What Do YOU See When You Look In The Mirror?

Jun 23, 11 What Do YOU See When You Look In The Mirror?

Posted by in Psychology

There are no lies more powerful than those we tell ourselves! And our brains seem to be hardwired to tell convenient lies, that make us feel better and come to terms with our own weaknesses and mistakes. Up to a certain point, this is great – having a rosy view of ourselves helps boost our self – confidence and allows us to overcome adversity. However, often this natural protective mechanism goes into overdrive and people end up living with self-created delusions that harm, instead of helping them. In psychology, this mechanism is called “rationalization” – and, despite its name, has nothing to do with reason. It is our brains’ way to come to terms with conflicting ideas or actions that we’ve taken.   A great example of this is the well known Aesop fable – “The Fox and the Grapes”. Do you remember what the fox thought, when the grapes he craved so much proved to be out of reach? (tasty grapes – out of reach = two conflicting ideas creating cognitive dissonance) Did he say to himself: “Too bad they’re so high up, it would have been great to taste them?”. Or did he say: “It’s clear I can’t reach – perhaps I can find another way to climb up there and eat those tasty, ripe grapes”? As all of you who read the story surely remember, none of these thoughts crossed the fox’s mind. Instead, he thought: “They’re obviously sour” and walked away. That’s rationalization! “So what’s so dangerous about this?” – you might ask. The answer to this question is what prompted me to write this post. And it’s a thought that came to me after several instances of rationalization that I witnessed lately, which made me think – why do intelligent people end up self-sabotaging just because they are afraid to confront their own mistakes? I’m seeing this type of self-delusion very often – managers who refuse to change business strategies which are no longer working, just because they invented...

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What Makes us Human? The Story of a Curious Researcher and His Quest for Answers in Weirdest Places

May 23, 11 What Makes us Human? The Story of a Curious Researcher and His Quest for Answers in Weirdest Places

Posted by in Books, Neuroscience, Videos

Vilayanur Subramanian “Rama” Ramachandran is a remarkable man. A neuroscientist and professor at the University of California, San Diego, Ramachandran is also a very curious man. He is curious about what truly makes us human. He devoted his career to answering questions such as: What is consciousness? Where did language come from? What is introspection? Why do we all have a unitary perception of beauty? and the list could go on. In order to find answers to all these questions, Ramachandran turned to illness. And not to any illness. He studied some of the weirdest neurological syndromes in the world – people with Capgras syndrome (who believe their mother is some look-alike robot) or with Cotard syndrome (who believe they are dead); he studied people with “phantom limbs” (having pain in their non-existent amputated limbs) as well as people who had out of body experiences. He looked for answers in the depths of illness and wrote several books about his amazing journey. The latest one, definitely worth reading, is The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes US Human. The book is filled with countless fascinating case studies and Rama’s conclusions are, more often than not, surprising and counter-intuitive. If you don’t have time to read it all, you can at least read a great review of this book here. Ramachandran shows, once more, that our brain is like a treasure chest filled with the most amazing secrets. It’s hard to believe that one can ever grow tired exploring its mysteries. Here is his great speech at TED, where he gives us a glimpse into his fascinating research. I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I...

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A Stroke of Insight – The Amazing Journey of a Harvard Neuroanatomist Inside Her Own Brain

Apr 25, 11 A Stroke of Insight – The Amazing Journey of a Harvard Neuroanatomist Inside Her Own Brain

