Iain McGilchrist’s new book, The Matter with Things – further information

In my last post, I wrote that I have pre-ordered Iain McGilchrist’s new book, The Matter with Things. Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the Western World, which will be published in two volumes. The writing of this book has been a 10 year long process, which means that no sooner had McGilchrist finished writing The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, which is also a long book (over 500 pages), he started on this new book. He says the new book took over him and his life and demanded to be written.

Each volume of the new book is 750 pages long. (I have wondered how much juggling about was needed to make each volume of equal length!) Maybe, and hopefully, the text in the new volumes will not be so dense. A very short video on Channel McGilchrist, which turns the pages of the new book for us, indicates that this is the case. Below is a screenshot from that video. As you can see, this time the notes are included in the margin of the page. In The Master and His Emissary, the notes were included at the end of the book – 250 pages of very small typeface. I think this new format will make it easier to follow the notes.

I have now heard Iain McGilchrist talk about The Matter with Things a few times and it is interesting to hear how the book has evolved. The first time I heard him talk about it was in 2018. At that stage, the working title of the book was There are No Things. In 2019, I heard him talk about it again, in a series of one hour lectures given at the Field and Field conference in the Cotswolds, UK. I made notes and shared them on this blog. See the posts under the heading ‘2019 The Matter with Things’, on The Divided Brain page on this blog.

More recently I heard Iain talk about his new book in this video (published in October 2020). But some things have changed since this video was recorded, not least the publisher. Originally the book was due to be published by Penguin Random House, but we now know that the book will be published by Perspectiva Press. In this 2020 video Iain talks about the book being in three parts, but we now know that it has been published in two volumes. I can’t imagine how much work it must have been to make that change.

However, all has been resolved as we now have a short video on Channel McGilchrist where Iain explains what the new book is all about. You need to be a member of Channel McGilchrist to see this video, filmed in Iain’s beautiful garden on the Isle of Skye, but I will share some details here.

Although the book is in two volumes there is one overarching argument and that is that the horrendous natural challenges that we now face are a result of our way of looking at or being in the world, which has become increasingly left hemisphere dominated. Our brain has evolved to manipulate the world rather than understand it, such that we are blinded to a profound and beautiful reality. We think of the world as inert and mechanical, just a collection of things for us to use. The aim of the book is to open our eyes to this and to consider the questions of how this philosophically affects how we live in the world and how it might delude us of the world’s true nature. If our civilisation is going to survive, we need a radically different view of the world.

In this new book Iain is trying to expose the weakness, the ignorance and the simplicity of the current reductionist view of the world, which seems more or less unchallenged in the public intellectual arena.

Volume 1of The Matter with Things bears the title ‘The Ways to Truth’, not that there is a single truth, but rather that some things are truer than others. In the first part of this volume, Iain explores how we get an idea of what reality is and says that there are six or seven faculties that we bring to bear on reality – attention, perception, judgements formed on the basis of attention and perception, judgements formed on the basis of emotional and social intelligence, cognitive intelligence and the capacity for creativity. These are the ways in which we can encounter ‘the Other’.

In the second part of Volume 1, Iain consider the four paths to an understanding of the world, four paths by which we can arrive at the truth – science, reason, intuition, and imagination. He explores what these are good at and their limitations, saying that we need each and must honour all four of them. Now, at any one time we honour one, or possibly two. Our view of science and reason has become narrow, and imagination and intuition are not sufficiently valued. In all four the right hemisphere’s view is more important than the left. I first heard Iain talk about these four paths at the Field and Field conference in 2019 and shared my notes on this blog. See The Divided Brain page on this blog, for more details.

In Volume 2 of The Matter with Things, Iain considers what we can do once we know (and have seen through what is covered in Volume 1) how in touch, or out of touch, the left and right hemisphere’s ways of looking at the world are. We can now recognise that there are paradoxical findings and very often these paradoxical findings can be traced to the characteristic ways of thinking of the left and right hemispheres. These paradoxes relate to fundamentally important things like time, space, consciousness, matter, value, purpose and a sense of the sacred. All these are very important for understanding our relation to the cosmos at large. In this volume Iain looks at the structure of the cosmos and shows that opposites must and do co-exist. We need both like the two poles of a magnet and there is no barrier between them. This is an important insight. Another important insight is the relationship between the one and the many. How does the uniqueness of everything we experience relate to the capacity we have to see it as a certain kind of general thing? What are the values and problems that emerge if we don’t understand this?

