my letter to NYT

  • Posted by Jeff Verge on December 16, 2022 at 1:31 am

    For what it’s worth, I sent this out today. I post it here because even if it gets ignored, if enough people take their swings maybe we can make it happen.

    Thanks to all who offered feedback. I took every suggestion, although this revision is very different than the last. Improvements I can thank you for, while lapses in judgment and an inability to tame the word count are on me.

    If three of us, or a dozen, or a hundred, all wrote to the same place, perhaps they would hear. A review in the NYT would put this in front of some very influential Americans.

    [EDIT Jan 06]: Some context may be helpful here. That context is detailed more down below, suffice it say here that there was a conscious decision to write as if the NYT readers know of a few things I wrote before, none of it intended for publication. Based on prior experience, I made an assumption of respectful familiarity and earned latitude. It’s like I said in the introduction thread on the old Channel McGilchrist site – if I ever built up any social capital at all, then this (promoting the most consequential theory of our age] is how I will spend it.


    To The Publisher

    I respect your institution, but I intend to cancel my subscriptions and step away from the daily news. With circulation up, I don’t expect the loss of a reader to be concerning, however I write first because I learned a lot here. I thought I would return the favour; by submitting a request for review of Dr. Iain McGilchrist’s extraordinary discovery, which could be called the “Theory of Two Minds,” detailed in his book The Matter With Things.

    I wrote twice to the Ezra Klein show about this. Since then however, I’ve considered that the decision to release Dr. McGilchrist’s theory “into the wild” might go far beyond Mr. Klein’s pay grade. Mr. Klein’s article from Dec 12 is one of his best in my opinion, and yet it lacks the critical dimension of this awareness of how our attention works. The EK Show transcript from Dec 13 lands thuddingly, because it is inadequate to discuss how we perceive time without discussing the two very different ways we perceive time. I don’t mean to pick on Ezra Klein – whose work I generally admire – I’ve been looking for examples to punctuate this letter and there are dozens to choose from every day.

    Writing would be improved with this discovery on background, even when the writer disagrees. Grappling with the big issues: climate, racism, sexism, extinction, plastic, literacy, inequality, despair, imperialism, politics, war, toxic polarization, democratic collapse, mental health, historical injustice, political correctness, and the legacies of Black slavery, Indigenous erasure, and even the Holocaust, it is usually quite apparent when the writer is unaware of Dr. McGilchrist. The Theory of Two Minds is at the root of these issues and more, and while it can’t fix everything on its own, at least we’d understand how we keep getting stuck.

    By now it is cliché to list our mounting existential threats. Even to say that our lifestyles are “unsustainable” is an abstraction, collapsed and stripped of meaning by repetition and familiarity. Words are tools, and we are beyond the ability to express, contain or fix the problems we created using those same tools. We need words, of course, but it helps to understand their limitations. Even metaphor can only take us as far as we’re willing to go.

    Would you run a book review of The Matter With Things? If the reviewer finds fault they can have at it with all honesty. If you find that the oracular imperative to Know Thyself is as relevant today as ever, perhaps do a feature? Beyond that, assuming your intelligent staff and readership are as taken as I am, I would love to hear an implicit debate across opinion silos. At the very least, on the levels of principle, merit and even survival, a book review would be a step toward overcoming our institutional inertia. For comparison, I learned about two recent favourites, The Dawn of Everything and To Speak for the Trees in these pages, and The Matter With Things sits comfortably alongside, perhaps say as physics sits alongside biology and chemistry.

    I acknowledge that this theory challenges notions and narratives entrenched over centuries. I understand too, that as a mainstream organization, ideas are typically reflected in these pages only after generating some critical charge. I propose Dr. McGilchrist’s discovery is ready to be heard, having surmounted scientific, academic and popular challenge for over a decade now. Hidden by design for 700 million years, yet running through every human life and all of human history, it comes as a revelation. It’s a skeleton key to the human condition, but that said, the implications take some time to wrap your head around – it’s the revelation that keeps on revealing.

