Brain as Machine: Who thinks that way anymore?

Here's an important question from someone who visited my website...

While I have no issue with your assertion that brain is not a machine, I was wondering:  are there folks who still think that way? 

A whole western culture!

A "reductionist" approach of reducing the brain to its "bits", exploring those bits, and thinking that will tell us how the Whole works is machine-thinking.

Looking at sexy fMRIs and deciding...

The Brain Image Myth: Why I Don't Refer to Brain Bits

I came across this article the other day:

Crossed Wires

connectome image.jpg

It discusses evidence as to whether the brains of men and women are different, based on different types of brain scanning.

For today, I don't want to get into a deep discussion of whether there are differences or not.

I do want to point out that trying to find differences by pointing to brain anatomical differences:

(1) isn't at all clear, as you'll see in the article where they go back and forth with every paragraph. There is evidence any which way you want to read it, and

(2) so what? Anatomical differences don't show us very well how those differences translate into the way men and women relate to each other, whiat any particular individual can or can't do well, or much of anything else important to Real Life.

If there are meaningful differences (and that's another discussion), they will be found in how the brain networks of individuals are connected together and whether those kinds of networks are shared between groups of men and groups of women rather than groups of other kinds (nationality, language, profession, etc. etc.).

Take-home message: Beware the research based on anatomical brain scans.  Especially if what you want to know is how people actually function. Thinking that we can understand how people (and their brains) think and feel and act based on pictures of their structures is what I would consider the Brain Image Myth.

What do you think? Make sense?

Brain Capacity and 7+/- 2 Information Bits?

One of the things I sometimes hear people talk about is the idea that brain can only manage 7+2 information bits at a time. On some occasions, people are referring to our memory capacity (we can only remember 7 + 2 bits); on others, people have stretched this to mean our brains can handle only 7 + 2 bits of information at any one time.

I need to challenge this as a brain myth worth losing.

I want you to think about the brain instead as an amazing system of billions of possible connections all networked together and all doing what they do in unbelievably short time periods.

Here are some "bits" of information I'd like you to consider:

Just for Fun: 100 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About the Human Brain

Alisa Miller alerted me to her fun list of 100 Fascinating Facts about the Brain -- what a great collection of all sorts of tidbits about the brain!

Once I saw it, I wanted to share it with all of you --

Feel free to share -- what's your favorite factoid? The most surprising? The hardest to believe?

The one that caught my attention today was:

#47: Decision-making. Women tend to take longer to make a decision,but are more likely to stick with the decision, compared to men, who are more likely to change their mind after making a decision.

This makes total sense to me after a holiday period of trying to decide on a new dishwasher - I'm the researcher, my husband is the "let's just get one!" half of the team.

Looking forward to hearing what catches your attention in this fabulous list!

Feeling Like A Chicken With its Head (Brain) Cut Off?

This is a "reprint" of an entertaining and educational article from Dr. Jeff Carmen, who created the pirHEG system I write about on my website and in other blog posts. With his permission I'm re-posting it here for those of you interested in:- HEG - the frontal lobes - learning to put the brakes on yourself ;-) He talks primarily about the prefrontal cortex -- for those of you who read my blog (and thanks for that! ), that will be roughly what I talk about more loosely as the "frontal lobes" or the "executive system" -- that area of the brain sitting behind your forehead. He also refers to the frontal lobes/prefrontal cortex as being primarily "inhibitory", meaning that instead of the activity of the executive system being dedicated to Getting Stuff Done (e.g., movements, sensory activity) it tends to be more actively Stopping Unnecessary Stuff (e.g., distractions, impulsive actions, attention-wandering, anger outbursts, emotional extremes...). So I'm hoping you can see how important it is to have those frontal lobes in gear to get you where you need to be! Anyway, enough from me. Here he is....

What is the Internet Doing to Your Brain? (Revised - links added!)

Is the internet your brain's friend?I was asked a question by someone who was in a discussion about the internet and its influence on our brains. Specifically, they were talking about whether there is any truth to some recent work showing that the internet, and how we (you, your children) are using it, is making us dumber. So the question posed to me was.... Wondering if you have any thoughts/insights on the changing nature of the brain, with increased internet commnunications, and the prevalence of tools like Google to locate information? My answer was:

Mind Science from Dan Rather Reports

This is 52 minute television program from Dan Rather that covers a wealth of information about the brain, its plasticity, its connections with meditation and other ways we can change our brain's functioning. A bit of commitment...but worth it for the overview on brain plasticity....

What Does Change Feel Like?

