orthogonality revisited…

I have come to realize that a seeking after ‘orthogonality’ is a warning sign that I am slipping into the comfort of relying on a dominant trait in my personality. Having read Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary I have become somewhat convinced that this dominant trait is actually an over-reliance on the left hemisphere of my brain. As such this becomes not only about me, but about a very large number of people out there…

When I first addressed the issue of orthogonality I was fully possessed by the ‘naturalness’ of my desire for orthogonality, and by it satisfying a feeling of ‘rightness’ (somewhat ironic *grin*). At that time I did not identify orthogonality with the general control freakery that is also a part of my personality. McGilchrist’s book has clarified this for me. So that I now believe that it is likely that the desire for orthogonality and control freakery are two aspects of the functioning of the left hemisphere. Though both seem to be natural emergent behaviours of the left hemisphere, orthogonality – at least as I describe it in its more ‘luminous’ and smiling aspect in my previous post – forms part of the fluid process (described in McGilchrist’s book) of:

right hemisphere generation of an idea; analysis and editing in the left hemisphere; a final passing back to the right hemisphere for idea and analysis to be integrated into a single, vibrant conception.

I imagine that many people will recognize that this is the process that they follow when they are creative in a way that feels ‘healthy’ to them. Certainly, I find this interpretation of the creative process resonant.

What I have termed ‘control freakery’ is what happens when that fluid process stalls, because the left hemisphere insists on obsessing over its analysis and refuses to pass the fruits of this on to the right. That this is happening becomes obvious whenever you feel that your idea, once in vibrant flight, has come down to earth only to have its wings snipped off and be dissected until it feels stale and dead. (The image in my mind is the fabulous Brothers Quay animation This Unnameable Little Broom).

Well before this happens, it seems to me that the feeling that you are seeking orthogonality, or are generally focusing on ‘orthogonal issues’ – right angles, parallel lines, squareness – all of these abstracting to neatness, clinical perfection, issues of ‘right’ alignment – that you can be pretty certain that your left hemisphere is in the ascendent and, if you’re like me, you might want to loosen things up a bit, to stop the machinery clamping down and so to release your idea to fly free into clearer skies.

Posted by Ricardo

writer and blogger

15 Replies to “orthogonality revisited…”

  1. […] of an aspect of human thinking that is located in the left brain hemisphere and that focuses on orthogonality and the counting numbers. Orthogonality is expressed in LEGO by the dominance of horizontals and […]


  2. Daniel Cardoso 4th May 2011 at 1:00 am

    BTW, do you use or do any of this (see below)?



    1. *grin* no – and I do wonder where you came across this – fortunately, I’ve never had writer’s block – but I suspect that this has a lot to do with the way I work – I actually spend relatively less time actually ‘writing’ than most writers (I suspect), and spend more time in a ‘pre-writing’ phase that feels to me to reside on a less intimidating ‘plane’… Besides, I have the instincts of a Victorian engineer – who will simply find a way to build his bridge, or bore his tunnel (and hopefully not his readers *grin* sorry, couldn’t resist the stupid pun) especially if it has never been done before (at least by me!)…


      1. Daniel Cardoso 4th May 2011 at 8:53 am

        Anne Bishop is herself a writer, and it was Sofia who sent me the link, she was probably going through her website.

        Seems interesting, and fitting with the proeminence of your more analytical part, that you wouldn’t have writer’s block. Is then writer’s block associated with more control of the creative part of the brain?

        Does your worlbuilding facilitate the actual writing process, in the end?


        1. I’m not really sure what writer’s block is – imagine that it could occur anywhere along the ‘pipe’ from the subconscious into the conscious mind (my intuition is that the subconscious is partially contained within the right hemisphere, though probably mostly in the lower levels of the brainstem – particularly in those parts that are not divided – the trunk, as it were, leading to the branches of the two hemispheres… So the block could be a disturbance or ‘closure’ in the subconscious – or it could be that the conscious mind is exerting too much control on the mind and ‘choking’ the subconscious… Can you tell that I’m making this up as I go along *wide grin* – all intuition really…

          it is possible that world-building, being peripheral to the business of engaging a throughput from the subconscious onto the page, does facilitate, if not the writing process, at least the onward motion of the creative process…


  3. This sounds a bit like Fordism translated into the biological functioning of humans, and thus leaves me a bit suspicious. It’s all too elegant of a model, not chaotic enough, with rigid steps that follow a determinate order, that don’t allow for concurrent and/or contradictory events… Haven’t read the book, though, maybe you can disabuse me of this notion?


