From the book “THE BRAIN”
by David Eagleman
The cosmos turned out to be larger than we had ever imagined from gazing at the night sky. Similarly, the universe inside our heads extends far beyond the reach of our conscious experience. Today we are gaining the first glimpses of the enormity of this inner space. It seems to require very little effort for you to recognize a friend's face, drive a car, get a joke, or decide what to grab from the refrigerator -but in fact these things are possible only because of vast computations happening below your conscious awareness. At this moment, just like every moment of your life, networks in your brain are buzzing with activity: billions of electrical signals are racing along cells, triggering chemical pulses at trillions of connections between neurons. Simple acts are underpinned by a massive labor force of neurons. You remain blissfully unaware of all their activity, but your life is shaped and colored by what's happening under the hood: how you act, what matters to you, your reactions, your loves and desires, what you believe to be true and false. Your experience is the final output of these hidden networks. So who exactly is steering the ship?
It's morning. The streets of your neighborhood are quiet as the sun peeks above the horizon. In bedrooms all over your city, one by one, an astonishing event is taking place: human consciousness is flickering to life. The most complex object on our planet is becoming aware that it exists.
Just a while ago you, too, were in deep sleep. The biological material of your brain was the same then as it is now, but the activity patterns have slightly changed - so at this moment you're enjoying experiences. You're reading squiggles on a page and extracting meaning from them. You might be feeling sun on your skin and a breeze in your hair. You can think about the position of your tongue in your mouth or the feeling of your left shoe on your foot. Being awake, you're now aware of an identity, a life, needs, desires, plans. Now that the day has begun, you're ready to reflect on your relationships and goals, and guide your actions accordingly.
But how much control does your conscious awareness have over your daily operations?
Consider how you're reading these sentences. When you pass your eyes over this page, you're mostly unaware of the rapid, ballistic jumps made by your eyes. Your eyes aren't moving smoothly across the page; instead, they dart from one fixed point to another. When your eyes are in the middle of a jump they're moving too fast to read. They only take in the text when you stop and fixate on one position, usually for twenty milliseconds or so at a time. We are not aware of these hops and jumps and stops and starts, because your brain goes to a lot of trouble to stabilize your perception of the outside world.
Reading gets even stranger when you consider this: as you read these words, their meaning flows from this sequence of symbols directly into your brain. To get a sense of the complexity of what's involved, try to read this same information in another language: [WHICH THE AUTHOR GIVES - Keith Hunt]
If you happen not to read Bengali, Belarussian, or Korean, then these letters appear to you simply as strange doodles. But once you've mastered reading a script (like this one), the act gives the illusion of being effortless: we are no longer aware that we are performing the arduous chore of deciphering squiggles. Your brain takes care of the work behind the scenes.
So who is in control?
Are you the captain of your own boat, or do your decisions and actions have more to do with massive neural machinery operating out of sight? Does the quality of your everyday life have to do with your good decision making, or instead with dense jungles of neurons and the steady hum of innumerable chemical transmissions?
In this chapter, we'll discover that the conscious you is only the smallest part of the activity of your brain. Your actions, your beliefs and your biases are all driven by networks in your brain to which you have no conscious access.
[WELLLL….WE’LL SEE WHAT HE SAYS, AND IF IT IS CORRECT BY THE WORD OF GOD - Keith Hunt]
The unconscious brain in action
Imagine we're sitting together in a coffee shop. As we're chatting, you notice me lift my cup of coffee to take a sip. The act is so unremarkable that it normally bears no mention unless I spill some on my shirt. But let's give credit where it's due: getting the cup to my mouth is no easy feat. The field of robotics still struggles to make this sort of task run without a hitch. Why? Because this simple act is underpinned by trillions of electrical impulses meticulously coordinated by my brain. My visual system first scans the scene to pinpoint the cup in front of me, and my years of experience trigger memories of coffee in
THE BRAIN FOREST
Beginning in 1887, the Spanish scientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal used his photography background to apply chemical stains to slices of brain tissue. This technique allowed individual cells in the brain, with all their branching beauty, to be seen. It began to become clear that the brain was a system of complexity for which we had no equivalent, and no language to capture it.
With the advent of mass-produced microscopes and new methods of staining cells, scientists began to describe - at least in general terms - the neurons that comprise our brains. These wondrous structures come in an intriguing variety of shapes and sizes, and are wired up in an impenetrably dense forest that scientists will be working to untangle for many decades to come.
other situations. My frontal cortex deploys signals on a journey to my motor cortex, which precisely coordinates muscle contractions - throughout my torso, arm, forearm, and hand - so I can grasp the cup. As I touch the cup, my nerves carry back reams of information about the cups weight, its position in space, its temperature, the slipperiness of the handle, and so on. As that information streams up the spinal cord and into the brain, compensating information streams back down, passing like fast-flowing traffic on a two-way road. This information emerges from a complex choreography between parts of my brain with names like basal ganglia, cerebellum, somatosensory cortex, and many more. In fractions of a second, adjustments are made to the force with which I'm lifting and the strength of my grip. Through intensive calculations and feedback, I adjust my muscles to keep the cup level as I smoothly move it on its long arc upward. I make micro-adjustments all along the way, and as it approaches my lips I tilt the cup just enough to extract some liquid without scalding myself.
