How Neuroscience Is Helping Us Understand Ourselves Better
Here’s a truism: If you can’t analyze it, you can’t measure it. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. If you can’t improve it, you can’t understand it.
Apply this to pretty much anything, it is probably applicable to everything and never more so than when it comes to the brain. Long regarded as a hermetically sealed black box we could never hope to peer into the brain has turned into the latest arena where established companies, hot startups and even national armies, look to for a competitive advantage
The reason for this is because we have finally understood that everything is data. What your senses report is data. What your brain makes of the world around you is data. What you do and how you do it is data. And the impact your every action and inaction has is data too. This page, how it was created and how it is being transmitted is data. Your accessing it is data and what you will do after you have finished reading it is, you guessed it, data.
When everything is data then at some point signal can turn to noise (and vice versa) and everything can be tracked, measured and improved and that includes human thought. Because nothing can make sense without context, our making sense of the world relies on the brain’s ability to identify what it sees and then insert it into a 3-D model of the world where its relative value and usefulness can be assessed. Think, again, of this page. Now consider just how you might struggle to describe what it is and what it does (and why it was created) to a Sentinelese
whose contact with the outside world has been strictly limited all his life and who may not be aware of the existence of the telegraph, let alone the internet.
It’s not that the Sentinelese are not sophisticated enough to understand the digital space. They survive, alone, in the Brazilian rainforest so their brains are every bit as capable as ours if not more so. But because they have no need for it, at present, it is a concept that’s foreign to them and, as such, constitutes just so much noise against the background of their existence.
We are the same. The context may be different, but we also fail to even notice things that are not relevant to us while we may pay an enormous amount of attention on others like, say, how to activate the brain’s neuroplasticity and make ourselves smarter
All of which brings us to neuroscience and us. Because we now understand the pathways, at least conceptually, that data must travel before it actually does something, we realize that unless the brain can model something then that something simply cannot happen. Consider a ‘simple’ show of rugby practice
and you begin to understand just how many hours of attentive focus have gone into helping the brain build the neural pathways that not only model the world but also govern that model and the actors within it.
We know now that what we used to think of as talent is a neural predisposition created by circumstances and (maybe) some genetic help, which then flourished after countless hours of focused, hard work. Books that show us in a step-by-step way
how to restructure the way our brain works so we can become not just smarter but also more analytical, methodical and disciplined are now part of the arsenal we employ in our efforts to be better versions of who we are.