Where to Look to Understand the Brain?

One of my messages I feel strongly about is that all this emphasis on the "mechanics" of the brain -- this focus on what neurons fire when, what anatomical structures are connected to other anatomical structures, what drugs we can take to fix our brain function  --  is terribly misplaced.

So imagine my delight when I come across other writers and researchers who say similar things... I love the feeling that I am not alone! ;-)

Some of my posts here will be to share these other viewpoints with you - partly to show it's not just me ;-), partly to give you other doorways to explore to enter into another way of viewing and understanding the brain.

Today it will be a visit with Douglas Hofstadter, author of Godel, Escher, Back, and also of a book I am immensely enjoying right now: I am a Strange Loop. Dr. Hofstadter is professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University and writes in a wonderfully relaxed and readable style -- like having a conversation with an old friend about Things That Matter.

In this book, he is exploring what we mean when we say "I". What is an "I"? Where does it come from? Who's in charge when we say "I" am?

What I want to extract from his book for you here are his views about where we need to focus to try to understand the brain in a meaningful way we can apply to our lives. (I've added the bolding for emphasis):

Let's start with his observation that car buyers aren't thinking about...

The Universe and the Brain: Are They So Very Different?

Someone on one of my neurofeedback forums shared this beautiful not-quite-6-minute video of the universe from large to small: Tour Through Reality.

The best bit for those of us intrigued by the brain is at the very end, so do stay tuned throughout….

Nonlinear complexity theorists tell us that the same principles are visible from every “size” of system in our universe – which is what makes this little video so impressive. I'd love to frame that last shot for my office!

Don't know what I'm talking about?

That's your sign you need to go watch — then come back and share what your thought!

Rogue Waves: The Ocean of the Brain

I came across a wonderful article that shows what happens in the ocean when rogue “monster” waves appear and capsize ships. What makes it wonderful and why am I writing about it here — on a blog about the brain?

You may not see a connection between rogue waves on the ocean and what happens in the brain — or why that matters for our lives.

Good question. I hope by the end of my article you’ll see why

Can We Lead Ourselves to Happiness?

My brain-book club, aptly called the Brainiacs, has just started reading Daniel Gilbert's book "Stumbling on Happiness".

I've only just finished the Foreward, but I already had thoughts popping up that I wanted to share with you, so I thought I would maybe let you read along with me, so to speak.

First, I just have to say that I love Gilbert's style - funny, conversational....real. Like having a talk with him around the kitchen table. Exactly the feel I hope my own book, "The Way of the Brain", will have when it finally gets published.

Having said that, the interesting premise he takes in the Foreward is of thinking of our future self as a child of our present self — that in our present, we do our best to take care of our future self. Unfortunately,

Who's Steering the (Brain) Boat? Who Should be?

In my private practice, one of the tools I most commonly use is something called neurofeedback (brain-based biofeedback).

If you do a search on neurofeedback, you'll probably find a lot of articles on using it to train your brain to do what you want it to do better than it is right now: better attention, better focus, better sleep, better problem-solving, better reading, better moods, better..whatever.

I don't do that.

Don't get me wrong. I do use neurofeedback as a tool that improves people's lives.

What I don't do is...

Where does Resilience Come From?

I mentioned in my last post that I was impressed and fascinated by the resilience of the Guatemalans — after so many years of the internal armed conflict, genocide, and now continuing aggression and displacement directed against them by multinational companies, one of the questions in my mind was how do they do it?


How do they keep going when every advance seems met by a step 0r two back?:

The Trauma that Never Ends

This post will seem a little different from the usual. I just came back from a trip to Guatemala with Interpares, a Canadian non-profit group that works with local development groups around the world to support their efforts at creating change. You can read the blog of our Solidarity Tour here and I think you will find a wealth of reflections from our group there if you take some time with it.

I couldn't help but be thinking of the effects of the Guatemalan internal conflict, the genocide, and the continuing struggles of the indigenous Mayan peoples to assert their agency in their own land on their brains -- both individual and collective (We Are Not Alone).

Where Does Confidence Come From?

I recently read this blog post from John Cookson of the Big Think blog about Brain Confidence: How Our Neurons Make Decisions.

It has a lot of juicy places to see how ordinary thinking about the brain as a tool for our consciousness and as a "wired" point to point system can mislead us.

Let's start by having you read the original post and/or watch their video. Then come back for my comments and to add yours!

Brain Confidence: How Our Neurons Make Decisions.

I had a whack of reactions as I read -- I'll share some of those as they relate to my key messages in the Way of the Brain and hope you will add your own.

Resilience in Action -- at 150 miles per hour!

This post is about resilience and transformation.

Not in a way you might expect, but a very graphic demonstration of what these mean to us.

It's a great example of:

  • looking at things from different perspectives
  • how resilience is such a powerful "force"
  • why transformation can be so hard

Let's start by looking at a very cool video:

We Are What we Practice

One of the Principles of the Way of the Brain is that We Are Not Alone -- our brains are changing and evolving not only from what goes on inside our heads, but also from adding in the influences we interact with on the "outside".

Here is one research report that describes what these influences can look like in "real life".

Craig Anderson from Iowa State University along with his colleagues, looked at the effects of playing violent video games on


Is the Buddhist Brain Different?

Richard Davidson and his neuroscience team at the University of Wisconsin asked this question. To answer it, they took experienced Tibetan monks to their lab to scan their brains in action. Is the Buddhist brain fundamentally different than the average?

This generated some discussion on one of the neurrofeedback lists I participate in. One of the answers was from Dr. Val Brown, a psychologist and creator of a neurofeedback system that is based on seeing the brain as a nonlinear system. I wanted to share his answer with you as it fits nicely with helping us evolve a new understanding of the brain -- not a computer or machine, but a living, evolving self-regulating system. (I've done some slight editing and highlighting for blogness...)

Is the Buddhist Brain Different?...


Preferring Stability

Do we have a sense of our tendency to "Both-And"?

And do we therefore actively work to maintain our sense of "stability"?

Research suggests a definite Maybe.

This is from the American Psychological Association (I've bolded key bits for you skimmers ;-):

We swim in a sea of information, but filter out most of what we see or hear. New analysis of data from dozens of studies sheds new light on how we choose what we do and do not hear. The study found that while people tend to avoid information that contradicts what they already think or believe, certain factors can cause them to seek out, or at least consider, other points of view.