It would take dozens of the world's fastest supercomputers to match the computational power required to pull off this feat. Yet I have no perception of this lightning storm in my brain. Although my neural networks are screaming with activity, my conscious awareness experiences something quite different. Something more like total obliviousness. The conscious me is engrossed in our conversation. So much so that I may even be shaping the airflow through my mouth while I'm lifting the cup, holding up my end of a complex conversation.
All I know is whether I get the coffee to my mouth or not. If executed perfectly, I'm likely to not even have noticed that I performed the act at all.
A description of the brain's computations to lift a cup of coffee to my mouth would fill volumes. But it's all invisible to my conscious mind: I only know whether I got it to my mouth or not.
The unconscious machinery of our brains is at work all the time, but it runs so smoothly that we're typically unaware of its operations. As a result, it's often easiest to appreciate only when it stops working. What would it be like if we had to consciously think about simple actions that we normally take for granted, such as the seemingly straightforward act of walking? To find out, I went to speak with a man named Ian Waterman.
When Ian was nineteen years old, he suffered a rare type of nerve damage as a result of a fierce case of gastric flu. He lost the sensory nerves that tell the brain about touch, as well as the position of one's own limbs (known as proprioception). As a result, Ian could no longer manage any of the movements of his body automatically. Doctors told him that he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, despite the fact that his muscles were fine. A person simply can't get around without knowledge of where his body is. Although we rarely pause to appreciate it, the feedback we get from the world and from our muscles makes possible the complex movements we manage every moment of the day.
Even with your eyes closed, you know where your limbs are: is your left arm up or down? Are your legs straight or bent? Is your back straight or slumped? This capacity to know the state of your muscles is called proprioception. Receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints provide information about the angles of your joints, as well as the tension and length of your muscles. Collectively, this gives the brain a rich picture of how the body is positioned and allows for fast adjustments.
You can experience your proprioception fail temporarily if you've ever attempted to walk after one of your legs has gone to sleep. Pressure on your squeezed sensory nerves has prevented the proper signals from being sent and received. Without a sense of the position of your own limbs, simple acts like cutting food, typing, or walking are almost impossible.
Ian wasn't willing to let his condition confine him to a life without movement. So he gets up and goes, but the whole of his waking life requires him to think consciously about every movement his body makes. With no sense of awareness of where his limbs are, Ian has to move his body with focussed, conscious determination. He uses his visual system to monitor the position of his limbs. As he walks, Ian leans his head forward to watch his limbs as best he can. To keep his balance, he compensates by making sure his arms are extended behind him. Because Ian can't feel his feet touch the floor, he must anticipate the exact distance of each step and land it with his leg braced. Every step he takes is calculated and coordinated by his conscious mind.
Because of a rare disease, Ian Waterman lost the sensory signaling from his body. His brain no longer has access to touch and proprioception. As a result, every step he takes requires conscious planning and constant visual monitoring of his limbs.
Having lost his ability to walk automatically, Ian is highly cognizant of the miraculous coordination that most of us take for granted when going on a stroll. Everyone around him is moving around so fluidly and so seamlessly, he points out, that they're totally unaware of the amazing system that's managing that process for them.
If he is momentarily distracted, or an unrelated thought pops into his head, Ian is likely to fall. All distractions have to be tucked away while he concentrates on the smallest of details: the slope of the ground, the swing of his leg.
If you were to spend time with Ian for even a minute or two, it would immediately bring to light the exceeding complexity of the everyday acts we never even think to speak of: getting up, crossing the room, opening the door, reaching out to shake a hand. Despite first appearances, those acts aren't simple at all. So the next time you see a person walking, or jogging, or skateboarding, or riding a bicycle, take a moment to marvel not only at the beauty of the human body, but at the power of the unconscious brain that flawlessly orchestrates it. The intricate details of our most basic movements are animated by trillions of calculations, all buzzing along at a spatial scale smaller than you can see, and a complexity scale beyond what you can comprehend. We have yet to build robots that scratch the edges of human performance. And while a supercomputer racks up enormous energy bills, our brains work out what to do with baffling efficiency, using about the energy of a 60-watt light bulb.
Burning skills into the wiring of the brain
Neuroscientists often unlock clues into brain function by examining people who are specialized in some area. To that end, I went to meet Austin Naber, a ten-year-old boy with an extraordinary talent: he holds the children's world record for a sport known as cup stacking.
In quick, fluid movements impossible to follow with your eyes, Austin transforms a stacked column of plastic cups into a symmetrical display of three separate pyramids. Then, with both hands dashing, he telescopes the pyramids back down into two short columns, and then transmutes the columns into a single, tall pyramid, which is then collapsed into the original column of cups.
An EEG, short for electroencephalogram, is a method for eavesdropping on the overall electrical activity that arises from the activity of neurons. Small electrodes placed on the surface of the scalp pick up on "brain waves", the colloquial term for the averaged electrical signals produced by the underlying detailed neural chatter.
German physiologist and psychiatrist Hans Berger recorded the first human EEG in 1924, and researchers in the 1930s and 1940s identified several different types of brain waves: Delta waves (below 4 Hz) occur during sleep; Theta waves (4-7 Hz) are associated with sleep, deep relaxation, and visualization; Alpha waves (8-13 Hz) occur when we are relaxed and calm; Beta waves (13-38 Hz) are seen when we are actively thinking and problem solving. Other ranges of brain waves have been identified as important since then, including Gamma waves (39-100 Hz) which are involved in concentrated mental activity, such as reasoning and planning.