    1. you really should read the book – it was revelatory to me and, as I said in my review, it had the validation (at least for me) that it accurately described something that I have ‘lived’…
      however, if you want me to disabuse you, you’re going to have to explain to me what Fordism is…


      1. Stealing from Wikipedia:

        «Fordism is “the eponymous manufacturing system designed to spew out standardized, low-cost goods and afford its workers decent enough wages to buy them”.» [relates to Ford, the car manufacturer who basically invented the assembly line]

        Although the part that matters to me is basically the assembly-line metaphor that the book introduces, and that seems too clear-cut for me, the other part rings true too – it’s an assembly-line analysis that promises with it the tools to increase and in a sense manipulate that process, thus rendering the person more capable of mastering herself…


        1. oh that Ford! 😀 – with your penchant for quoting philosophers at me I had not imagined you could mean him… But, no, McGilchrist’s analysis has nothing to do with production lines – it is in fact an intensely spiritual vision of the human mind, albeit that it is based on so many neurological studies. Any resemblance to a production line is entirely down to the clumsiness with which I have expressed it. Even then, what I suppose I have attempted here is something more akin to a ‘mathematical expression’…

          Restating it: the right hemisphere is concerned with absorbing the world (particularly the world brought to the brain by our senses). It also has the function of directing our attention – so that of all the myriad sensations, it focuses its ‘regard’ on whatever appears to it of interest. The left hemisphere receives this as input, already determined by the largely unconscious attentional focus of the right hemisphere – so that the field upon which the left hemisphere operates is that given to it by the right. The left hemisphere then performs its analyses on this input. The left hemisphere is preoccupied with the internal world: that is, the model of the world that it forms and that is an entirely mental construct. It is strictly from the point of view of this internal, mental construct, that it judges. This process of judgement, of analysis, is essentially one of dissection; of the reduction of a seamless whole, to what the left hemisphere perceives to be the components of what it perceives. This process, analogous as it is to dissection, renders whatever it operates upon dead. McGilchrist argues that this has become the end point of Western thought – not all the time, but substantially throughout our history and particularly now! This description entirely accords with my own awareness of how my thinking process works. In the ‘construction’ of the Stone Dance, time and time again, I found myself in the dissection theatre with the corpse of my book lying exquisitely divided upon the table. Whatever inspiration may have given it life, now entirely gone. The result is a kind of mental exhaustion, an emptiness, a profound boredom.

          It is the third stage in this process that brings everything back to life. This consists of the left hemisphere passing its analyses back to the right hemisphere that then integrates them into its ‘world vision’. Without the left, the right merely sees the surface of things, or the particular example of something that it perceives. It has no capacity to generalize, to discern how it is that this particular thing is related to other things – or what abstract identity may underlie all examples of such things (Plato’s forms, perhaps?). Enriched by the left hemisphere’s analyses, brought back to ‘visionary’ life by the right – our minds are then gifted a far richer perception of things that is the organic merging of the two…


          1. Seems like I’ll have to just read the book and be done with it, which I already intended to do anyway! 🙂

            As for me quoting philosophers (hah!, you’re one to talk!), I was quoting the philosophical side of Ford *grin*

            Even with that enlightening description, it seems a step-by-step procedure, and I was expecting a lot more chemical and biological “chaos” (read: “non-linearity”).


            1. so you’re just teasing me! :OP
              and you quote philosophers so professionally…
              again: I think it only seems step by step because my left hemisphere is doing the describing… *wide grin*


  4. Maria do Carmo Grelha 27th April 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I see you overcame your left side, otherwise you could not have written such a delicate and poetic trilogy…
    In This Unnameable Little Broom the puppet riding the tricycle stroling around with movements so light and delicate, thin and gracious… face as a mask… well Carnelian came to my mind when I saw it again.


    1. my left side is represented in the books by the Wise… and thus the Stone Dance is, among other things, a story of how the domination of the left side is broken…

      as for Little Broom it seems to me that the puppet is too cruel and vicious to be Carnelian – though in many ways he could represent the Masters… though, more probably, with his thin precision, his destruction and dissection of that which is free, he better represents the Wise… Of course that’s the wonder of art, that we can all see different things in it… 🙂


  5. Maria do Carmo Grelha 27th April 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I always feel that way. Even now when I’m writing this I hesitate to let it go. Somehow the Unnameable animation reminds me of Carnelian… : )


    1. I have been struggling for years with this inner conflict… but believe that I am increasingly free of its worst aspects…
      What is it that reminds you of Carnelian?


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