As you read this story, perhaps you are sitting in a chair in your living room or on an airplane bound for Cancún. Now dig a little deeper, focus inward, and ask yourself this: What is the location of your internal being, your sense of self, that most essential I? Sure, you exist in your body, in your head presumably, itself ensconced someplace particular in the world. But what if all that were secondary? What if your perception could be altered so that you could be anyone and anyplace at all—leaving without traveling?
The aspects of the Buddha’s teachings that have been preserved in various traditions, share a belief in the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things – a kind of unified theory of everything. In effect, they argue that most of human reality as we know it is a distortion, the result of the delusions that afflict our individual minds, and that we perceive distinctions where none exist. For humans, Buddhists believe, compassion for others is the logical response to the understanding of interdependence and the shared experience of suffering that deluded mind-states cause. Through observation, the “Buddhist scientist” comes to understand the sources of her own confusion and psychic dissonance, and, seeing through the external differences that divide us, can better empathize with others. There is increasing consensus that the sustained practice of meditation can permanently change the structure of the brain and improve attentional capacity.
[From the author]: Currently, I work as a Registered Clinical Counsellor at a post-secondary institution. Yep, I’m a “Shrink.” I don’t tell people how to live their lives, necessarily, but I provide a context within which they can figure that out for themselves. During the privileged process of seeing 5 clients a day, I hear countless stories of resilience and triumph, heartbreak and loss. I get to stand beside people during some of their darkest moments, and witness overwhelming growth and change. One of the many gifts my clients give me is insight into the common human experience: we all suffer. Through this blog, I hope to combine my 7 years of post-secondary education in psychology, biology, and philosophy with my own personal and professional experience to send “wisdom” your way (I use “wisdom” facetiously, as it’s up to you as to whether of not you consider the information useful)!
Can the way we think actually change the wiring, activation patters, and physical landscape of our brains? Our brains are incredibly flexible. Long after the exuberance and the pruning of infancy and childhood, the brain’s connections and structures continue to change, influenced both by internal and external factors. Both physical and psychological trauma can significantly affect brain development, even in mature adults. Recent research points to the possibility that a change in how we think can positively impact how our brains look, function, and make us feel.
Learning more about how our brain and eyes work together to create our vision, will provide us with an opportunity to utilize improvements in technology to bring, or restore, sight to those who have lost it. This connection also illustrates how deeply embedded our bodies are with our environment. For example, the mathematical order behind how our eyes sample large areas, follows a fractal pattern. Studies have shown that our eyes endure less stress when they look at fractal images. Such fractal patterns are found naturally in the structure and appearance of forests and clouds.
Moody. Impulsive. Maddening. Why do teenagers act the way they do? Viewed through the eyes of evolution, their most exasperating traits may be the key to success as adults. Culture clearly shapes adolescence. It influences its expression and possibly its length. It can magnify its manifestations. Yet culture does not create adolescence. The period’s uniqueness rises from genes and developmental processes that have been selected for over thousands of generations because they play an amplified role during this key transitional period: producing a creature optimally primed to leave a safe home and move into unfamiliar territory.
There has been constant talk of the blurring of our online and offline lives. With the current generation of tools, algorithms and utilities, we may have reached a new inflection point in the human race for artificial intelligence. We used to talk in terms of “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.” Soon, we may need another metaphor: “the second brain not knowing what the first brain is doing.”
Being organized is not just about a cluttered desk. It’s about self-regulation, a skill that is developed by the pre-frontal cortex–the seat of executive function in the brain. The left pre-frontal cortex regulates your attention: it evaluates, judges, makes decisions. Those who have naturally strong self-regulation can handle overloads—and those who don’t are left feeling guilty and out of control. But the plasticity of the brain means we can all learn to be better focused and more organized. If you learn how your brain works and work with it, you can start to exercise more cognitive control over your own functioning. The first step is to figure out what is it that you really want that being organized will give you.
The past and future may seem like different worlds, yet the two are intimately intertwined in our minds. In recent studies on mental time travel, neuroscientists found that we use many of the same regions of the brain to remember the past as we do to envision our future lives. In fact, our need for foresight may explain why we can form memories in the first place. They are indeed “a base to build the future.” And together, our senses of past and future may be crucial to our species’ success.
We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, weigh the odds, pack an umbrella. But both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic. On average, we expect things to turn out better than they wind up being. People hugely underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers; and overestimate their likely life span (sometimes by 20 years or more).