Our overall brain activity is a mix of all these different frequencies, but depending on what we're doing we'll exhibit some more than others.
Austin Naber is the world under-10 champion in cup stacking. He runs through a specified routine of moves, constructing and deconstructing cup towers in seconds.
He does this all in five seconds. I tried it, and it took me forty-three seconds on my best run.
Watching Austin in action, you might expect his brain to be working overtime, burning an enormous amount of energy to coordinate these complex actions so quickly. To put this expectation to the test, I set out to measure his brain activity - and my own - during a head-to-head cup-stacking challenge. With the aid of researcher Dr. Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, Austin and I were fitted with electrode caps to measure the electrical activity caused by populations of neurons beneath the skull. The brain waves measured by the electroencephalogram (EEG) would be read from both of us for direct comparison of our brains' effort during the task. With both of us rigged up, we now had a crude window into the world inside our skulls.
Austin walked me through the steps of his routine. So as not to get smoked too badly by a ten-year-old, I practiced over and over for about twenty minutes before the official challenge began.
My efforts made no difference in the end. Austin beat me. I wasn't even an eighth of the way through the routine when he slammed the cups victoriously into their final configuration.
The defeat was not unexpected, but what did the EEG reveal? If Austin runs this routine eight times as quickly, it seems a reasonable assumption that it would cost him that much more energy. But that assumption overlooks a basic rule about how brains take on new skills. As it turns out, the EEG result showed that my brain, not Austins, was the one working overtime, burning an enormous amount of energy to run this complex new task. My EEG showed high activity in the Beta wave frequency band, which is associated with extensive problem solving. Austin, on the other hand, had high activity in the Alpha wave band, a state associated with the brain at rest. Despite the speed and complexity of his actions, Austin's brain was serene.
Conscious thought burns energy. The bottom panel shows maps of the EEG activity in my brain (left) and in Austin's (right). The color represents the amplitude of the activity.
Austin's talent and speed is the end result of physical changes in his brain. During his years of practice, specific patterns of physical connections have formed. He has carved the skill of cup stacking into the structure of his neurons. As a consequence, Austin now expends much less energy to stack cups. My brain, in contrast, is attacking the problem by conscious deliberation. I'm using general-purpose cognitive software; he's transferred the skill into specialized cognitive hardware.
When we practice new skills, they become physically hardwired, sinking below the level of consciousness. Some people are tempted to call this muscle memory, but in fact the skills are not stored in the muscles: instead, a routine like cup stacking is orchestrated across the thick jungles of connections in Austin's brain.
Practiced stalls become written into the micro-structure of the brain.
The detailed structure of the networks in Austin's brain has changed with his years of cup-stacking practice. A procedural memory is a long-term memory that represents how to do things automatically, like riding a bicycle or tying shoelaces. For Austin, cup stacking has become a procedural memory that is written into the microscopic hardware of his brain, making his actions both rapid and energy-efficient. Through practice, repeated signals have been passed along neural networks, strengthening synapses and thereby burning the skill into the circuitry. In fact, Austin's brain has developed such expertise that he can run flawlessly through the cup-stacking routine while wearing a blindfold.
In my case, as I learn to stack cups, my brain is enlisting slow, energy-hungry areas like the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex and cerebellum - all of which are no longer needed for Austin to run the routine. In the early days of learning a new motor skill, the cerebellum plays a particularly important role, coordinating the flow of movements required for accuracy and perfect timing.
As a skill becomes hardwired, it sinks below the level of conscious control. At that point, we can perform a task automatically and without thinking about it - that is, without conscious awareness. In some cases, a skill is so hardwired that the circuitry underlying it is found below the brain, in the spinal cord. This has been observed in cats who have had much of their brain removed, and yet can still walk normally on a treadmill: the complex programs involved in gait are stored at a low level of the nervous system.
[SO HENCE ANY NEW SKILL, LIKE PLAYING A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT - SIGHT READING MUSIC - JUGGLING THREE OR MORE TENNIS BALLS ETC. AND ETC. - Keith Hunt]
Running on autopilot
Throughout our lives, our brains rewrite themselves to build dedicated circuitry for the missions we practice - whether that's walking, surfing, juggling, swimming, or driving. This ability to burn programs into the structure of the brain is one of its most powerful tricks. It can solve the problem of complex movement using such little energy by wiring dedicated circuitry into the hardware. Once etched into the circuitry of the brain these skills can be run without thinking - without conscious effort - and this frees up resources, allowing the conscious me to attend to, and absorb, other tasks.
There is a consequence to this automization: new skills sink below the reach of conscious access. You lose access to the sophisticated programs running under the hood, so you don't know precisely how you do what you do. When you walk up a flight of stairs while having
SYNAPSES AND LEARNING
The connections between neurons are called synapses. These connections are where chemicals called neurotransmitters carry signals between neurons. But synaptic connections are not all of the same strength: depending on their history of activity, they can become stronger or weaker. As synapses change their potency, information flows through the network differently. If a connection gets weak enough, it withers and goes away. If it gets strengthened, it can sprout new connections. Some of this reconfiguring is guided by reward systems, which globally broadcast a neurotransmitter called dopamine when something has gone well. Austin's brain networks have been reshaped - very slowly, very subtly - by the success or failure of each attempted move, over hundreds of hours of practice.
a conversation, you have no idea how you calculate the dozens of micro-corrections of your body's balance and how your tongue dynamically whips around to produce the right sounds for your language. These are difficult tasks that you couldn't always do. But because your actions become automatic and unconscious, this begets your capacity to run on autopilot. We all know the feeling of driving home along your daily route and suddenly realizing you've arrived with no real memory of the drive. The skills involved in driving have become so automatized that you can run the routines unconsciously. The conscious you - the part that flickered to life when you woke up in the morning - is no longer the driver, but at best a passenger along for the ride.
