The Salience Network

  • The Salience Network

    Posted by Whit Blauvelt on May 26, 2023 at 5:01 pm

    The top-down, “superior” view in this illustration shows the default mode network (daydreaming, prospection, empathy) correlating more with the right hemisphere, and the frontoparietal (aka task mode) network correlating more with the left hemisphere. These are from the article “The role of the salience network in cognitive and affective deficits” ( The salience network, in the model the article supports, is as switch between the two. Trouble in switching correlates with many of the conditions McGilchrist addresses with the hemispheric hypothesis. This leads to the question of whether the hemispheric hypothesis and the triple network model described in this paper are essentially congruent.

    Don Salmon replied 11 months ago 3 Members · 11 Replies
  • 11 Replies
  • Whit Blauvelt

    May 27, 2023 at 8:55 pm

    On a general level, the Triple Network Model and the Hemispheric Hypothesis suggest a shared set of questions, both in for what might be found objectively of brains, and subjectively for ourselves. If McGilchrist is right about our culture promulgating a mentality where the emissary (whether seen as LH or as task-mode network) has run away and is no longer properly contextualized by the master (whether seen as RH or as default-mode network), is this primarily:

    1. The LH is hyperactive over time — truly a run-away state?

    2. The RH is hypoactive?

    3. The if either of those, is it a flaw internal to the LH or RH (such as the cases of organic damage to the RH McGilchrist catalogs)?

    4. Or is there, between these, something like the switch which this paper is calling the “salience network,” and is the switch stuck?

    5. If the switch is stuck, is that stuckness internal to the switch, or to yet other factors which should toggle it (or fail to)?

    6. Whereas McGilchrist — and the myths he cites — more blames the emissary for running away, since the sense of self is more in the RH (and the default-mode network — both are supported by evidence) then might the fault be more in a flawed sense of self — and perhaps an attempt at escape from that into an over-tasked life? Is the LH really running away, or is the RH too often deserting its station?

    7. Can we identify aspects of these two hemispheres and/or three networks (or two plus switch) introspectively, and move our internal focus of attention between them, so as to tune their relations (and/or adjust the switch) from the inside?

  • Don Salmon

    May 31, 2023 at 1:53 pm

    That’s an interesting take on the default network.

    In most of the studies I’ve seen as well as large-scale summaries, the default network is characterized by negative mind-wandering, often seen as triggered by survival-related fears.

    In more recent writings, I’ve seen more references to the so-called “positive” states you reference, creative day-dreaming etc.

    I might speculate on how one might involve one hemisphere more than the other, but actually, I was wondering if parapsychological research as well as various brain injuries might shed some light on the relationship of the hemispheres.

    On the one hand, we know from over a century of psi research that it is perfectly possible to perceive objects without the use of the brain.

    On the other, McGilchrist himself makes reference to the case of several individuals who were born with or had injuries resulting in the complete absence of one functioning hemisphere, who yet had all the psychological characteristics (narrow detached attention vs wide, open immersed attention) of those with two hemispheres.

    I think the problem we get into is that McGilchrist himself, as he also has acknowledged numerous times, alternates, often without acknowledging it in the moment, between discussion of the hemispheres as metaphorical and discussion of them as literal. I find in many of the discussions on this channel, LH and RH are referred to as if they are discrete entities, and on the verge of assuming they control consciousness rather than are vehicles for it, or perhaps more accurate, simply reflect – as does all matter – activities of consciousness.

    • Whit Blauvelt

      June 6, 2023 at 8:37 pm

      What particularly fascinates me is the issue of whether the switch between “LH” and “RH” orientation, or alternately “default mode” and “task mode” orientation, is cognitively penetrable, and to what degree. Various approaches to meditation and mindfulness seem to show that it is to some degree. If so, then the overall diagnosis which McGilchrist makes of current culture — that we are too many of us too much of the time shifted into “LH” (making a task of working in the world of parts) — calls for efforts to shift back to a “RH” mode which we might recognize as daydreaming.

      McGilchrist mentions that RH activity more often correlates with depressed feelings, which seems much the same as the well-known finding that the default mode does. From the images in this article, it also appears the default mode correlates with more RH activity — although both default and task mode are spread across both.