I joined a conversation over at the Shift in Action website which was hosted by a member named Rod Sherwin. He posed a question about how we can know when shifts in consciousness -- personal or societal -- are happening. How can we know when we experience not just big dramatic shifts in our ways of being, but even the little movements that might take us from 3 out of 10 on some scale of change to 3.5 out of 10?In working with people's brains using nonlinear methods of feedback, it is very common indeed that people experience changes - shifts in their ways of being, thinking, feeling, and/or acting - that they are just not aware of at the time of the shift. Every neurofeedback practitioner I speak to has stories of people changing in all sorts of both subtle and dramatic ways, but not seeing the change themselves or not realizing how big or important a shift it is. I think this is partly...

Brain Tales: Stroke of insight - Part 1

This is a video from that I think you will find moving and inspirational --- one, because I did and two, because a number of my clients and readers have already shared the link with me, being sure I would want to see it. It's almost 20 minutes, but I think you'll find it gives you food for thought that's worth every minute.Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who realized one morning that she was experiencing a massive stroke.

Brain Training Without Equipment: Mindfulness Meditation

Imagine yourself sitting back for a nonlinear neurofeedback session....That means that your brain is going to have a "conversation" with itself (which I recently described in my newsletter, Not Just Neurofeedback, as the brain looking at itself in a mirror - let me know if you want to be on the list and have access to back copies like this). Your conscious mind doesn't really have anything specific to do in order to "make" something happen on purpose". In fact, the best thing you can do is to get out of the way. ;- ) But what does "get out of the way" mean, exactly? How do you "get out of the way"?

Is Neurofeedback just a "placebo effect"?

I had a great question the other day from a reader:"My question is this: What objective proof will I have that these treatments are doing what's intended as opposed to any ''placebo effect''." This is such a common worry, either for people considering the use of neurofeedback or from other professionals that know very little, if anything, about neurofeedback that it seemed a good idea to share part of my answer with all my readers...

Why Haven't I Heard of Neurofeedback Before?

I get this question -- Why haven't I heard of neurofeedback before? Why didn't anyone tell me? -- all the time from my clients and people calling or writing to me to find out more about neurofeedback.The really frustrated ones are the individuals who have worked with me to decrease their migraines, stop panic attacks, stabilize their mood and who want to know why their physician never told them about this option. I never have very good answers for them. Today I read an article --

Do We have to DO Something To be Ourselves?

I was watching the television program Nova on PBS (Absolute Zero) last night and they were taking about a phenomenon called a "Bose-Einstein condensate" Listening to the behaviour of particles and knowing that nature is generally shows what is called "self-similarity" (think of the repeating patterns of's a wonderful animated example of self-similarity), I wondered if this idea of a Bose-Einstein condensate could apply to the human level as well. The principle of self-similarity means that you see repeating patterns at different levels as you zoom in and out So I played a bit...

Just for Fun+: Exercise Your Brain and Donate to the Hungry

This is an excerpt from Daphne Gray-Grant's newsletter Power Writing. I thought it was such a great idea I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

She's telling us about an on-line self-test of your vocabulary. It's a great idea because:
(1) using the language networks in your brain strengthens them;
(2) exercising your brain in general strengthens it, and
(3) for every word you get right, 20 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations' World Food Program. 

Practice a lot ;-) 

So…Here's her description:

Allof this is a pep-talk designed to persuade you to try a new, fr'ee vocabulary website launched this October by U.S. computer programmer John Breen. Basically an on-line vocabulary test, much like the SAT, it presents you with a series of multiple choice definitions. Your answer to each question is scored immediately and you move on to the next one. (You can set options so that when you leave your computer the site “remembers” your score for the next time.)

Think you're pretty smart already? (Or worried about not being smart enough?) No worries! The site, which is called FreeRice, automatically adjusts to your vocabulary level. When you get a word wrong, the next word provided is from an easier level. When you get three consecutive words right, you move to a higher degree of difficulty. (Experts say that this constant fine-tuning of levels is the best way to ensure you are learning and not just playing a game.) FreeRice has 50 levels in total, but staff say it's rare for people to get past level 48. Go ahead; knock yourself out.

But you're probably wondering about the site's odd name. And therein lies the best news of all. Each time you get a word right, the site's sponsors donate enough money to pay for 20 grains of rice for the United Nations' World Food Program. That may sound like a pitifully small amount, but the site has already raised more than five billion grains of rice in less than two months.

So you can build your vocabulary, become a better writer, have fun and help reduce world hunger – all at the same time. How great is that?

I'm up to 2020 grains today -- how about you?