There's an interesting upshot to automatized skills: attempts to consciously interfere with them typically worsen their performance. Learned proficiencies - even very complex ones - are best left to their own devices.
This is your brain on flow. Dean tries not to think while he climbs without a rope. Conscious interference would worsen his performance.
Consider rock climber Dean Potter: until his recent death, he scaled cliffs without a rope and without safety equipment. From the age of twelve, Dean dedicated his life to climbing. Years of practice hardwired great precision and skill into his brain. To achieve his rock-climbing prowess, Dean relied on these over-trained circuits to do their work, unimpeded by conscious deliberation. He gave over complete control to his unconscious. He climbed in a brain state often referred to as "flow", a state in which extreme athletes commonly enjoy the far limits of their capacities. Like many athletes, Dean found his way into the flow state by putting himself in life-threatening danger. In that state, he experienced no meddling from his inner voice, and he could rely completely on the climbing abilities carved into his hardware over years of dedicated training.
Like cup-stacking champion Austin Naber, the brain waves of an athlete in flow are not crazed by the chatter of conscious deliberation (Do I look good? Should I have said such-and-such? Did I lock the door behind me?). During flow, the brain enters a state of hypofrontality, meaning that parts of the prefrontal cortex temporarily become less active. These are areas involved in abstract thinking, planning into the future, and concentrating on one's sense of self. Dialing down these background operations is the key move that allows a person to hang halfway up a rock face; feats like Dean's can only be done without the distraction of internal prattle.
It's often the case that consciousness is best left at the sidelines - and for some types of tasks, there's really no choice, because the unconscious brain can perform at speeds that the conscious mind is too slow to keep up with.
Take the game of baseball, in which a fastball can travel from the pitcher's mound to the home plate at one hundred miles an hour. In order to make contact with the ball, the brain has only about four tenths of a second to react. In that time it has to process and orchestrate an intricate sequence of movements to hit the ball. Batters connect with balls all the time, but they're not doing it consciously: the ball simply travels too quickly for the athelete to be consciously aware of its position, and the hit is over before the batter can register what happened. Not only has consciousness been left on the sidelines, it's also been left in the dust.
The deep caverns of the unconscious
The reach of the unconscious mind extends beyond control of our bodies. It shapes our lives in more profound ways. The next time you're in a conversation, notice the way words spill out of your mouth more quickly than you could possibly consciously control every word you say. Your brain is working behind the scenes, crafting and producing language, conjugations, and complex thoughts for you. (For comparison, compare your speed when speaking a foreign language that you're just learning!)
The same behind-the-scenes work is true of ideas. We take conscious credit for all our ideas, as though we've done the hard work in generating them. But in fact, your unconscious brain has been working on those ideas - consolidating memories, trying out new combinations, evaluating the consequences - for hours or months before the idea rises to your awareness and you declare, "I just thought of something!"
The man who first began to illuminate the hidden depths of the unconscious was one of the most influential scientists of the twentieth century. Sigmund Freud entered medical school in Vienna in 1873, and specialized in neurology. When he opened his private practice for the treatment of psychological disorders, he realized that often his patients had no conscious knowledge of what was driving their behavior. Freud's insight was that much of their behavior was a product of unseen mental processes. This simple idea transformed psychiatry, ushering in a new way of understanding human drives and emotions.
Before Freud, aberrant mental processes went unexplained or were described in terms of demonic possession, weak will, and so on. Freud insisted on seeking the cause in the physical brain.
[THE TRUTH IS IT CAN SOMETIMES INDEED BE DEMONIC POSSESSION OR INFLUENCE, BUT THESE PEOPLE LIKE FREUD WILL NEVER ADMIT THAT - Keith Hunt]
He had patients lie down on a couch in his office so that they didn't have to look directly at him, and then he would get them to talk. In an era before brain scans, this was the best window into the world of the unconscious brain. His method was to gather information in patterns of behavior, in the content of dreams, in slips of the tongue, in mistakes of the pen. He observed like a detective, seeking clues to the unconscious neural machinery to which patients had no direct access.
He became convinced that the conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg of our mental processes, while the much larger part of what drives our thoughts and behaviors lies hidden from view.
[WHAT LIES BENEATH IN “NORMAL” MINDED PEOPLE IS THE “SPIRIT IN MAN” THAT MAKES OUR MINDS SO VASTLY DIFFERENT THAN ANY ANIMAL MIND - Keith Hunt]
Freud suggested that the mind is like an iceberg, the majority of it hidden from our awareness.
