Marshall McLuhan


Marshall McLuhan : biography

July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980

Reading, writing, and hierarchical ordering are associated with the left brain, as are the linear concept of time and phonetic literacy. The left brain is the locus of analysis, classification, and rationality. The right brain is the locus of the spatial, tactile, and musical. "Comprehensive awareness" results when the two sides of the brain are in true balance. Visual Space is associated with the simplified worldview of Euclidean geometry, the intuitive three dimensions useful for the architecture of buildings and the surveying of land. It is too rational and has no grasp of the acoustic. Acoustic Space is multisensory.

McLuhan writes about robotism in the context of Japanese Zen Buddhism and how it can offer us new ways of thinking about technology. The Western way of thinking about technology is too much related to the left hemisphere of our brain, which has a rational and linear focus. What he called robotism might better be called androidism in the wake of Blade Runner and the novels of Philip K. Dick. Robotism-androidism emerges from the further development of the right hemisphere of the brain, creativity and a new relationship to spacetime (most humans are still living in 17th century classical Newtonian physics spacetime). Robots-androids will have much greater flexibility than humans have had until now, in both mind and body. Robots-androids will teach humanity this new flexibility. And this flexibility of androids (what McLuhan calls robotism) has a strong affinity with Japanese culture and life. McLuhan quotes from Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, an anthropological study of Japanese culture published in 1946: “Occidentals cannot easily credit the ability of the Japanese to swing from one behavior to another without psychic cost. Such extreme possibilities are not included in our experience. Yet in Japanese life the contradictions, as they seem to us, are as deeply based in their view of life as our uniformities are in ours.”The Global Village, p. 76. The ability to live in the present and instantly readjust.

Beyond existing communication models

"All Western scientific models of communication are — like the Shannon-Weaver model — linear, sequential, and logical as a reflection of the late medieval emphasis on the Greek notion of efficient causality."The Global Village, p. 77. McLuhan and Powers criticize the Shannon-Weaver model of communication as emblematic of left-hemisphere bias and linearity, descended from Aristotelean causality.

A third term of The Global Village that McLuhan and Powers develop at length is The Tetrad. The tetrad is something like threads in a complexly interwoven flowing superspace, a four-fold pattern of transformation. "At full maturity the tetrad reveals the metaphoric structure of the artifact as having two figures and two grounds in dynamic and analogical relationship to each other." The Global Village, p. 78. Like the camera focused on the Earth by the Apollo 8 astronauts, the tetrad reveals figure (Moon) and ground (Earth) simultaneously. The right-brain hemisphere thinking is the capability of being in many places at the same time. Electricity is acoustic. It is simultaneously everywhere. The Tetrad, with its fourfold Möbius topological structure of enhancement, reversal, retrieval and obsolescence, is mobilized by McLuhan and Powers to illuminate the media or technological inventions of cash money, the compass, the computer, the database, the satellite, and the global media network.

Works cited

This is a partial list of works cited in this article. See Bibliography of Marshall McLuhan for a more comprehensive list of works by and about McLuhan.

By Marshall McLuhan

  • 1951 The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man; 1st Ed.: The Vanguard Press, NY; reissued by Gingko Press, 2002 ISBN 1-58423-050-9
  • 1962 The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man; 1st Ed.: University of Toronto Press; reissued by Routledge & Kegan Paul ISBN 0-7100-1818-5
  • 1964 Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man; 1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY; reissued by MIT Press, 1994, with introduction by Lewis H. Lapham; reissued by Gingko Press, 2003 ISBN 1-58423-073-8
  • 1967 The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects with Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel; 1st Ed.: Random House; reissued by Gingko Press, 2001 ISBN 1-58423-070-3
  • 1968 War and Peace in the Global Village design/layout by Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel; 1st Ed.: Bantam, NY; reissued by Gingko Press, 2001 ISBN 1-58423-074-6.
  • 1970 From Cliché to Archetype with Wilfred Watson; Viking, NY ISBN 0-670-33093-0