Posts Tagged ‘neuroscience’

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Philosophy Tuesday

September 1, 2015

There’s a chart I saw recently that got me thinking, and examining my own perceptions:

It’s a chart charting the heights of men and women adults in the USA.

A lot more overlap than you might have pictured, eh? There are many women with “men” heights; there are many men with “women” heights.

It is a great reminder how our perceptions can so easily get pushed towards a reductionism, a “putting in the box”.   How we take a trend or a pattern and turn it, inflate them, into extremes.

Yet, here, quite directly, we can see that, even when there is a “predisposition” towards something, things exist on a continuum.

It is not X, or Y. It is not always one way, or the other. It is the old expression of there being no black or white, only shades of grey.

There is a great deal of malleability.

Much of what who we are as people is not even as hard coded as what the “genetic evolution” would push for in the chart above. That chart serves to me as a great reminder to remain aware of our tendencies to group and to pigeonhole. A reminder that we can, instead, remain present and avoid taking the differences between people and improperly ascribing them to something concrete: sex, race, culture, origin, ideology, social status, etc.

There are many factors that give us who we are. It does us no good to limit others, or ourselves, by denying the continuum that exists and denying everyone the opportunity to display who they truly are. Or to deny them the chance to grow and transform.

It also frees us from needing stay confined to a caricature, a narrow view of who we are supposed to be (inside of our cultural identities), and frees us from all the stress that comes with trying to maintain those facades.

We gain the freedom to play.

We give others and ourselves the freedom to be.

Wonderful.

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Philosophy Tuesday

August 18, 2015

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

We continue our trip down the identity rabbit hole…

Our identity is an “Identity of Identities”, picked up or inherited from a myriad of places and sources and moments and decisions, mostly unintentionally. They come with a lot of views and realities. And they are hard to see without practice, for they are “me”.

And there’s a very big thing about identities that’s important to know about:

Neurologically speaking, our brain does not know the difference between an attack against our bodily existence, and an attack against our identity.

Said another way, a threat to our identity is registered by our danger sensors as an attack, even if that is not really happening.*

And with our identity of identities, there are many things that can seem to threaten an aspect we’ve built into our identity, and hence “us”.

And when we feel threatened, things get hairy, don’t they? We fight back, lash out, defend, defend, defend, and aim to kill off that which is trying to kill us; or we run, avoid, and hide. Neither is conducive to living freely, living with intention, or being able to think straight. It’s a roughshod time, to which there can be much collateral damage – to others, and to ourselves. To what we hold dear. We’ll act in odd ways. We may feel righteous and riled up about it, but we’re on autopilot. We’ve lost, perhaps ironically, our agency. In those moments it gets in the way of getting what we truly want, of interacting with people the way we want to, of living a life we’d like to live.

Now, this may come as a surprise at this point, but at the same time to all of the above identities are not bad things. They are not flaws. On the contrary, they are great tools, great shortcuts to interacting and being in the world. Identities can be wonderful.

It is at its heart a matter of awareness. To be aware of, and present to, our identities. Which, in having read this, you may now be more so aware. Aware of some very powerful stuff. Aware, for one, that there is a distinction between you and your identity (the two are not the same). For two, that you acquired multiple identities that make your identity. For three, that identities come with a lot of preconceptions/rules/truths/views that are often hidden.

And fourthly, and most importantly, and putting those all together, all of the above coalesces to indicate that if you are not your identity and that these identities aren’t inherently part of you, you can choose new identities at any time and actually choose whom you want to be and how you want to express yourself in the world. You can examine your identities to see what lurks within, see the hidden biases and baggage and choose to leave them behind and create a new identity to slot in. You can develop mindfulness to interrupt the automatic rise and avoid seeing threats to you that show up only through the lenses of your identities.

You need not be beholden to anything.

It takes practice, it takes development, it takes work and time and it takes us taking ourselves on. Learning to be mindful. And it’s work well spent.

This is, after all, you. And me. And who I am in the world. Some care, and thought, and choosing, makes sense.

 

* – To which it is not hard to see why; my identity is ME, and I relate to my identity as ME, it is my existence in the world. I have no separation between my identity and me, just as I have no separation between my body and me. If my body is harmed, I am harmed, ergo, if my identity is harmed, I too must be harmed.

 

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Philosophy Tuesday

June 30, 2015

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Blame is an interesting thing.

When we blame someone, or something, we get a charge out of it, don’t we?  Ahhh, we feel right, we feel potent, we feel “better.”

But something interesting happens neurologically…

When we blame, our brain shuts down.  Clicks off.  Because blame is, by its nature, external to us.  We remove ourselves from the process that led to the result.  And since we’re not there, we cannot be part of altering it.  Our brain stops trying to be with it, work with it, figure it out.  We devolve ourselves of all responsibility, and therefore, of all agency.

We lose power in having an impact in the situation.

It’s a delicious irony, really, that disconnect between how it makes us feel, all puffed up and right, and the impact it has, solidifying the very situation we are unhappy about.  How gruarh! we feel and how much more stuck it leaves us.  Thus leading to more unhappy results and situations, thus readily leading to more blame as a way to discharge the suffering and unhappiness.

A rather vicious cycle.

The antidote is to take responsibility.  Not blame, but responsibility.  Reclaim the agency.  We can’t always make something go exactly as we want it to, but we can always have a say in how it goes.

And with that, suffering diminishes and possibilities open up.

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Philosophy Tuesday

March 17, 2015

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

I’ve been enjoying the various things to pop out of neuroscience of late, not only because it’s fascinating, but because most of it aligns with and corroborates 2500 years of ontological thought. The figure-y out-y side of me likes putting the two together and seeing how they march in lockstep.

One of the most revelatory, and powerful, findings I’ve come across is how our brains perceive the world. What we think is happening, and how it feels to us, is this:

Event –> Senses –> Consciousness –> Thought –> Action

When something happens in the world, we notice it, we perceive it, we are cognizant about it, and with that awareness we now evaluate it and from there can do something or move on.   That’s totally how we experience the world.

Turns out, neuroscience has found that the order is this:

Event –> Senses –> Filter –> Consciousness –> Thought –> Action

The “filter” is something our brains do before we become aware of the event. It pre-judges and removes and colours the sensory input of the event, based on what we already know and our worldview. So by the time it hits our consciousness, it already more strongly aligns with our views of who we are, of who others are, and how the world is, leaving us an incomplete picture but one that feels quite right because its right by our view. (This is one way confirmation bias does its thing.) Our thoughts and actions are thereby limited by this incomplete perception.*

This filter is hidden from our view, and happens without any intentional effort on our part. Just as our views themselves are often hidden from our (conscious) view. (So it’s a double hidden.) When we’re not aware we have filters operating, we don’t really see what’s so. We see what we think we should see about what’s so.

In our world of patterns, repetitive habits and neuroses, of mostly always being right, and of wondering how can others look at the same thing and see things so differently, here’s one very strong way how we are, in many ways, actually seeing things differently. Sensory waves come in, but confirmation hits our brain.

The filter works best when it’s left alone to do its work in the background. If we train ourselves to remove or look around the filter – to be present and mindful – we can gain access to what’s so, leading to greater options and freedom. When we train ourselves to dismantle or thin our filters – or re-align them in an empowering way – we again gain access to being aware of the greater world and of a greater experience.

* – Research has also found that the thoughts/actions themselves also often begin happening/firing before it hits our consciousness, making being present and examining our filters that much more important.