Freud's speculation turned out to be correct, and one consequence is that we don't typically know the roots of our own choices. Our brains constantly pull information from the environment and use it to steer our behavior, but often the influences around us are not recognized. Take an effect called "priming", in which one thing influences the perception of something else. For example, if you're holding a warm drink you'll describe your relationship with a family member more favorably; when you're holding a cold drink, you'll express a slightly poorer opinion of the relationship. Why does this happen? Because the brain mechanisms for judging intrapersonal warmth overlap with the mechanisms for judging physical warmth, and so one influences the other. The upshot is that your opinion about something as fundamental as your relationship with your
NUDGING THE UNCONSCIOUS
In their book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein laid out an approach to improving "decisions about health, wealth, and happiness" by playing to the brain's unconscious networks. A small nudge in our environment can change our behavior and decision making for the better, without us being aware of it. Placing fruit at eye level in supermarkets nudges people to make healthier food choices. Pasting a picture of a housefly in urinals at airports nudges men to aim better. Automatically opting employees into retirement plans (with the freedom to opt out if they'd like to) leads to better saving practices. This view of governance is called soft paternalism, and Thaler and Sunstein believe that gently guiding the unconscious brain has a far more powerful influence on our decision making than outright enforcement ever can.
[SURE OUTSIDE THINGS LIKE THE ABOVE CAN HAVE AN EFFECT ON PEOPLE; IT WOULD BE LIKE POSTING UP A SMASHED UP BODY IN A CAR GOING TOO FAST, ON A HIGH SCHOOL BULLETIN BOARD, TO GET A MESSAGE ACROSS TO STAY WITHIN SPEED LIMITS. BUT DEEPLY DISLIKING SOMEONE WITH BAD CHARACTER, I DOUBT WOULD CHANGE IF HOLDING A GLASS OF WARM WATER - Keith Hunt]
mother can be manipulated by whether you take your tea hot or iced. Similarly, when you are in a foul-smelling environment, you'll make harsher moral decisions - for example, you're more likely to judge that someone else's uncommon actions are immoral. In another study, it was shown that if you sit in a hard chair you'll be a more hard-line negotiator in a business transaction; in a soft chair you'll yield more.
[COULD BE THIS MIGHT BE TRUE WITH SOME, BUT IT WILL NOT WORK WITH EVERYONE; AND ESPECIALLY SO IF A PERSON HAS THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD - Keith Hunt]
Take as another example the unconscious influence of "implicit egotism", which describes our attraction to things that remind us of ourselves. When social psychologist Brett Pelham and his team analyzed the records of graduates from dental and law schools, they found a statistical overrepresentation of dentists named Dennis or Denise, and of lawyers named Laura or Laurence. They also found that owners of roofing companies are more likely to have a first name beginning with R while hardware store owners are more likely to have a first name beginning with H. But is our career choice the only place where we make these decisions? It turns out that our love lives may be heavily influenced by these similarities too. When psychologist John Jones and his colleagues looked at the marriage registers in Georgia and Florida they discovered that more married couples than expected shared the same first initial. This means that Jenny is more likely to marry Joel, Alex marry Amy, and Donny marry Daisy. These kinds of unconscious effects are small but verifiable.
[WELL THEY MIGHT BE VERIFIABLE BUT ONLY TO A POINT; IN ALL MY YEARS (75 NOW) I’VE NOT MET THAT MANY COUPLES WHO HAVE THE SAME FIRST INITIAL IN THEIR NAMES. YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE THIS “PROOF” OF ANY PROOF - Keith Hunt]
Here's the critical point: if you were to ask any of these Dennises or Lauras or Jennys why they chose their profession or their mate, they would have a conscious narrative to give you. But that narrative wouldn't include the long reach of their unconscious on some of their most important life choices.
[THIS IS GETTING INTO HOCAS- POCAS STUFF THAT IS REALLY SILLY; LIKE SETTING YOUR LIFE AROUND ASTROLOGY AND PALM-READING AND NOT WALKING UNDER A LADDER - Keith Hunt]
Take another experiment designed by psychologist Eckhard Hess in 1965. Men were asked to look at photographs of women's faces and make judgments about them. How attractive were they, on a scale from one to ten? Were they happy or sad? Mean or kind? Friendly or unfriendly? Unbeknownst to the participants, the photographs had been manipulated. In half of the photographs, the women's pupils had been artificially dilated. The pupils of the women on the left have been artificially dilated. Each man saw one version or the other.
The men found the women with dilated eyes to be more attractive. None of the men explicitly noted anything about women's pupil sizes - and presumably none of the men knew that dilated eyes are a biological sign of female arousal. But their brains knew it. And the men were unconsciously steered toward the women with the dilated eyes, finding them to be more beautiful, happier, kinder, and more friendly.
[AGAIN THIS IS LAUGHABLE; IT SURE WOULD NOT WORK WITH ME AND MAYBE THAT IS WHY TWO OTHER TESTS HE GAVE IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, DID NOT WORK ON ME - WE ARE NOW INTO PSYCHOLOGICAL MUMBO-JUMBO - Keith Hunt]
Really, this is how love often goes. You find yourself more attracted to some people over others, and it's generally not possible to put your finger on precisely why. Presumably there is a why; you just don't have access to it.
