Is it possible that the temperature of the drink you are holding has an effect on... your assessment of a person's personality?
2 pictures of the same person, but let me guess... do you find the picture on the right more appealing?
Can the time of the day change how a judge sees a case?
Why do people always bring up past incidents during arguments?
Crowded room, you're in a conversation. Suddenly your name mentioned in another conversation. Why do you notice your name but not everything else?
Would you feel empathy if a virtual hand is pricked by a needle? What if the hand is of a different race? What if it's an alien hand?
Think of something morally disgusting to you. Imagine it playing out. Do you feel sick to your stomach? Bad taste in your mouth? Wait a minute, why is that similar to eating something disgusting?
Are people called Dennis or Denyse more likely to end up as dentists?
How is it possible that the first time children encounter a flower and a snake - no child is scared of the flower, but most children are scared of the snake? Do the children need to be taught, or do they know already? How do they know?
Why is the same drug -Benzodiazepine, given to sore athletes and to those with sleeping disorders?
1) Your brain is the single most complex machine in the world. Your actions, thoughts, and decisions are made through neurons. you have about 90 to 100 billion neurons in your brain. Each neuron has on average about 10,000 synapses, or connections with other neurons, or 1 quadrillion synapses in total.
2) your brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. You still retain features of your brain from long ago. And then mammalian brain. And then your prefrontal cortex. These occur in a loop.
3) In general, there are a few things your brain is intrinsically concerned with;
habits and automation: When you first started learning
Energy Saving: Have you ever felt exhausted after sitting through a series of very interesting lectures? Do you know that a Grandmaster agonising over a difficult game of chess has the same blood pressure as someone runnin a marathon?
Your brain actually takes up a lot of energy to function - think about the quadrillion synapses. In particular, prefrontal cortex processing of new information really sucks up oxygen. To help you with this, the brain automatically finds ways to be efficient:
Thinking in categories: let's say I asked you to imagine:
a line 30cm or a foot long - what did you imagine?
Was it a ruler? For most of us, lengths around 30cm are categorised in your brain as "ruler-length"
What is a good timing to run a mile? Did 4 minutes pop up in your mind?
In the same way, we categorise people as quickly as we can via heuristics: race, wealth, looks, height, academic qualifications. We simplify and put people into categories to reduce the amount of energy in
Selective attention: Say you are in a crowded room. Different conversations are going on, including your own. You don't hear anything outside of a certain radius, but suddenly someone says your name from the other of the room, and you hear it.
4) you are not conscious of most of these; one way to think of your brain is that the different parts are like a jury; what you are conscious of most of the time is the final decision of the jury, without knowing why the decision was made and what different views there are. For many things, your consciousness, whether you are aware of doing soemthing or not, is not needed, and in fact detrimental
5) your brain is constantly changing; the environment affects the expression of your genes; neurogenesis means the growth of new neurons; neuroplasticity is the name of how your brain is constantly changing, not just connections but even its basic structure (your amygdala can grow larger; your prefrontal cortex can atrophy
5) each decision of yours is dependent on many factors: Sapolsky's list
The lowest level, literally the areas at the base of your brain, is called the reptilian brain - even animals that have simpler brain structure such as lizards have a reptilian brain wiring. The reptilian brain takes charge of basic functions of the body, for example the regulation of your body temperature (sweating when you're warm or shivering when you're cold), signalling hunger when your blood glucose falls, releasing hormones for daily survival and so on. This sounds like the boring, simple stuff far removed from the complexities of how we think of life and how we make decisions, but you'll soon see how this seemingly low-level processing can impact our most analytical decisions.
The next level, we have the limbic system, or a mammalian brain: mammals having a more complex brain structure than our reptilian friends. The limbic system deals with emotions: fear, anxiety, arousal, sexual longings, habit formulation and so on.
The top layer, the most recently evolved, is called the cortex. Fun fact: cortex means tree bark in Latin,
Charles Duhigg does a terrific job in"The Power of Habit" explaining what a habit is, how it is developed, and how it can be changed. It has the added benefit of being really well written and appeals to the reader to keep reading, and the book is a short one (even more so if you just read the individual aspects) which you can finish comfortably in one evening.
" We know that a habit cannot be eradicated - it must, instead, be replaced.And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group. The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people. We know that change can happen. Alcoholics can stop drinking. Smokers can quit puffing. Perennial losers can become champions. You can stop biting your nails or snacking at work, yelling at your kids, staying up all night, or worrying over small concerns."
Are you really what you think?
