The New Idealism

Why do humans need to believe?

Damien Walter
2 min readJan 22, 2024

The New Idealists

Why do we need to believe?

But before we get into that…the Ursula Le Guin essay passed half a million views today. I’m actually quite flabbergasted that a dense discourse on Kant, Hegel and Le Guin could reach 500k people. Hurrah!

I think if we put Ursula Le Guin and Iain McGilchrist in a room together they would have a rather superb conversation about the nature of myth, narrative, reality and meaning. And they would have to get deep into the weeds before discovering they are quite opposed politically.

One thread I’m exploring on the Science Fiction channel is the emergence of a New Idealism. As we explored in the essay, Ursula Le Guin is one of the most significant Idealist thinkers of our times.

Another I would place in this category is the cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, and his “operating system” model of consciousness. Do we see reality? Or do we just see a semantic construct? Like the operating system that occludes the silicon of a computer as you use it.

These aren’t new questions at all. They’re some of the oldest questions of philosophy. Idealism and Realism seem to cycle in and out of fashion like the sun and the moon. And it seems that after a long period of dominant Realism, the Idealists are stepping up again.

Iain McGilchrist is one of the more scientifically rigourous of the New Idealists. The Matter With Things references over 6000 research studies demonstrating the dual hemispheric function of the brain. But our interview isn’t a dive into the science, there are many of those. Instead I wanted to explore the relationship of Iain’s theory to the landscape of myth and mythos. And that turned out to be an interesting discussion.

As a critic, and now an interviewer, I strive to *not* grasp for solid answers in such a wide discussion as Realism vs Idealism. My interest is in understanding as well as I can the different ideas and models people are proposing. But I can offer an observation.

It seems almost everyone believes in some kind of Idealism or another. We all have a point where our ability to bear Reality ends, and we need to believe…something. That’s where myth, fantasy, story, faith, imagination…and scifi…begin.

The interview with Iain is now live on the Science Fiction channel.



Damien Walter

I tell stories about the future, technology and culture. Published by The Guardian, WIRED, BBC etc.