From last Saturday's "Outside the Modern Limits" Newsletter
Aristotle supposedly said one swallow doth not a summer make.
His disciple Theophrastus then wrote a treatise on precisely how many swallows it took.
Don’t be Theophrastus.
The Zen master Joshu told his student to throw away anything in his mind.
“But if I haven’t anything,” protested the student, “how can I throw it out?”
“Well,” said Joshu, “then carry it out.”
Don’t be Joshu’s student.
Larry David saw his psychiatrist in a thong at the beach. He decided the psychiatrist is a hedonist and stops going to him. He tells his friend Richard Lewis, another of the psychiatrist’s patients, about it with the understood recommendation that Lewis go to someone else.
Don’t be Larry David.
Theophrastus: Aristotle was making a truthful statement. Truth is nuanced. Theophrastus sought to quantity it: to make it certain.
Joshu’s Student: Words are the garbage that needs to be thrown out. Merely by asking that question, by employing language, the student showed he was far, far removed from the Zen ideal of “no mind.”
Larry David: The thong was disgusting, but to sever a relationship and sully the guy’s name, with no further inquiry?
"That Guy" is a Left Hemisphere Guy
Those are just three examples of people being “that guy.” I could come up with scores of others. Heck, I could come up with scores of more examples simply by playing my 2022 autobiographical reel.
There’s even a book that gives 60 examples of “that guy.”I haven’t read it, but based on the Amazon excerpt, it looks like every “that guy” has one thing in common: a left hemisphere that usurps the right hemisphere’s rightful primacy.
Theophrastus sought to quantify full truth. That’s what the left hemisphere does: counts, quantifies.
Joshu’s student couldn’t let go of language. Language is a tool of the left hemisphere. If you can’t get past it, if you insist truth and experience must be contained in words, you’re trapped in the left hemisphere and begin to come up with asinine conclusions like the postmodernists do.
Larry David saw a man wearing a thong poorly (for the record: no man can wear a thong well), concluded he’s a hedonist, and stopped going to him. That’s the left hemisphere on full display: grasping a fact and passing quick judgment. It’s a great trait if you need to figure out whether to kill an orc, but otherwise, it needs to be mediated by the right hemisphere.
If You Put Your Right Hemisphere in Control, You Significantly Reduce the Risk of Becoming "That Guy"
How can we avoid being “that guy”? Simple: Put your right hemisphere back in control. How? Well, that’s quite involved and the point of most of the "Outside the Modern Limits" newsletter, but, in general, try this: Try to watch your left hemisphere. If you see it taking over, stop it.
If you hear a poetic observation like Aristotle’s, don’t break it down into its parts. If you hear a joke, don’t try to explain it.
If you find yourself questioning a sage, stop. For that matter, if you find yourself questioning any authority, stop . . . or at least pause. Don’t push against any authority, even mere social convention, unless a greater authority tells you to. (And just in case it’s not clear: your left hemisphere is not a greater authority.)
If you find yourself passing lightning judgment on a middle-aged psychiatrist in a thong, stop. Even if you’re correct, you’re better off not indulging your left hemisphere.
Let the Left Hemisphere Do Its Thing, Report to the Right Hemisphere, Then Step Away
I want to emphasize: This doesn’t mean Larry David should’ve kept going to the thonged psychiatrist. To be honest, I don’t think I would’ve (it was disturbing). Limited resources like time and money require us to make prompt decisions. We don’t have the luxury of pondering the hell out of everything (“paralysis by analysis”).
That’s what the left hemisphere does well: obtains information and conveys it to the right hemisphere with a quick recommendation, which the right hemisphere uses to make a final decision.
Your left hemisphere tells the right hemisphere, “There’s something wrong with this psychiatrist. Ditch him.” It’s an apt observation and solid recommendation, but at that point, we need to let the right hemisphere do its thing and ask deeper questions: “Things are complicated. We don’t know what he is thinking, what culture he’s from, whether he’s doing it on a dare or conducting an experiment.”
After that process, we can come to a final conclusion: “A thonged psychiatrist might be a fine fellow, but it’s disturbing. Time and money are scarce. Let’s find someone else.”