The human brain is the most complex mechanism we know. It has 100 billion neurons, each on average connected (or synapsed) to 10,000 other neurons - a quadrillion synapses, each translating, storing, and processing information.
Your brain makes you who you are. Every thought that ever crossed your mind, every feeling you ever experienced, every decision you ever made—was all generated by neurons firing within it. Yet your very own brain, on the top of your neck, is not fully yours. It is the product of a code that has been written, rewritten, and edited for millions of years.
It has evolved from collective human experience over millions of years, and develops throughout your lifetime based on your own experiences.
your brain is about the same as it is 200,000 years ago.
pre-frontal cortex - experience simulator
happiness of the person the year after winning the lottery and the person the year after being quadriplegic - same.
Impact bias - we overestimate the impact that something happening impacts our lives. Dan Gilbert - after 3 months, most major events do not have an impact on our daily happiness.
Free choice paradigm.
expert intuition - firefighter who asked his team to get off a building. His team asked him why he couldn't explain, just told them get off the building. The building then exploded in flames - expert intuiton. it turns out that his feet had detected an increase in temperature - completely unconscious then, and shaped his behaviour. Nurse who told her father-in-law suddenly one night, lets go to the hospital. FIL protesed he felt fine, but it turns out they got there just in time. Why? Again it was due to that when you are about to get a heart attack, your arteries get clogged and the blood on your face drains. again this was unconscious processing info, just that your consciousness wasnt aware, and u attributed it to gut (correct to some extent)
Kahneman - put soldiers trhough an obsacle course to predict their leadership ability. You can tell how they lead their men through, or so they thought. Kahneman realised that he was performing worse than chance - those he predicted to be leaders did not, and vice versa
Illusion of validity. we have a very bad ability to predict success. And this is true over hundreds of studies. simple mechanical model with just a few variables predicts much better than human experts. Statistical model of a judge making judgement.
weather in bordeaux 10-15 years before wine is sold predicts the price of wine better than best wine-tasters and wine-sellers
Most people who predict the future are actually predicting the past. You think you know and you are extrapolating certain trends which you dont know you are doing and you fail he prediction.
Political analysts cannot predict better thant he average reader of the NY times. Amelia Showalter.
We are literally unable to describe the brain's complexity, it has bankrupted our mathematical language. For example:
"Ok so the brain is complicated. I'm getting bored. My attention is going to shift to another video and another social media feed soon. Do you have a main take-away or not? You should be glad I made it this far but I'm going to stop reading soon."
This page is organised into 3 sections for easy takeaway:
- What are the 4 main behaviours of the brain, and what does this mean?
- What can you do if you want to make this incredible machinery work for you
- Details and deeper information about neurosceince, neurobiology, behaviourial sicence,
Disclaimer: The field of how the brain works and how human behaves is complex, with several overlapping science. This page took me months of research and preparation, with all information coming from an established scientist - currently teaching or researching in an established university. If you this is an area that you're interested in, I would also recommend:
The actual lectures given at Stanford and all 3 books from Robert Sapolsky. Sapolsky is a recognised neuroscientist, endorcrinologist, biologist, and ethologist, and is able to weave all the diferent fields together into a commong understanding. His book, "Behave" is absolutely the best 101 book for everyone
David Eagleman on the unconcsious working of the mind. Like Sapolsky, Eagleman has a whole library of very informative lectures avaialble for free on YouTube
Dr Moran Cerf, on new developments in the realm of neuroscience and behaviour. Cerf's research is absolutely cutting edge, and he has the machinery and the skill (attaching an electrode to a single neuron)
Dr Norman Doidge, on neuroplasticity.
You find it difficult to do 2 effortful things at once. Can you memorise 9 random facts while talking to someone you don't like? Not possible. As brilliant as our brain is, there are limits.
"If you'd only use your gray matter, you'd see the answer in a minute"
Ever wondered why your brain is referred to as Gray Matter? In a brain scan - the congregation of the cell bodies of Neurons is what gives the gray colour. Neurons are what enables your brain to process information and send signals for action. But what about the White Matter? For the neurons to transmit information, electric charges are sent through cable-like Axons. For connections which are often made - the brain makes these connections more efficient by coating the Axons with a fatty casing - Myelin. Myelin enables signals to pass through faster - this explains why what is familiar to you comes quicker - whether it is knowledge or action. This means that if you stick to learning new knowledge or skills, Myelin gradually forms around your Axons making it easier and easier. The same though also applies to bad habits. If you're always resistant to change, Myelin develops on connections between neurons in your Amygdala and Pre-frontal Cortex, making this resistance come quicker and more powerfully.