[HE FORGETS THE FACT THAT WHAT ONE IS ATTRACTED TO IS NOT WHAT SOMEONE ELSE IS ATTRACTED TO; WHAT IS BEAUTY AND ATTRACTION TO ONE IS NOT TO ANOTHER; OR AS THEY ALSO SAY, BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER - Keith Hunt]
In another experiment, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller quantified how sexually attractive a woman is to a man by recording the earnings of lap dancers in a strip club. And he tracked how this changed over their monthly menstruation cycle. As it turned out, men gave twice as much in tips when the dancer was ovulating (fertile) as when she was menstruating (not fertile). But the strange part is that the men weren't consciously aware of the biological changes that attend the monthly cycle - that when she is ovulating, a surge of the hormone estrogen changes her appearance subtly, making her features more symmetrical, her skin softer, and her waist narrower. But they detected these fertility cues nonetheless, under the radar of awareness.
[MORE MUMBO-JUMBO; A WOMAN DOES NOT CHANGE ALL THAT MUCH DURING A MONTHLY CYCLE, NOT THE NORMAL, EVERYTHING IN BALANCE WOMAN. AND AGAIN BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. MOST MEN ARE ATTRACTED TO A NICE FACE AND FIGURE, NO MATTER IF THE WOMAN IS WEARING MAKE-UP OR NOT, HAVING HER PERIOD OR NOT. A WOMAN CAN LOOK BAD IF SHE HAS NOT HAD ENOUGH SLEEP, BEEN BURNING THE CANDLE AT EACH END, SO ALSO FOR MEN; A NORMAL WOMAN DOES NOT HAVE TO LOOK ANY DIFFERENT AT ANY TIME OF THE MONTH, IF SHE IS FOLLOWING ALL THE LAWS OF GOOD HEALTH - I’VE WORKED AROUND WOMEN MOST OF MY LIFE IN THE MUSIC WORLD AND HORSE WORLD, TO GIVE THIS RESPONSE OF MINE - Keith Hunt]
These kinds of experiments reveal something fundamental about how brains operate. The job of this organ is to gather information about the world and steer your behavior appropriately. It doesn't matter if your conscious awareness is involved or not. And most of the time it's not. Most of the time you are not aware of the decisions being made on your behalf.
[GARBAGE TO THAT…… YOU AS A NORMAL PERSON ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR MIND, WHAT YOU THINK AND HOW YOU ACT, AND DECIDE ON LIVING. AND THERE ARE MANY THINGS YOU CAN DO TO DECIDE HOW YOU GO. YOU CAN STAY AWAY FROM BAD COMPANY THAT WOULD GET YOU INTO DRUGS AND CRIMINAL LIFE; YOU CAN WORK TOWARDS A JOB THAT WILL GIVE YOU MUCH SATISFACTION; YOU CAN DECIDE TO BE A POSITIVE, HAPPY, LOVING PERSON, OR AS PEOPLE MAY SAY, “HE/SHE IS A REAL BITCH!” YOU CAN DECIDE TO GO TO PEOPLE WITH THE KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS YOU DO NOT HAVE, AND OBTAIN THEIR HELP OR COUNSEL ON A MATTER. THERE ARE DOZENS OF THINGS THAT YOU HAVE CONTROL OVER AS YOU LIVE YOUR DAILY LIFE; YOUR MIND IS NOT ARBITRARILY UNSEEN FROM YOU MAKING DECISIONS YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER. YOU CAN DECIDE TO NOT USE BAD LANGUAGE AND PROFANITY; YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT CLUBS AND ENTERTAINMENT YOU WILL BE PART OF OR NOT PART OF. YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT HOBBIES YOU WILL PERSUE. YOU CAN DECIDE HOW MUCH SLEEP YOU WILL HAVE EACH DAY, BE IT GOOD OR BAD. YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT FOODS YOU WILL EAT FOR YOUR HEALTH, AND WHERE TO GO TO FIND THAT HEALTH KNOWLEDGE. ON AND ON….. IF YOU ARE A NORMAL PERSON WITH A NORMAL BRAIN, YOU ARE ALWAYS IN CHARGE OF YOUR MIND - Keith Hunt]
Why are we conscious?
So why aren't we just unconscious beings? Why aren't we all wandering around like mindless zombies? Why did evolution build a brain that's conscious? To answer this, imagine walking along a local street, minding your own business. All of a sudden something catches your eye: someone ahead of you is dressed up in a giant bee costume, holding a briefcase. If you were to watch the human bee, you'd notice how people who catch a glimpse of him react: they break out of their automated routines and stare.
Consciousness gets involved when the unexpected happens, when we need to work out what to do next. Although the brain tries to tick along as long as possible on autopilot, it's not always possible in a world that throws curveballs.
We mostly walk around in our own mental worlds, passing strangers in the street without registering any details about them. But when something challenges our unconscious expectations, conscious attention comes online to try to build a rapid model of what's happening.
But consciousness isn't just about reacting to surprises. It also plays a vital role in settling conflict within the brain. Billions of neurons participate in tasks ranging from breathing to moving through your bedroom to getting food into your mouth to mastering a sport. These tasks are each underpinned by vast networks in the machinery of the brain. But what happens if there's a conflict? Say you find yourself reaching for an ice cream sundae, but you know that you'll regret having eaten it. In a situation like that, a decision has to be made. A decision that works out what's best for the organism - you - and your long-term goals. Consciousness is the system that has this unique vantage point, one that no other subsystem of the brain has. And for this reason, it can play the role of arbiter of the billions of interacting elements, subsystems and burnt-in processes. It can make plans and set goals for the system as a whole.