Posted by in Books, Videos

I stumbled over Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book – “A Stroke of Insight” – just a couple of days ago, and I couldn’t put it down. It tells the amazing story of a scientist who had the bad luck/huge opportunity (you can honestly say it was both) to witness her own brain’s decay and recovery after a stroke and to learn a lot of counter-intuitive lessons along the way. I found her story fascinating – a true lesson to the amazing resources of our brain, and then I looked her up on the internet and found her TED speech, in which she describes her experience on the verge of death and the incredible lessons she learned along the long (8 year) road to recovery. I think this speech is worth watching, if one can get past her speaking style, which, after reading the book, I found appropriate to the experience she went through (but which you might find a bit…exalted). What is her key message? Our identities are the sum of two types of perception on the world – our left brain perception and our right brain perception. The left hemisphere of our brain processes details, language, in helps us analyze the past and plan for the future and, maybe most importantly, it gives us our sense of ego and personal identity, of being unique and separate from the rest of the world. The right hemisphere on the other hand, is in charge of big picture thinking, of living in the moment, of interpreting sensory information from our environment, of visual thinking and of making us feel connected to the world around us, a part of a larger whole. Dr. Jill’s discovery upon her stroke (which took place in the left hemisphere of her brain and practically shut it down, making Jill forget who she was, how to read, speak and even lose her sense of where her own body started and ended) was that the right hemisphere holds amazing resources for finding and...

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The Plastic Brain – A Fascinating Journey Into the Black Box

Apr 17, 11 The Plastic Brain – A Fascinating Journey Into the Black Box

Posted by in Books

  I’ve just finished reading one of the most fascinating books – The Brain that changes Itself – Stories of Personal Triumph From The Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, and I felt I absolutely needed to share my impressions with you. Doidge is a psychiatrist and researcher at Columbia University and this book is a wonderful journey into the mysteries of, reportedly, the most complex object in the Universe – our brain. Up until not long ago it was believed that we are born with a fixed number of neurons, whose numbers decrease with age in a process that is irrevocable and immutable. Thus it was also believed that, once childhood and the formative years had passed, the “window of opportunity” for authentic change in the brain had closed forever and that humans were doomed to increasing neural decay as they aged. The latest research in neuroscience paints a completely different picture, and this is the picture that Doidge shares in his book, through amazing stories of researches, leading figures in brain science, each of them mavericks in their own way, who have pushed the frontiers of science in showing that our brain was capable of incredible feats, never before thought possible. There are also stories of patients who were able to rewire their own brains and lead normal lives after having gone through catastrophic brain damage that should (according to previous theories) condemn them to a life as handicapped persons. You’ll read about people who are irreversibly blind and who are, once again, able to “see” thanks to a special device planted on their skins, which converts images from a camera mounted on the subjects head into tiny “pinches” that the patient feels on their skin and which they, with practice, learn to interpret and finally visualize the actual imaged the “pinches” represent. You’ll find the stories of people who had half their bodies paralyzed after a stroke and who learnt to walk and talk again, ending up leading almost normal...

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Can the Brain Explain Your Mind? by Colin McGinn | The New York Review of Books

Mar 04, 11 Can the Brain Explain Your Mind? by Colin McGinn | The New York Review of Books

Posted by in Books, Neuroscience

Can the Brain Explain Your Mind? by Colin McGinn | The New York Review of Books. Colin McGinn makes an excellent review of V.S. Ramachandran’s book – The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. Here is an excerpt of his review in The New York Review of Books. I hope it will convince you that neurology is truly fascinating and worthwhile for us, non-scientists too, since it opens a gate into the amazing workings of our own minds. “Is studying the brain a good way to understand the mind? Does psychology stand to brain anatomy as physiology stands to body anatomy? In the case of the body, physiological functions—walking, breathing, digesting, reproducing, and so on—are closely mapped onto discrete bodily organs, and it would be misguided to study such functions independently of the bodily anatomy that implements them. If you want to understand what walking is, you should take a look at the legs, since walking is what legs do. Is it likewise true that if you want to understand thinking you should look at the parts of the brain responsible for thinking? Is thinking what the brain does in the way that walking is what the body does? V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, thinks the answer is definitely yes. He is a brain psychologist: he scrutinizes the underlying anatomy of the brain to understand the manifest process of the mind. He approvingly quotes Freud’s remark “Anatomy is destiny”—only he means brain anatomy, not the anatomy of the rest of the...

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