Bigger than Copernicus: The “New” Universe of Your Brain

A "New" Universe of the MindOnce upon a time, all sensible people everywhere knew that the earth was at the center of the universe, and all sensible people knew that the celestial bodies revolved around us and the earth.

All sensible people knew this because every person of authority said the earth was at the center of the universe and because it was a fact as obvious as the night! Look up! Clearly, all of it revolves around us, while we are perfectly still.

Then, one day, a jackass named Copernicus came along and blew everyone’s mind by convincingly making the case that the earth is not at the center of the universe. Instead, Copernicus argued, our planet revolves around the sun.

Well, today, the jackasses in psychology and neuroscience are telling us that you are not at the center of your mind’s universe. Your conscious mind, despite its familiar, comforting and certain presence, is only one small part of a vast and complex mental universe, and, for much of the time, your conscious mind isn’t even at the center of the action that runs the show of your daily life.

To which you might proclaim, “hogwash, it’s as plain as day that I — that is, my conscious mind — is the be all and end all of my mind.”

And that exclamation, if you were to make it, would put you in a long and noble tradition of science deniers who, if right, would have us believe we live on a flat, young, not-warming earth at the center of the universe. Are you sure this is the kind of company you would like to keep?

I am, nevertheless, sympathetic to your instinctive disbelief. I get it. Had I not spent twenty years of my life studying a variety of philosophical and religious accounts of the mind and identity, I probably wouldn’t have been able to take at face value the results of the scientific research. But I have, so I do.

Admittedly, science is a moving target. What we know now about the mind will evolve and change over time. Nevertheless, I think the genii are out of the bottle.

Most importantly, the conclusions the scientific community have already reached about the mind, and which are now widely regarded as uncontroversial, I think, will usher in a conceptual revolution on par or bigger than the Copernican Revolution.

It is also a revolution that is only just getting underway. Do you want to be a part of it?

As a first introduction to this conceptual revolution, take a look at Strangers to Ourselves or Who’s In Charge?

I’m also in the process of developing a little online course, which will explore the implications of the research described in these books (and others) from a philosophical perspective.

If you want to be the first to receive what I develop, sign-up to my email list or subscribe to my YouTube channel.

If you would prefer a personal guided tour through this research and its implications, let’s talk.

Know Thyself: It May Be An Impossible Maxim

Know ThyselfKnow thyself. It’s a maxim as old as the western intellectual tradition.

Unfortunately, it’s a maxim that may be impossible to honor, especially if you rely only on the examination of your conscious thoughts.

Looking inward to know yourself, research indicates, is probably useless and even misleading.

How can that be possible, you might ask? Surely, the surest things I can know are the contents of my own conscious mind. Can anything be nearer, dearier, or knowier to me?

Well, yes and no.

You do have unique access to the contents of your mind, but not to the processes that produce those contents. Your mind is the product of very many different and often independent processes of your brain, the vast majority of which are unconscious. Your conscious mind is unaware of the unconscious processes and can’t access them.

As a result, when you examine the contents of your conscious mind to figure out why you made one choice rather than another, for example, the processes responsible for that choice are likely to be unknowable to the conscious mind. Rather than admit it has no answer to the question, your mind will normally produce an answer — willy-nilly — based on whatever evidence happens to be available. It won’t even be aware that it has simply made the answer up.

So, to know ourselves better, we should not look inwards to the contents of our minds but instead outwards to our behavior and how others react to it. Because so much of who we are happens unconsciously, we are more likely to develop a better understanding of who we are by examining our behavior in the same way that we examine the behavior of others to understand who they are.

One of the unexpected outcomes of this research into our brains is that other people — even complete strangers — are often as good or better at predicting our behavior than we are. The unique access we have to our own conscious thoughts often impedes our ability to predict and understand our own behavior. Introspection makes us feel more confident about our self-understanding, but it does not necessarily lead to a better or more accurate understanding.