I think of consciousness as the CEO of a large sprawling corporation, with many thousands of subdivisions and departments all collaborating and interacting and competing in different ways. Small companies don't need a CEO - but when an organization reaches sufficient size and complexity, it needs a CEO to stay above the daily details and to craft the long-view of the company.
Although the CEO has access to very few details of the day-to-day running of the company, he or she always has the long-view of the company in mind. A CEO is a company's most abstract view of itself. In terms of the brain, consciousness is a way for billions of cells to see themselves as a unified whole, a way for a complex system to hold up a mirror to itself.
[CONSCIOUSNESS IS WHAT I’VE SAID, A MIND WITH A “SPIRIT IN MAN” THAT IS IN CONTROL Of THE MIND, THE BRAIN, TO DECIDE IN EVERYTHING; TO GO HERE, TO GO THERE, TO DO THIS, TO DO THAT; TO INQUIRE INTO THIS OR THAT, TO QUESTION, TO ASK, TO THINK ABOUT THINGS; TO REALIZE AN ERROR YOU’VE DONE, TO LEARN FROM IT, TO APOLOGIZE TO SOMEONE IF SO NEEDED, AND TO SET YOUR MIND TO DO BETTER. HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS IS KNOWING YOU ARE, AND CAN MOVE IN MIND AND BODY, TO A PLACE OF LIVING THAT NO OTHER CREATURE ON EARTH CAN DO, FOR THE BETTERMENT OF YOURSELF AND PEOPLE AROUND YOU, OR FOR THE WORSE OF YOU AND OTHERS THAT COME IN CONTACT WITH YOU - Keith Hunt]
When consciousness goes missing
What if consciousness doesn't kick in and we are lost in autopilot for too long?
Ken Parks, aged twenty-three, found out on May 23rd 1987, when he fell asleep at home while watching TV. At the time, he lived with his five-month-old daughter and his wife, and was going through financial difficulties, marital problems and a gambling addiction. He had planned to discuss his problems with his in-laws the following day. His mother-in-law described him as a "gentle giant" and he got along well with both of his wife's parents. At some point during the night, he got up, drove twenty-three kilometers to his in-laws' house, strangled his father-in-law, and stabbed his mother-in-law to death. He then drove to the nearest police station, and said to the officer, "I think I just killed someone."
He had no memory of what had happened. It seemed somehow that his conscious mind was absent during this horrific episode. What had gone wrong with Ken's brain? Parks' lawyer, Marlys Edwardh, assembled a team of experts to help figure out this mystery. They soon began to suspect the events might be connected to Ken's sleep. While Ken was in prison, his lawyer called in sleep expert Roger Broughton, who measured Ken's EEG signals while he slept at night. The recorded output was consistent with that of a sleep walker.
As the team investigated further, they found sleep disorders throughout Kens extended family. With no motive, no way to fake his sleep results, and such extensive family history, Ken was found not guilty of homicide, and he was released.
Kenneth Parks leaves the courtroom, a free man after killing his in-laws. His lawyer, Mariys Edwardh, said: "The verdict was stunning …. it was a moral vindication for Ken. The judge said he was free to go."
[THAT IS A SITUATION WHERE YOU, YOUR CONSCIOUS YOU, HAS NO CONTROL OVER; SLEEP WALKING IS A REAL SICKNESS; YOU DO NOT REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE DONE IN ANY LARGE IN-CONTROL WAY. MY MOTHER TOLD ME WHEN I WAS ABOUT 10 THAT I WAS SLEEPING WALKING ONE NIGHT; SHE TOLD ME TO GO BACK TO BED, WHICH I DID. THE NEXT DAY SHE TOLD ME WHAT HAPPENED, BUT I HAD NO RECALL AT ALL THAT I WAS SLEEP WALKING AROUND THE HOUSE - Keith Hunt]
So who is in control?
All this might leave you wondering what control the conscious mind really has. Is it possible that we are living our lives like puppets at the mercy of a system that is pulling our strings and determining what we do next? There are some who believe this is the case and that our conscious minds have no control over what we do.
[I SURE DO NOT BELIEVE THAT - Keith Hunt]
Let's dig into this question via a simple example. You drive up to a fork in the road where you can either turn left or right. There is no obligation for you to turn one way or the other, but today, at this moment, you feel like you want to turn right. So you turn right. But why did you turn right, and not left? Because you felt like it? Or because inaccessible mechanisms in your brain decided it for you? Consider this: the neural signals that move your arms to turn the steering wheel come from your motor cortex, but those signals don't originate there. They're driven by other regions of the frontal lobe, which are in turn driven by many other parts of the brain, and so on in a complex linkage that criss-crosses the brain's entire network.
There is never a time zero when you decide to do something, because every neuron in the brain is driven by other neurons; there seems to be no part of the system that acts independently rather than reacts dependably. Your decision to turn right - or left - is a decision that reaches back in time: seconds, minutes, days, a lifetime. Even when decisions seem spontaneous, they don't exist in isolation.
So when you roll up to that fork in the road carrying your lifetimes history with you, who exactly is responsible for the decision? These considerations lead to the deep question of free will. If we rewound history one hundred times, would you always do the same thing?
The feeling of free will
We feel like we have autonomy - that is, we make our choices freely. But under some circumstances it's possible to demonstrate that this feeling of autonomy can be illusory. In one experiment, Professor Alvaro Pascual-Leone at Harvard invited participants to his lab for a simple experiment.
