brain

The Tug-of-War Between Routine and Novelty

The Tug-of-War Between Routine and Novelty

"Brains seek a balance between exploiting the knowledge we’ve earned and exploring new surprises. In developing over eons, brains have gotten this tension well balanced – an exploration/exploitation tradeoff that strikes the balance between flexibility and rigor. Too much predictability and we tune out; too much surprise and we become disoriented. We live in a constant tug-of-war between routine and novelty. Creativity lies within that tension."

~ David Eagleman

Maybe This Brain Can Be Reset

Maybe This Brain Can Be Reset

"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."

~ Mahzarin Banaji

Continuously Unfolding Nonlinear Narrative

Continuously Unfolding Nonlinear Narrative

"The entire orchestration of the symphony of mind unfolds like changes in a music score, and while there is no single, master conductor, the decentralized process does have hot spots of top-down modulation linked by connections built over evolutionary time."

~ Antonio Damasio

Training Individual and Collective Adaptive Capacities

"It's really important to be able to come back to the present moment. This is where change can happen. This is not just adaptive capacity for individuals, but it resonates out to collective adaptive capacity: more resilient organizations, more resilient communities, more dynamic, flexible institutions. These are the capcities that can face any possible future. We don't have to be able to predict, because we can't. Humans can't. But then we can really show up and meet any experience."

~ Dr. Elizabeth Stanley, from "Optimizing the Caveman within Us," TEDx Talks, October 2013   


See also:

  • Mind Fitness Training
  • "The Biology of Risk," by John Coates, The New York Times, June 7, 2014 
  • Clark, T. (2011). Nerve: Poise under pressure, serenity under stress, and the brave new science of fear and cool. New York: Little, Brown and Company. (library)
  • Linden, D. J. (2008). The accidental mind: How brain evolution has given us love, memory, dreams, and God. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap. (library)
  • Ryan, T. (2012). A mindful nation: How a simple practice can help us reduce stress, improve performance, and recapture the American spirit. Carlsbad, California: Hay House. (library)
  • Stanley, E. A. (2009). Paths to peace: Domestic coalition shifts, war termination and the Korean War. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. (library)

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Excerpt from "The Joy of Math: Keith Devlin on Learning and What It Means To Be Human," On Being, September 19, 2013:

People get turned off mathematics in various ways. If you teach it as sort of just stuff you need to know to balance your checkbook — which is nonsense because none of us balance our checkbooks; computers do that for us. On the other hand, because language is so important to us as living creatures, everyone is interested in language one way or another, be we language mavens or just interested in listening to the radio or reading or novels. You know, language is a fundamental part of what we ask.

In fact, in a book I wrote in 2000, called The Math Gene, I actually made a case based on sort of rational reconstruction of human evolutionary development, that mathematics and language are actually two sides of the same coin in terms of evolutionary development. Human beings, when we developed the capacity for language — and nobody knows when that was; it might be as recent as 50,000 years ago — but when our ancestors developed language capacity, at that moment they developed the capacity for mathematics. It's the same capacity. It just plays out in different ways.

...

A lot of the problem in mathematics is that an awful lot of what goes on in the school system is basically trying to train the mind to do what a $10 calculator can do: follow rules and algorithms and procedures. And one thing that we do know is, that the human brain does not find that natural. The human brain is analogical, not logical. And so, when we try to force it to be procedural and exact, the brain simply doesn't like it.

It was important for many thousands of years to be able to do computation and calculation because that was the basis of commerce and trade and buying and selling. And you had to do it in your head or with an abacus board or something. So for hundreds of years, it was actually important to train the mind to follow rules to do computations and get the right answer. Well, now we've automated that. And we carry around devices in our pockets that can do that. Which means that we can spend more time letting the brain do things that the brain is really well suited for that computers can't do very well: making value judgments, making analogical leaps.

In Us

Anselm Kiefer’s “Der Morgenthau Plan,” 2012

You can remember much more than you think. It’s not only the brain that remembers. The cells remember. It goes back to the dinosaurs. Part of your brain is from the dinosaurs. Like jealousy — it’s a very negative, nonsense feeling that comes from dinosaurs. They were jealous, fighting all the time. And part of their tiny brains is in us.

~ Anselm Kiefer, from"The Dinosaur in Anselm Kiefer," an interview with Linda Yablonsky,
The New York Times Style Magazine: Artifacts, May 3, 2013

Spread Out Between the Mind and the World

Ojo Caliente, August 19, 2011

Ojo Caliente, August 19, 2011

Excerpt from "The Mind Outside My Head," by Tim Parks, The New York Times Review of Books, April 10, 2012:

For the rainbow experience to happen we need sunshine, raindrops, and a spectator. It is not that the sun and the raindrops cease to exist if there is no one there to see them. . . But unless someone is present at a particular point no colored arch can appear. The rainbow is hence a process requiring various elements, one of which happens to be an instrument of sense perception. It doesn’t exist whole and separate in the world nor does it exist as an acquired image in the head separated from what is perceived (the view held by the “internalists” who account for the majority of neuroscientists); rather, consciousness is spread between sunlight, raindrops, and visual cortex, creating a unique, transitory new whole, the rainbow experience. Or again: the viewer doesn’t see the world; he is part of a world process.