      The switch — the salience network in the model the article outlines — surely operates largely unconsciously, and shapes our consciousness. At the same time, we can shape ourselves. So, can a consciousness stuck in task mode (or the LH) learn to undertake the task of more often switching to the default mode, and if stuck depressively in the default mode for too long, learn to switch back to task? Is this how to get the master and emissary into harmony?

      We’ve generally got an overworked culture which fears idleness, particularly in America. This does all seem to fit.

      • Don Salmon

        June 7, 2023 at 2:27 pm

        I’m not sure what “cognitively penetrable” means, but from the context, I’m guessing you mean, is it possible to intentionally shift from effortful, tense, detached, analytic, narrow attention to effortless, relaxed, immersed, intuitive, global attention.

        yes. There’s over 50 years of research verifying it:

        1. Dr. Les Fehmi, a physiological psychologist. He spent 50 years teaching people to shift from what he referred to as narrow, detached attention to wide, immersed attention. There’s a very rough correlation with the hemispheres, and the various modes you refer to. Theoretically that may be interesting, but since the whole brain is active all the time in real life, outside the lab, for the practical purposes you’re referring to, the actual experience of shifting attention is far more important than what’s going on in the brain (which we only know through experience, indirectly or directly, anyway. This is true for all of the results of science, however much – through narrow, abstracted attention – we constantly forget about it)

        2. Dr. John Yates, a neuroscientist and longtime Buddhist teacher, uses the terms ‘selective attention” and “peripheral awareness” to describe these varying forms of attention. He had students with 20 or 30 years of experience meditating who had not been successful in shifting to states of unity consciousness succeed in a matter of months by training them in shifting attention.

        There are many other examples (Loch Kelly has been a subject in numerous labs, teaching similar shifts of attention)

        As far as the idea of depression and the right hemisphere, it’s not that cut and dried. Similarly, perhaps you missed my comment that the association of the default mode with any particular state of mind is incorrect. Scientists say the default mode may be associated with negative, tense dysphoric thinking and it may be associated with positive creative mind wandering. It’s not one-to-one, neither are moods one to one corresponding with particular hemisphere.

        It’s a shame that Iain so often goes back and forth from describing his “hemisphere hypothesis” as metaphorical vs literal. Since we know ALL the functions of the right hemisphere can, in the case of brain damage, be taken over COMPLETELY by the left hemisphere, and vice versa, the idea of relying on particular brain regions as definitive just doesn’t work.

        Further more, parapsychological research shows cognition is perfectly possible without use of the brain at all, so it really helps us a LOT, I think, to take all info about the brain as metaphoric.

        • Don Salmon

          June 7, 2023 at 2:33 pm

          Maybe some practice would help?

          Try this.

          Notice the shapes of the letters here on screen







          now, notice the white space between the letters







          Now, notice thoughts arising in awareness.

          Listen to the thoughts as if they were nonsensical sounds – just as with the letters, you’re letting go fo the meaning and just noticing shapes, let go of the meaning of the thoughts and hear them as pure sound.

          Now, notice, IN BETWEEN thoughts – there’s space, silence, stillness.

          Notice BOTH:

          Thoughts…… (space)……Thoughts…..(space)……Thoughts…..(space)

          now, finally, switch figure and ground. At first the focus is mainly on thoughts, as the Figure: and the background is space.

          Let Space be the main focus


          notice the SPACE IS PRESENT even when thoughts occur.

          Les Fehmi had a patient, Paula, who was an emergency room nurse. For years, she had severe migraines, crippling pain, horrible stomach aches, ongoing severe anxiety and frequent panic attacks.

          He simply said to her, “notice space. Notice space between things in the environment, and notice space between your thoughts. notice the space within which the energy of the sensations of your body moves.”

          In 3 weeks, ALL of her symptoms were gone.

          She said after 3 months, virtually EVERY area of her life had improved.

          Our ordinary fixated, analytic attention has nothing to grab on to when we shift to noticing space.

          Try it. Be sure to do it multiple times a day for several weeks, for at least a minute or so at a time, and let us know what happens. It is a VERY VERY radical shift, and will change everything in your life if you commit to it.