The participants sat in front of a computer screen with both hands outstretched. When the screen turned red, they would make an internal choice about which hand they were going to move - but they wouldn't actually move. Then the light turned yellow, and when it finally turned green the person activated their pre-chosen move, lifting either their right or left hand.
Then the experimenters introduced a twist. They used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which discharges a magnetic pulse and excites the area of the brain underneath, to stimulate the motor cortex and initiate movement in either the left or right hand. Now, during the yellow light, they gave the TMS pulse (or, in the control condition, just the sound of the pulse).
The TMS intervention made subjects favor one hand over another - for example, stimulation over the left motor cortex made participants more likely to lift their right hand. But the interesting part was that subjects reported the feeling of having wanted to move the hand that was being manipulated by TMS. In other words, they might internally choose to move their left hand during the red light, but then, after stimulation during the yellow light, they might feel that they really had wanted to move their right hand all along. Although the TMS was initiating the movement in their hand, many of the participants felt as if they had made decisions of their own free will. Pascual-Leone reports that participants often said they had meant to switch their choice. Whatever the activity in their brain was up to, they took credit for it as though it were freely chosen. The conscious mind excels at telling itself the narrative of being in control.
Even after an experimenter manipulates a choice by stimulating the brain, participants often claim that their decision was freely chosen.
[WE ARE NOT HUMANS HOOKED UP TO A MACHINE TO DO THIS OR THAT WITH OUR BRAINS. WE ARE IN CONTROL OF TURNING LEFT OR RIGHT, WHEN WE HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE BUT LEFT OR RIGHT. AS NORMAL HUMANS, EVERYTHING WORKING AS NORMAL, WE ARE IN CONTROL OF OUR BRAIN, WE ARE NOT SOMEHOW FORCED, BY WHATEVER IN THE PAST, TO TURN RIGHT OR TURN LEFT; WE HAVE TO DECIDE SIMPLE AS THAT. IT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS TO SAY, “OKAY BRAIN, DECIDE WHICH WAY WE GO, LEFT OR RIGHT.” UNDER EVERYTHING BEING NORMAL WE DECIDE WHAT WE THINK AND HOW WE ACT - Keith Hunt]
Experiments like these expose the problematic nature of trusting our intuitions about the freedom of our choices. At the moment, neuroscience doesn't have the perfect experiments to entirely rule free will out; it's a complex topic, and one that our science may simply be too young to address thoroughly. But let's entertain for a moment the prospect that there really is no free will; when you arrive at that fork in the road, your choice is predetermined. On the face of it, a life that's predictable doesn't sound like a life worth living.
The good news is that the brain's immense complexity means that in actuality, nothing is predictable. Imagine a tank with rows of ping pong balls along the bottom - each one delicately poised on its own mouse trap, sprung and ready. If you were to drop in one more ping pong ball from the top, it should be relatively straightforward to mathematically predict where it will land. But as soon as that ball hits the bottom, it sets off an unpredictable chain reaction. It triggers other balls to be flung from their mousetraps, and those trigger yet other balls, and the situation quickly explodes in complexity. Any error in the initial prediction, no matter how small, becomes magnified as balls collide and bounce off the sides and land on other balls. Soon it's utterly impossible to make any kind of forecast about where the balls will be.
Ping pong balls on mouse traps follow physical rules. But where they end up is impossible to predict in practice. Similarly, your billions of brain cells and their trillions of signals interact every second. Although it's a physical system, we could never predict precisely what is going to happen next.
Our brains are like this ping pong ball tank, but massively more complex. You might be able to fit a few hundred ping pong balls in a tank, but your skull houses trillions of times more interactions than the tank, and it goes on bouncing throughout every second of your lifetime. And from those innumerable exchanges of energy, your thoughts, feelings, and decisions emerge.
And this is only the beginning of the unpredictability. Each individual brain is embedded in a world of other brains. Across the space of a dinner table, or the length of a lecture hall, or the reach of the internet, all the human neurons on the planet are influencing one other, creating a system of unimaginable complexity. This means that even though neurons follow straightforward physical rules, in practice it will always be impossible to predict exactly what any individual will do next.
This titanic complexity leaves us with just enough insight to understand a simple fact: our lives are steered by forces far beyond our capacity for awareness or control.
IT MEANS WE ARE IN A WORLD OF COMPLEXITY OF THINGS HAPPENING AROUND US EACH AND EVERY DAY; WE HAVING OUR MIND [THE NORMAL HUMAN MIND, HEALTHY AND NORMAL] THAT IS LIKE NO OTHER CREATURE ON EARTH, MUST BE IN CONTROL TO DECIDE, TO GUIDE OUR SHIP SO TO SPEAK THROUGH THE CALM AND THE STORM. SOMETIMES WE MOVE WRONG; BUT THE AMAZING THING ABOUT THE NORMAL HUMAN BRAIN, IS THAT WE CAN ADMIT MOVING WRONG AND DECIDE TO MOVE RIGHT. OF COURSE I’M SPEAKING NOW OF JUST LIVING IN OUR SOCIETY SUCCESSFULLY AND HAPPILY, WITHOUT GETTING INTO ANY CONTEXT OF THEOLOGY AND BECOMING A TRUE CHRISTIAN, WHICH THEN LEADS US INTO DECIDING AND LIVING WITHIN ANOTHER CONTEXT, BUT STILL IN CONTROL OF OUR MIND.