Gavin’s Friday Reads: 7 1/2 Lessons About the Brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett

This is a small, very short, easily read book by one of the lead researchers in psychology and neuroscientists of our time.  I read all 130 pages in one morning and I am not a particularly fast reader.

I hope my short version of the 71/2 lessons below inspires you to get a copy and read it.

Lesson ½ “Our Brains are Not for Thinking”.  Evolution “gave us brains to manage the systems going on in our bodies, (body budgets) and foster our efficient survival in the world.  Our brains are prediction machines.  Based on past experience and our view of “reality” Our brains predict what will happen in our environment.  Predictions are designed to keep us alive and to save energy resources.  Our predictive brains find it annoying when we don’t finish the…

Lesson 1 “We Have One Brain Not Three”.  We don’t have a Lizard brain for survival, a mid brain for emotions and one logical brain to rule them all.  We just have one brain.  There is no tension between three fictitious ideas.  Emotion and reason are not separate things.

Lesson 2 “Our Brains are Networks”.  Not every cell is connected to every other.  That would create what she calls a meatloaf brain.  A homogeneous mass not capable of anything interesting.  Our brains are also not like swiss army knives.  They are not a fixed set of tools pre wired together in a particular way that can do a few different things.  Our brains are networks.  When we learn something new a network is created.  If we use it often it is strengthened.  If we don’t use it the connections fade away.  A process of “Tuning and Pruning”

Lesson 3 “Little Brains Wire Themselves to the World.”  Unlike most species we develop late.  The whole wiring process takes about 25 years.  This allows our brains the flexibility needed to wire themselves for the environment and societies we are born into.

Lesson 4 “Your Brain Predicts (almost) Everything You Do.”  This is one of its main functions.  Based on current circumstances and past experience our brains are continually predicting our environment and planning our next moves, even executing the next moves before the sensory data of the “real world” is processed.   “Your brain is designed to initiate your actions before you are aware of them.” Predicting and acting is almost always ahead of understanding.  Fighter pilots talk of the OODA loop.  Observe Orientate Decide Act.  This is a misconception.  It would take far too long and you would end up dead.  Our brains use a Predict, Begin to Act, Correct, Predict again, begin modified action, correct again….. continuous system.  The only thing remotely like deciding is the prior experience our brains are drawing from to make the predictions.  This is where we have agency (free will) over our behavior.  We can decide what we learn and how we want to perceive the world and gradually train ourselves to see it that way.  Is it a world of scarcity or of abundance?  Both beliefs are true.  Which one are we going to choose to train ourselves to see more clearly?  This is what the Dalai Lama calls “perspective”

Lesson 5 “Your Brain Secretly Works with Other Brains”  We are a group species.  We need and affect each other more than we know.  Ubuntu is the idea that we call each other into being, this is really very close to the mark.  Solitary confinement is really a slow form of capital punishment.  We regulate each other’s brains and “body budgets”.  “Have you lost someone close to you through a breakup or a death and felt you had lost part of yourself?  That’s because you did.  You lost a source of keeping your body systems in balance.”  “The price of personal freedom is personal responsibility for your impact on others.  The wiring of our brains guarantees it.”  IE the freedom to say whatever we want comes with the responsibility of the effect our speech has on others.  Because we are social creatures we will all enjoy the fruits of uplifting speech or the suffering due to harmful speech.

Lesson 6 “Brains Make More Than One Kind of Mind”  We are not all the same.  We have different personalities, and on top of that our brains construct themselves differently when we are raised in a different society.  This is why immersing ourselves in a different culture where we don’t know the first thing about that society’s norms (or language) is so difficult.  What was automatic in our own society now needs to be learned again.  Understanding each other is going to be more critical to the future survival of humanity.  As Abraham Lincoln said “I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”

Lesson 7 “Our Brains Can Create Reality”  “Social reality can alter dramatically, in moments, if people simply change their minds.  In 1776 for example a collection of thirteen British colonies vanished and was replaced by the United States of America.”  This is a super power that only we humans have.  We can create money, towns, and states, democracy and human rights just by believing it is so.  And just as easily we can lose something valuable if we cease to believe in it.  “We have more responsibility for our reality than we might realize.”  “A superpower works best when you know you have it.”

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

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