          Here’s a nice little animation showing you how to do the internal shift from thoughts to space:

        • Whit Blauvelt

          July 1, 2023 at 4:24 pm

          Hi Don,

          “Cognitively penetrable” means being able to be conscious of the hypothesized switching capability. So it’s not just being able to intentionally shift towards the RH perspective, but being aware of ones intentionality in shifting between the two, in both directions. There are tasks were we’ve the best traction if focused on them in LH, emissary fashion. To some large extent, this shift occurs unconsciously. But can it be more conscious? Again, this is not about simply becoming more RH, or being conscious more from the RH perspective, but about being conscious from a third perspective as it were, from the perspective of the claimed salience network — the “transmission” of mind in the sense of an automobile’s manual transmission. Can we learn to become consciously, intentionally nimble in switching between hemispheres, as it were, in both directions, from a third vantage at least partially transcendent of both?

          • Don Salmon

            July 1, 2023 at 4:58 pm

            Hi Whit:

            Perhaps I”m not understanding you. I’ve answered yes, it’s very easy to navigate all kinds of ways with greater LH emphasis, greater RH, and everything in between and all around.

            Your mention of a “transcendent” stance is exactly what Dr. Les Fehmi meant by Open Focus (not simply “open monitoring” – but a stance in which one is aware of how one is attending and rather than a typically egoic LH “choice,” there is a kind. of surfing, such that the appropriate balance of different ways of attending occurs and shifts spontaneously.

            I say I don’t know if I’m understanding you because I keep writing that this is exactly what Fehmi taught, 10s of thousands of people over more than 50 years, and then you post again wondering if it can be done.

            So am I missing something? Do you think there’s something that Fehmi is missing? If you want to see a video I made on this, scroll down to the 2nd video on this page: http://www.RememberToBe.Life. The whole essence of everything we’re teaching is how to make that shift to what we refer to as “experiential” mode.

            As you know, I don’t like to identify these things with particular hemispheres, as it’s impossible not to have both hemispheres active at all times, and in fact, “experiential” mode – which you might theorize as having a RH emphasize, requires not just both hemispheres, but awareness of the gut brain, heart brain, subcortical functioning and much else.

            So is it that I’m misunderstanding you? Otherwise, the simple answer is yes, it’s been taught not only by Fehmi but Gendlin, Perls, and really, all good meditation teachers do it as well (Thich Nhat Hanh developed language almost indistinguishable from Fehmi’s, and Culadasa taught thousands of students how to reach very advanced states in a matter of months – and just to make the connection, I wrote to Culadasa about McGilchrist’s work. As a neuroscience professor, he had some quibbles with what he thought were McGilchrist’s rigid separation of the hemispheres, but otherwise he thought they were both working along very similar lines. Culadasa’s book “The Mind Illuminated” has over 50 pages on how to recognize selective attention (somewhat LH) and peripheral awareness (somewhat RH) in the process of meditation – whether seated following the breath or in the midst of active life.

            I would say Culadasa and Alan Wallace (and Sri Aurobindo, but he’s VERY hard to understand) give the best presentation on the practice of shifting attention I’ve ever seen anywhere.

            Is this close to what you’re asking about? If it is, once again, the short answer is, “yes.”

          • Don Salmon

            July 1, 2023 at 5:03 pm

            By the way, if you want one of the simplest switching practices imaginable, here’s one that goes back thousands of years. The Zen Buddhists stare at a blank wall, as did the Chan Buddhists (China). The Tibetans have a pre-Buddhist shamanic practice that may be 10s of thousands of years old – sky gazing.

            Just let your attention rest in the midst of a cloudless sky (you can imagine it but it’s likely to have more effect if there’s not the slight personal effort to visualize)

            The left hemisphere has nothing to hold on to, if you “grok” what this is about, it’s remarkable how rapidly people who have meditated for years and never experienced awareness without verbal dialog suddenly “get it.”

            Try it and see what happens.

  • Lucy Fleetwood

    June 8, 2023 at 11:08 am

    What an interesting conversation. I have a couple of questions, and please forgive me if I seem a little ignorant, I am at the beginning of my learning.

    First, does Dr McGilchrist say that the LH is running away? I thought he suggested that our culture conditions us to use the LH over the RH, which perhaps has a different understanding/meaning?

    And “LH deserting its station…” , gives a feel of the LH being a thing that is doing something, rather than a way of attending and acting in the world, and perhaps that gives a slightly different understanding to this conversation, or perhaps I’m just misreading the meaning of theses words, words are such blunt intstruments.

