Saturday, November 15

The Power of Mind Control

I woke up at 7:00am this morning to perfect 70 degree weather and bright sun, not a cloud in the sky.

As is predictable in such staggering conditions, I suited up and got on the bike to meet some team mates at the bridge. We all got together and I read on their faces that today wasn't a day for pain, thus we agreed to ride to Fairfax- a moderately gentle ride with fewer inclines and copious flat stretches. I took advantage of the relaxed gentle hills and easy valley roads to do some integrative thinking.

I had the fortune yesterday to meet another inspiring thinker; someone who's ideas resonate with me on some deep, deep levels. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-educated neuroscientist and 8 years ago, suffered a stroke. Given her background, she was then (arguably) blessed with the rare experience of getting to empirically study what a brain hemorrhage was like from the inside out. She's struggled for past 8 years and has made an incredible recovery and now gives talks about the brain while promoting her book, "My Stroke of Insight". She came to San Francisco's Green Festival yesterday to deliver her presentation, "How to get your Brain to do what you want it to do". I left the fair after having a brief conversation with her, connecting the presentation to my own thoughts and experiences.

The crux of her talk was about how you have control over what kind of neural circuitry gets activated when it receives specific stimuli and how to actively work to control your brain's electronics. In the same way that certain people incessantly irritate you, or perhaps you impulsively drink with certain friends despite trying to stay sober, our seemingly "automatic" behavior is strongly tied to what parts of our brain are being allowed to run their circuitry; what tissue is being pumped full of neuro-watts.

This then segued into the power of positive thinking. If we get into the habit of telling ourselves good things (praise for accomplishments, assurance in decision making, acknowledgment of the positive outcomes of one's choices), then we neurologically activate and help to grow the areas of our brain that guide our actions towards positive outcomes. I've discovered this in myself and it was bizarre to hear her talk about it in scientific terms. By being sure in my personal capabilities, recounting positive feedback from others, and stewing my eager anticipation for the future, I'm continually sewing the seeds for more positive experiences. And all because of how I allow my Brain to work; what axonal roads I keep open and what streets of thought I choose to close off.

Bouncing this idea off Gracelyn this afternoon uncovered another metaphor that lends credence to this theory. If you take a Bee colony and try to step into the life of a single drone, things might look pretty bleak. The communistic idea of one organism forever struggling shoulder to shoulder with other identical organisms for a greater cause makes we Westerns cringe. But we often miss the point of their life; A Bee's Destiny. They labor for their whole lives for the benefit of the whole colony rarely getting acknowledged, because that's what they were born to do, and because without their efforts, the whole system would collapse. We, as individual humans, are the Bee Hive. We are nothing more than a symbiotic living environment for the trillions of cells that work tirelessly in perfect symbiosis for the betterment of the whole, because that's what they were born to do. DNA is akin to that instructional/ welcome manual on the first day of a new job and gives our muscle, skin, finger, nose, and all other types of cells the blueprints on how to complete their daily work; their Destiny.

The father of economics Adam Smith notes something similar in his book, "The Wealth of Nations" that talks about a similar theory. He writes:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest..."

Our cells (and thus our "selves") do what they do because it's in their best interest to better the environment (the body) where they live.

However, before the top-floor executive office of our mind close while we lay in bed at night, if we thank everyone for their collective efforts before turning out the light, we get an diverse army of cells eager to clock in the next day and work to the best of their abilities. By thanking our body for it's incomprehensible undertakings, we can gain more complete control over our body/lives and insure each unit inside "Me" thinks in terms of "We". This way, the whole system works together more enthusiastically for the greater good.

How's that sound?

Me with Dr. Jill. The way she treated everyone she met was like that of a loving aunt. Eager to hug everyone who wanted to talk to her, and painstakingly authentic. I'd emailed her before to ask some advice on a Public Education campaign for Brain Injury but only had corresponded only with her assistant. I heard back from her personally today: "Hi Gavin, it was great meeting you yesterday. I think anything you can do to help educate the public is a positive thing [...] I am cheering you on from afar! -Jill". Click to enlarge the photo.


In case you missed her TED talk, here it is for your viewing pleasure:

1 comment:

Lola said...

I don't understand these HTML tags, so bear with me if my comment ends up looking sloppy.

Anyhow, in light of your mention of both Darwin and Adam Smith in such close succession, I thought you might be interested in the following quotation that I came across in a book called "Darwin's Darwin" by Depew and Weber:

"Darwin saw few difficulties in integrating his developmental view of generation with his Newtonian picture of ecological dynamics, in part because he tended to view variation and natural selection, operating over time, as a unitary process that embraces not only the selective downstroke of the variation-retention cycle but the upstroke, the production of variation, as well. Darwin's conception of a cycle suggests one way in which he retained the Newtonian imagination of Hutton, Lyell, and Adam Smith. Just as an economy, or Lyell's earth, is a machine that runs on its own, like a heat engine, Darwin's world is a machine for producing and then selecting variations."

Hence, biology becomes isomorphic to economy. How certain are we of our Darwinism? Do we only stand behind him because he's the best combatant to creationism? If we lived in Marxist society, would our view of organisms be more organic than mechanic, or at least less based on a division of labor? How much of it is just in the ether?