    I don’t see us correcting course without putting this awareness, implicitly perhaps, at the centre of our stories. Rooted in hard science, the Theory of Two Minds is our best opportunity to reconstitute healthy narratives about who we are and what it means to be human. One advantage we have over earlier societies, who fell into similar cognitive error, is that we can grasp it while it’s still happening. But if we fail to comprehend the wildly divergent nature of our integrated hemispheres, then soon it won’t matter if anyone keeps up with the news.

    If the powers that be choose to bury this sciontific discovery, all hope is vanity. I personally will switch from desiring to extend the human race to wanting us cut down as quickly as possible, a rational proposition in context of all the others sharing the mystery of this carbon-based life. An earlier draft of this letter was half-finished at 20 000 words, so here I stop and hope that someone on the other end picks it up and carries it forward. The worst that could happen is an explosion of original thinking, and who would oppose that right now?

    Please acknowledge Dr. Iain McGilchrist and introduce the theory to your influential readers. I appreciate your time and attention.

    Thank you

    Jeff Verge

    Jeff Verge replied 3 weeks, 5 days ago 3 Members · 4 Replies
  • 4 Replies
  • John Ehrenfeld

    December 16, 2022 at 4:17 pm

    Jeff, Thanks for doing this I have sent maybe 20 oped pieces to the NYT and WaPo over the past 10 years with zero success. I also wrote to the editor previously and got no response. No surprise. New paradigms are always rejected first.

    • Jeff Verge

      January 4, 2023 at 8:02 pm

      So true. I think it’ll take a lot of us who grasp the enormity of what Iain has uncovered to push it out beyond the academic realm, if that’s even possible.

      I think about Darwin, and the vicious response Evolution would have gotten from many quarters (and still does in some). I imagine prim Victorians smirking about how no way, NO WAY, were they descended from apes and slime molds. Then I think about the contemporary museum in the US, showing early humans riding dinosaurs and using them as beasts of burden.

      It’ll be an uphill battle for sure.

  • Elspeth Crawford

    January 6, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    <div>I hope it goes through… you will let us know if there is any response, even the negative one. It does however inspire the possibility of keeping on trying …

    Thanks, Elspeth


    • Jeff Verge

      January 6, 2023 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Elspeth

      Yes of course, although they don’t call her the Grey Lady for nothing. I have no expectations for a response. But now I see something that will definitely appear *different out of context. which I’ll try to clarify:

      1. This letter is not a cold opening by any means, and a spirit of challenge has been welcomed in the past as a means to fathom differences of opinion. Although I’m really not sure of anything, I went ahead assuming a few key people, including possibly even the publisher himself, already know who I am (i.e. are aware that I exist…). I wrote a handful of times some years ago, commenting on a long conversation already in progress. When the Grey Lady notices you, she lets you know…

      2. I’m proud to say the one and only poem I’ve ever written is/ was under consideration for publication by NYT Books, since this past April. I only wrote it for fun, thinking I’d give a chuckle to a few people in the books dep’t who’d put together a sizable poetry feature. But while it may work on its own, my musings on Time and Victorian Poetry are probably best enjoyed immediately after reading the NYT’s pointed critique of a poem written about the Titanic, 111 years ago now. So … context! I had a lot of fun with a glass of red wine and a few hours creating it and it was very nice to be asked a few days later if they could publish it. But like the letter above, it might look a lot better in context. Perhaps I should edit the pre amble with some of this,

      3. A recent conversation got me thinking about different types of audience, and I got to thinking about how different a conversation about our two modes of processing will be depending if we’re talking with a meditative/ artistic/ spiritual person versus talking with a hard-headed/ detail-oriented/ competitive person. Years ago I read or heard the publisher say he liked to see ideas in opposition as a means to enhance clarity, and I’ve been running with that ever since.

      My regret at the likeliest outcome, that I will cancel my subscription due to seeing too many errors, is genuine.