If you are intrigued or horrified by the idea that other people may know you better than you know yourself, take a look at Strangers to Ourselves. It’s a very readable introduction to this research.

I’m also in the process of developing a little online course, which will explore the implications of the research described in this book (and others) from a philosophical perspective. The implications, I think, are huge.

If you want to be the first to receive the course I develop, sign-up to my email list or subscribe to my YouTube channel.

If you would prefer a personal guided tour through this research and its implications, let’s talk.

What Is The Biggest Illusion We All Believe? “I Am In Charge.”

Not In ChargeIf you’re anything like me, you probably think you are your conscious mind. You probably also think your conscious mind is ultimately in control of your day-to-day behavior.

If you’re like me, you’re also wrong.

The latest neuroscience is demonstrating definitively that you are not the master of your mental domain — if by “you,” you mean your conscious mind.

But, but, but, it feels like I’m in charge, you might reply.

Yes, that’s very true, and that’s because there’s a part of your brain which creates the illusion that you have a single unified conscious mind running the show of your day-to-day life.

The reality is that your mind is the product of very many independent brain processes which compete for control of your behavior, and the vast majority of these processes are inaccessible to the conscious part of your brain.

Rather than driving or ruling the rest of the mind, your conscious mind is primarily responsible for explaining and justifying decisions made elsewhere, without having had any input on the vast majority of them! It even takes credit for decisions that experiments can demonstrate were made in other parts of the brain.

If you are intrigued or terrified by the idea that you are not really in control of your day-to-day behavior, I can recommend two books which will introduce you to the neuroscience. Strangers to Ourselves is a little older but very readable. For a more up-to-date and detailed account of the neuroscience, try Who’s In Charge?

I’m also in the process of developing a little online course, which will explore the implications of the research described in these books (and others) from a philosophical perspective. The implications, I think, are huge.

If you want to be the first to receive what I develop, sign-up to my email list or subscribe to my YouTube channel.

If you would prefer a personal guided tour through this research and its implications, let’s talk.

Your Life is Waging War On Your Brain. Follow These Three Easy Tips, and Fight Back Today.

SaveYourBrainBe afraid. Be very afraid.

I’m ninety-nine percent certain that you will recognize yourself in this quote from Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change your Life.

“To the extent to which your daily habits and activities can be performed unthinkingly with minimal effort and little serious attention, you are slowly taking your brain offline — in the long run, permanently. Every moment your brain is offline, you are just a little less alive.

Is a little warning bell of recognition going off somewhere inside of you? It should be. Just about every part of modern life has been designed to let you perform your daily habits and activities “unthinkingly with minimal effort and little serious attention.”

Are you on a treadmill of “same old same old” at work? Are you drifting from one boring and familiar spot to another? Do you zombie-walk through one dull day after another, paying little or no attention to what’s happening around you?

Guess what? Not only are you bored and unhappy, you’re also destroying your brain.

The good news: you can stop, and reverse your brain’s deterioration, but the longer you wait, the harder it will be to reverse the damage done.

Follow these three easy tips, to start the fight to save your brain!

  1. Exercise: Your brain is flesh and blood, and it needs a lot of blood to be healthy. Regular cardiovascular exercise makes all the difference. Lose some weight, and save your brain!
  2. Pay Attention: An alert, concentrated, and focused brain is a happy brain, and happy brains change for the better, when they’re directed towards learning.
  3. Learn: Take a new route to work, explore a new part of town, take up a new hobby, study a new language, read a book that challenges your way of thinking. If you challenge yourself in any part of your life, and aim for steady measurable, progress, your brain will be healthier, and reward you with all kinds of good feelings.

If you want the full story of brain plasticity, give Soft-Wired a look. It’s very accessible, and written for the very casual reader.

In the meantime, go for a brisk walk in a part of town that is unfamiliar to you, explore, and keep an eye out for photos to take, whether your have a camera or not. The focus of your eye will keep your brain alert, and paying attention!

Start the fight to save your brain today! Don’t want to fight this battle alone? Maybe I can help.