    Second, ‘…I might speculate on how one might involve one hemisphere more than the other…’ This intrigued me. I trained in hypnotherapy, and part of that training talked about the left pre-frontal cortex being the intelligent, reflective, spacious part of the brain, able to imagine and come up with positive thoughts and scenarios, and this was contrasted with the survival brain which can only respond from a place of negativity, anxiety, anger, depression and obsession (not necessarily all!). The view is that as stress builds the brain has a metaphorical stress bucket which it empties each night during REM sleep, but because REM sleep is only about 20% of our sleep cycle the brain doesn’t always manage to process all the stress, and when that metaphorical stress bucket starts to fill up we start to operate from the survival brain. The idea being that when stress levels in that metaphorical bucket become too high the person cannot function from the left pre-frontal cortex and the thinking becomes negative, with the inability to reflect and the brainwaves shift from beta (everyday consciousness) to high beta. The solution, we are taught, is to engage the person in solution focused conversation to start getting the positive neural networks firing up again, and relax them into a light trance state that is similar to day dreaming. And so I was thinking, perhaps this process is a way of helping people shift from the LH to the RH, for those whose brain is operating from the survival brain (for instance, the survival brain can cut out the functioning of the left pre-frontal cortex when there is a post traumatic stress disorder that is triggered). But I have to say I am confused, in that the LH has been assigned with a lack of spacious thinking, and I have been taught that the left pre-frontal cortex is the reflective positive part of the brain, I wondered if you had any thoughts regarding all this?

    Thirdly, I find this really interesting and wondered if others had any thoughts around it? “I find in many of the discussions on this channel, LH and RH are referred to as if they are discrete entities, and on the verge of assuming they control consciousness rather than are vehicles for it, or perhaps more accurate, simply reflect – as does all matter – activities of consciousness….”

    Fourthly, does Dr McGilchrist really say that “…RH activity more often correlates with depressed feelings,” – I’m sorry for my lack of knowing this, but I am wondering if there is a context to when and how he said this? The reason I ask is because my understanding is that the RH is where we attend and operate from when we have spiritual experiences that are euphoric, blissful and awakened?

    Many thanks if you have read to the end.

    • Don Salmon

      June 8, 2023 at 11:39 am

      Hi Lucy:

      What a wonderful response. I was just starting to do my morning exercise routine, and mulling over all your points and thinking, “How in the world am I going to focus in on the most interesting, helpful way of responding” – and this came to me.

      I’m going to try to address your question regarding my caution about making LH and RH too discrete, making the correlations of experience and brain activity too discrete (this applies to your question about depression and the RH, as well as Whit’s comments about mind wandering and the LH and RH.

      Les Fehmi was a physiological psychologist who probably led at least 1000 or more sessions per year over 50 years – my guess is he saw over 100,000 people in that time. His “Open Focus” method is a means of bringing about a state of coherence, integration, in the brain. And he gave a VERY rough template for understanding how to apply different kinds of attention to our experience:

      He suggested 4 dimensions:

      1. Narrow

      2. Wide

      3. Detached

      4. Immersed

      Now, generally, he said narrow, detached is the mode of the LH, wide immersed is the mode of attention of the RH.

      But let’s look at it in practice.

      I’m guessing most people here have practiced breath awareness? I’ve observed dozens, maybe hundreds?? of teachers and students teaching and practicing this. I would say a significant majority teach and practice it in a rather rigid way, struggling with their minds, forcing their attention, tensely focusing and getting lost in mind wandering.

      I noticed quite early on, that Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh taught breath awareness in an unusual way – he would always emphasize “FEELING the breath IN the breath.’

      Now, let’s put that together with Fehmi’s categories:

      1. I’m sitting here, aware of my breath, my mind constantly pulled this way and that. I try to narrow my focus to ignore everything else, and I’m observing the breath as an object.

      Sounds like LH, narrow detached attention, right?

      But we look at a brain scan, and it seems that my RH is more active, and if we zoom in more closely, various regions in the right hemisphere associated with flow, immersed, wide attention, are active.

