingly over history, the left – detail oriented, more narrowly focused – has become dominant. Reading his work, I thought of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”:

“However the history of the individual and that of the human race may diverge in other respects, they agree in this at least: both signify a progressive increase of the It-world.”

Distancing ourselves from others and from the world, seeing a part rather than the whole, calculating in place of relating – these are maladies of our society. They have given us blessings too, as wizards of technology and technique. Increasingly however, as Buber warned almost a century ago, we are losing the connective tissue of relationship that alone is our salvation. Theology and brain science join hands with a plea to reintegrate and see ourselves as part of the world rather than masters of it, and to view others not as resources to be manipulated but human spirits to be embraced.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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