Everything we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, Riccardo Manzotti argues, involves the same creation of a physical unity—the moment of consciousness—sustained by processes within and without the head. The room, or part of a room, that you see now, including the screen on which you’re reading this blog, becomes, in combination with your faculties, a whole; this is consciousness. It happens in time, and it takes time (consciousness of visual phenomena seems to require at least 100 milliseconds to occur), and it changes constantly.

This minimal time lapse (some claim it is as much as 500 milliseconds) required for brain and world to generate consciousness allows Manzotti to deal with what would seem to be the obvious objection to the externalist theory. Do we not have consciousness when the eyes are shut and the mind lies in silence? And what about dreams? Isn’t the brain evidently sufficient to sustain consciousness without support from outside?

We do indeed have consciousness in these moments, Manzotti replies, but it is still spread out between mind and world. It may take only a fraction of a second for you to become conscious of the face appearing at your window, and then three more years before the same face surfaces in a dream, perhaps mingled with all kinds of other stimuli from elsewhere. But this doesn’t change the fact that consciousness is a coming together of brain and world: the physical process begun at the window is continuing in memory and dream. The congenitally blind, Manzotti points out, don’t dream colors because they have never encountered them. Consciousness is the mingling of mind process with the processes we call objects that are all in a state of flux, however fast or slow.


See also:

A Paradoxical World

"Nowadays we live in a world that is paradoxical. We pursue happiness and it leads to resentment and it leads to unhappiness. And it leads, in fact, to an explosion of mental illness. We pursue freedom, but we now live in a world which is more monitored by closed-circuit TV cameras and our daily lives are more subjected to what de Tocqueville called "a network of small, complicated rules that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom." More information. We have it in spades, but we get less and less able to use it to understand, to be wise. There's a paradoxical relationship between adversity and fulfilment, between restraint and freedom, between the knowledge of the parts and wisdom about the whole."

~ Iain McGilchrist

Watch the full lecture from RSA.

To Experience the World Directly As It Really Is

Excerpt from The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi:

The physicist Werner Heisenberg once said that what scientists observe "is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." When it comes to trying to understand the brain, researchers start with a strongly biased question: "What is wrong with the brain?" We need to abandon the biased view of the human central nervous system as somehow genetically and chemically flawed and the belief that a growing number of powerful drugs, whose mechanisms and long-term effects remain disturbingly unknown, will fix us. Instead we need to ask what is right with the nervous system and how we can enhance it by reducing operator errors. The best treatment tool for many, in my view, is attention training. The misuse and rigidity of attention get most of us into the chronic problems of anxiety, depression, and pain, and the effective use of attention skills can get us out. Flexible attention may not fix everything, but it can do far more than most imagine.

Humans were never meant to see the world through a lens of chronic fear or other negative emotions. We were meant to experience the world directly as it really is. We were meant to form deep connections to other human beings. With attention training at work, school, or home, we can open our hearts, experience the fullness of our senses, and reconnect with forgotten parts of ourselves. We can experience moments of unity and transcendence and find the world has been reenchanted. It will be a watershed moment in human evolution when we are able to pay attention to how we pay attention, control our attention, and take personal responsibility for the creation of our own realities. This is a truly profound realization, a revelation. It's time to learn to use the way we pay attention to create a more vibrant reality.

The Potential to Change the Physical Structure of the Brain

The right orbito-frontal cortex, shown here, is one of the areas of the brain that appears to be enlarged due to meditation."Our results suggest that long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain. We also found that the normal age-related decline of white-matter tissue is considerably reduced in active meditation practitioners.

It is possible that actively meditating, especially over a long period of time, can induce changes on a micro-anatomical level.

Meditation, however, might not only cause changes in brain anatomy by inducing growth but also by preventing reduction. That is, if practiced regularly and over years, meditation may slow down aging-related brain atrophy, perhaps by positively affecting the immune system.

[However], it's possible that meditators might have brains that are fundamentally different to begin with. For example, a particular brain anatomy may have drawn an individual to meditation or helped maintain an ongoing practice — meaning that the enhanced fiber connectivity in meditators constitutes a predisposition towards meditation, rather than being the consequence of the practice.

Meditation appears to be a powerful mental exercise with the potential to change the physical structure of the brain at large. Collecting evidence that active, frequent and regular meditation practices cause alterations of white-matter fiber tracts that are profound and sustainable may become relevant for patient populations suffering from axonal demyelination and white-matter atrophy."

~ Eileen Luders, a visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, quoted in "Is Meditation the Push-Up for the Brain?" by Mark Wheeler, UCLA Newsroom, July 13, 2001

See also:

Connected by Neurons

"This, of course is the basis of much of Eastern philosophy, that is there is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are in fact, connected not just via Facebook, and Internet, you're actually quite literally connected by your neurons. And there is whole chains of neurons around this room, talking to each other. And there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from somebody else's consciousness."

~ VS Ramachandran, from "The Neurons that Shaped Civilization," TED, November 2009

See also: