Maybe This Brain Can Be Reset

Excerpt from "The Mind Is a Difference-Seeking Machine" an On Being conversation with Mahzarin Banaji and Krista Tippett (June 9, 2016):

"So this is me speaking as a person. Not necessarily as a scientist. I do two things. I no longer believe that I can just let information into my mind as it comes. I believe I must choose and edit. I can’t go home and lie on my couch and turn on the TV and watch the thing that seems interesting because that is going to leave a mark on my mind. And I actually am pleased that the way technology now allows me to craft what I want to watch and listen to allows me greater freedom to say, 'This is what I do not want to watch, and this is what I do want to watch.'

The easier thing to watch is what I don’t want to watch. And look, I have to say I do like American football, but I don’t watch it. Okay. That’s an example. I have a hard time not watching it because I do love the sport. But it’s a moral issue for me. If people are dying and becoming mentally ill from a sport, I think of it as my having participated in watching gladiators. And I cannot do it. It’s just a — it’s a personal choice. I don’t expect that it will translate to other people’s choices. But it’s a personal one.

But the other thing that I do is to actually create inputs into my mind of my own making. I do think that in some ways our brains are simple and that they will believe that things are real even if they’re not. So, that’s what movies do. That’s what novels do for us.

"Jeremy Walter jumped right into the cattle industry after graduating from college. Walter farms near Farragut."   Iowa Farmer Today

"Jeremy Walter jumped right into the cattle industry after graduating from college. Walter farms near Farragut." Iowa Farmer Today

So what if I have a series of a thousand pictures that rotate through on my screen saver of people who come from many parts of the world that I will never, ever see or even think about. Take an example close by. I have no idea what life for a farmer in Iowa is. I bet it’s hard. I bet I have no idea what they have to deal with. I don’t think I will ever truly understand.

But, right now, they’re a distant group in my mind. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I don’t think about farming and farmers. If my screen saver literally just points out the existence of such people and what their issues might be, I believe that my brain is going to begin to care at some level. And if I show myself possibilities that don’t exist easily, that’s even better.

These are hopes, but I don’t just say it’s a hope because I do know enough as a psychologist about learning and memory. And I know that we learn. How much of this I need to do in order to change, I cannot say. But I can say that there is a point at which this brain is not just elastic in moving to what is being suggested, but that it may be plastic in that it can be reset into a new mold."