So, the new book is an attempt to provide an overall philosophy of life and consider where we stand in the cosmos, and to bring us back to a vision of and chance of living a better life within it.

13 thoughts on “Iain McGilchrist’s new book, The Matter with Things – further information

  1. Andrew July 29, 2021 / 12:59 pm

    Thank you for this, I have listened to McGilchrist through podcasts, but I will definitely pick up one of his books!

  2. Donna July 29, 2021 / 7:43 pm

    Thank you Jenny, I really appreciate the time and care you take compiling and sharing your notes. McGilchrist’s thinking sounds fascinating, for now I’ll be inspired by your insights and maybe one day I’ll tackle his tomes.

  3. jarwillis July 31, 2021 / 9:48 am

    Reading The Master and his Emissary was a major experience for me >10 years ago (prompted by an enthusiastic review by Mary Midgely). I wrote a review of it for the British Journal of General Practice, because of its relevance to the way general medical practice at its best can bridge C. P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ of science and humanity. It has influenced my thinking ever since.
    I have pre-ordered, making the investment, in future reading time much more than money, in eager desire to see where 10 years of further thought have taken this wonderful man.

  4. jennymackness July 31, 2021 / 11:13 am

    Thank you Donna for taking the time to comment here. There is no need to tackle McGilchrist’s very long book to get an idea of his main arguments. There are short articles and videos which are quickly and easily accessible. I wrote about some of them in this post – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/introducing-the-work-of-iain-mcgilchrist/

    But a good starting point is The Divided Brain documentary video which is lovely to watch, even if you are not particularly interested in McGilchrist’s work – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2019/07/28/the-divided-brain-the-documentary-video/ If you haven’t already seen it, I can recommend it 🙂

  5. Miller Shealy September 29, 2021 / 4:29 pm

    I live in the USA. How do I preorder?!

  6. jennymackness September 29, 2021 / 4:49 pm

    Hi Miller Shealy – My understanding is that McGilchrist’s new book can, currently, only pre-ordered in the UK – see https://systems-souls-society.com/insight/perspectiva-press/the-matter-with-things/ I think I heard Jonathan Rowson, co-founder and Director of Perspectiva say somewhere that this is because of shipping, costs etc. etc. which they have yet to organise (but I may have this wrong).

    But in the meantime you can hear McGilchrist read some of the Introduction to The Matter with Things on Youtube – https://youtu.be/rkD4Gh7BDr0 – and if you join Channel McGilchrist – https://channelmcgilchrist.com/ – you can hear him read sections of other chapters. Hope this helps. Jenny

  7. AJOwens January 15, 2022 / 7:40 pm

    Hi, Jenny. I’ve recently started The Master and His Emissary, and I’m interested in what ideas McGilchrist may have added since. In particular I’m wondering if he talks at length about ‘the Other’ (as in “These are the ways in which we can encounter ‘the Other’”, as you say above).

    There’s no index entry related to Otherness in his earlier book, so I’m not sure if he mentions it there. Can you tell me if the idea figures prominently in his new work?

  8. AJOwens January 16, 2022 / 1:34 pm

    Hi, Jenny. I’ve answered my own question about whether McGilchrist mentions “the Other” in The Master and His Emissary.He does, in connection with “betweenness,” which has an index entry. On p. 398 of the 2018 expanded edition he writes of the world being robbed of its otherness, “its ontological status as an entity having any independence from the perceiving subject.”

    McGilchrist is part of what seems to me to be a movement away from a Cartesian view of matter, and towards a panpsychic or pan-experientialist one. This would be a timely change for our civilization, and I hope i’m not imagining it.

