Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Archive for the category “Neuroscience”

Nobody has Ever Been or Had a Self

‘I will try and convince you that there is no such thing as a self. Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self’

So starts Thomas Metzinger’s staggeringly good, The Ego Tunnel – the Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self.

As much to embed and internalize (in what, I don’t now know :-) as well as to evangelise the content of his book, I am writing this as the start of a series of posts highlighting my highlights.

He continues (in the Introduction that took me nearly a week to absorb):

‘To the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world.’

‘So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?’

He raises the ‘one central question we have to confront head on: Why is there always someone having the experience? Who is the feeler of your feelings and the dreamer of your dreams?… Why is your conscious reality your conscious reality?’

His assertion is that by exploring and paying attention to ‘the fine-grained and careful description of inner experience as such’: phenomenology, we will be equipped with more tools to understand the evidence that ‘strongly suggests the purely experiential nature of the self’

For me, the first mind stretching/ idea glueing starts at this point, and for this reason I’ll keep these series of posts fairly short and bullet-like:

Metzinger calls the ‘conscious model of the organism as a whole that is activated by the brain’, the ‘phenomenal self-model (PSM)’. He explains that ‘”Phenomenal” is used here, and throughout, in the philosophical sense, as pertaining to what is known purely experientially, through the way in which things subjectively appear to you. The content of the PSM is the Ego’

This then becomes nicely grounded for me in the ‘why’: ‘the PSM of Homo sapiens is probably one of nature’s best inventions. It is an efficient way to allow a biological organism to consciously conceive of itself (and others) as a whole’

‘Our evolved type of conscious self-model is unique to the human brain, in that by representing the process of representation itself, we can catch ourselves … “in the act of knowing” (Antonio Damasio)’

The evolutionary ‘why’ provides the foundations: ‘This ability turned us into thinkers of thoughts and readers of minds, and it allowed biological evolution to explode into cultural evolution’ The Ego has ‘helped us understand one another through empathy and mind-reading’

‘Finally, by allowing us to externalise our minds through cooperation and culture, the ego has enabled us to form complex societies’

Are We Getting Better at Thinking?…and Innovating?

For all the talk of the evils of the web in terms of driving us to attention deficit/ dispersal, a few areas I’ve been reading have glued together in my head which may make a case for the opposition:

First, in a fantastic book on writing powerfully for business: We, Me, Them & It,  John Simmons makes a point, ‘For as long as I can remember I’ve used writing to sort out my thinking’

I’ve been toying round with a way of prioritising my time – personally and at work – around 5Cs: Create, Connect and Collaborate, Communicate and Consume. So in that order, I try and allocate any time I have to ensure I’m not just consuming or communicating. Since I restarted writing and refocusing on creativity nearly sixteen months ago, I’ve probably never been happier. I’ve argued to others that it makes my brain feel fresher and more flexible. The act of creation is satisfying, and I feel that I think better as a result of forcing myself to articulate things better – even when I play with words or ‘dump’ thoughts without much structure. I find this unblocks my thinking. Read more…

What Could You Do in The Future With Your Imagination Now?

Daniel Schacter Functional MRI Scans

Daniel Schacter Functional MRI Scans

The scans to the left look virtually identical.

The furthest left brain actually shows the bits of the brain that fire when, given a cue word, the subject remembers something that has happened: a memory.

The closest brain shows the bits of the brain that fire when the subject, given the same cue word, was asked to imagine a future scenario.

So the fact that the brain, for purposes of evolutionary efficiency – or through evolutionary limitations (depending on your view) – uses the same tools to remember the past and imagine the future, throws a fantastic light on the power of vision and goal setting.

On the basis that you believe your memories because your left brain gives you permission to do so, the only thing limiting a more ‘creative’ use of vision and goal setting is your logical/ analytical side. Looking at the argument from another perspective, do you believe that you are what/ who you are through a sum total of your nature and your nurture? Do you accept that a component part of what affects your nurture is a sum total of your experiences? Do you then accept that how you act in the present is influenced by the sum of what you believe to be you: your values, beliefs, experiences etc.?

If you’re still with me, then allow yourself to imagine the impact of acting in the present not just based on your past, but based on a future that you desire and have spent time imagining in detail.

What resources would this bring to bear? What focus would this give you? What opportunities would you take?

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