      Confusing, eh? Let’s try again:

      2. I’m sitting, completely relaxed, feeling the breath flowing, not so much as an object separate from me but as part of a field of energy, almost like an ocean undulating, with the “breath” not so much separate but simply one movement in this unified field of energy-awareness.

      Sounds like RH, wide immersed attention, right?

      So you know what I’m going to say – the brain scan says the opposite.

      How can this be?

      I think Iain’s biggest mistake is not COMMITTING to the hemisphere hypothesis as a metaphor. I”m sorry, I’ve been studying the brain since the early 70s, I’m quite familiar with Max Velman’s work (I met him at a conference in India some years ago and he was kind of enough to write a blurb for our book) – I mention him because Whit referenced his work in a paper).

      And I will say, we just don’t know enough about consciousness, about mind (mind and consciousness are not the same), about feelings, sensations, about what matter and energy are and how they relate to mind and consciousness – to make the kind of definitive statements about mind and brain that our LH is so desperate to make (sorry, I just through in “LH” for fun – I think saying things that way is almost meaningless)

      It’s a metaphor. IN any case, I’ll conclude with practice. Lucy, I’m sure you know, whatever your knowledge of Ayurveda or hypnosis or any form of therapy is, when you sit down with a client or patient, all that goes out the window (at least, all explicit reference to it does) and you’re just THERE with them in ways no science of psychology or neuroscience can touch.

      And if that doesn’t make sense, try breath awareness and watch the nearly infinite ways your attention plays with experience, and then you see that these distinctions of narrow, wide, immersed, detached, LH, RH, are USEFUL, but only to a very very very limited extent.

    • Don Salmon

      June 8, 2023 at 2:20 pm

      Here’s another way of looking at how to relate to the idea of LH and RH.

      1. Different “selves” in us (different organizations of personality, often associated with quite different states of consciousness). Yogis, contemplatives around the world have always had profound knowledge of this (it’s implicit in Ayurveda and even more in Vedic astrology). But in the modern world, Pierre Janet was probably the first who brought this out (many look at that era, the late 1800s, and think it truly a shame that Freud came into prominence, rather than Janet, whose work has been far more strikingly confirmed by modern psychology and neuroscience than Freud’s – much of Milton Erickson’s work can be traced by to Janet – and another even lesser known figure of that era, Frederick H Myers, who’s writing inspired Irreducible Mind, Beyond Physicalism and Consciousness Unbound, the work of Ed Kelly and his extraordinary group of neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, etc)

      2. The heart brain (40,000 neurons surrounding the heart) and enteric nervous system or “gut brain” (100 million neurons), as well as the intelligence of EVERY cell in the body, all trillions of them (now that evolutionary neuroscientists realize that one celled organisms have astonishing levels of intelligence, even possibly the ability to consciously mutate, change their basic genetic material, in order to meet various challenges

      3. The upper and lower brain

      now, put that all together, with the fact that at every moment of our lives, BOTH hemispheres are ALWAYS functioning.

      Let’s say we’re in our work self. Some combination of the working of trillions of cells, the gut brain, heart brain, LH, RH, subcortical head brain, comes together to form one particular personality.

      Then we’re in our on-the-way-home-planning-to-watch-a-documentary-on-the-medieval French-Renaissance self.

      Then we get home and we’re in our -chuck-that-I’m-getting-some-beer-and-chips-and-watching-basketball self.

      If you want the neurophysiology of these selves, check out Dan Siegel’s Developing Mind.

      Dan has put together;

      LH/RH integration

      integration of our various selves

      memory integration

      upper/lower brain integration (and more recently integration of head, heart and gut brain, as well as the rest of the body)

      interpersonal integration

      transpirational integration (integration of mind, heart, body, interpersonal relationships and the whole universe

      and ALL of that is in relationship to pure Awareness, which is not situated in any area of the brain or body, but rather, brain, body, universe are all manifestations of that Awareness.

      And Dan’s a mainstream psychiatrist!

      And then we have the yogic understanding of vast subtle universes beyond the physical universe, and the transcendent reality beyond all universes, and that Divine Reality which includes and transcends all of that (God immanent and transcendent, the panentheistic view which Iain only vaguely hints at in the final chapters of his book)

      So take all of that, and compare that to the tool of simply talking about LH and RH. It’s a VERY useful tool, but if we make everything about that, it’s incredibly limited.

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