  9. jennymackness January 16, 2022 / 4:08 pm

    Hello @AJOwens. Thanks for your two comments. Apologies for being slow to reply. I am currently away from home on holiday. I’m glad you managed to find reference to the Other in The Master and HIs Emissary. As you say, Iain McGilchrist references the Other in relation to betweenness. Looking back, I see that I made reference to what he wrote in this post – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/attending-to-the-invisible-other/ I also explored the Other a bit in relation to Levinas, in this post https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/listening-and-learning-from-the-other/

    I haven’t finished reading The Matter with Things yet, and I don’t have volume 2 (with the index) with me at the moment, so I’m not sure what more McGilchrist has to say about this in his new book. I do know though, that he considers himself to be a panentheist.

    Are you a member of Channel McGilchrist – https://channelmcgilchrist.com/ If so you can post questions for Iain there.

    Hope some of this helps.


  10. jarwillis January 18, 2022 / 8:13 am

    I have just finished reading The Matter with Things — which has been my background preoccupation since the two beautifully-made, pre-ordered volumes arrived in early November.
    It is a full decade since I was so lit up by reading The Master and his Emissary and I have been aware that for almost all that time McGilchrist had secluded himself in the isle of Skye in order to concentrate on something more. And I learned somehow that it had turned out to be too big for Penguin, its intended publisher, to swallow.
    So it was an act of faith, and cautious hope, to pay the best part of £100 to pre-order a copy. Inevitably, not being able to imagine anything much more to say, let alone twice as many words again, I feared disappointment.
    So now I say two things:
    • I need not have worried. This book transcends its predecessor in every way. It is incomparably the most important book I have ever read. I long for its wisdom to be widely shared.
    • Jenny, your insights here are the best I have seen anywhere. Please keep it up.

  11. Al de Baran February 2, 2022 / 11:47 pm

    The whole thing sounds very Manichean and conventional to me, not least the incessant reliance on dualistic categories. I’d like to be proven wrong, but so far I see no justification for all the fuss surrounding this person.

  12. jennymackness February 3, 2022 / 3:36 pm

    Hello @Al de Baran Thanks for your comment.

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information about McGilchrist and his work from, but far from being Manichean, McGilchrist argues strongly throughout all his work for both/and thinking, rather than either/or thinking. For example, in his new book, he has a chapter on the coincidence of opposites. I wrote a post about it a few months ago. See https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2021/11/27/the-coincidence-of-opposites-a-talk-by-iain-mcgilchrist/ if you are interested.

    If you have not yet read McGilchrist’s books, I also wrote a post about how it might be possible to access his key ideas without becoming overwhelmed. Again see https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/introducing-the-work-of-iain-mcgilchrist/ if you have not yet read the work and are interested.

    I think the ‘fuss’ around McGilchrist is down to the magnitude of his work and the fact that he is a polymath; there don’t seem to be many polymaths around in this age of specialisation.

    McGilchrist’s new book The Matter With Things has recently been awarded the Scientific and Medical Network book prize for the most outstanding book of 2021. When awarding the prize, David Lorimer wrote:

    “The quality and number of significant books published by Members in 2021 is unprecedented since the inauguration of the Prize. The outstanding book of the year is undoubtedly The Matter with Things by Dr Iain McGilchrist, who also received the 2009 Prize for The Master and his Emissary. In view of this Iain is awarded the Grand Prize for his Herculean achievement running to 1,600 pages and based on 5,700 references.

    In 1890, William James published his ground-breaking Principles of Psychology in two volumes amounting to nearly 1,400 pages. 130 years later comes a work of comparable magnitude and genius, Iain McGilchrist’s Magnum Opus The Matter with Things, also in two volumes and based on a staggering 5,700 references. This makes Iain the William James of our time, and indeed he quotes extensively from many of his books. In Iain’s case, his work might have been entitled Hemispheric Principles/Foundations of Neuropsychology and Philosophy: it represents a Principia in the field and is in my view the most important seminal work of philosophy in the broadest sense since the publication of Process and Reality by A.N. Whitehead in 1929.”

    Does this serve as justification?

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