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Video: Our hidden brains with David Eagleman

Just passing along some information from my current course! (Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior)

This is a video we had to watch in our Attention module. Below is a "blog" I had to write to demonstrate how this information can be useful in real life.

And you know what? It's the same thing I'm always talking about. The ways our sneaky, underlying brain processes are actually calling the shots. Those times when you wonder "Why did I do that?" maybe consider that "you" didn't... but your primitive, behind-the-scenes brain mechanisms did. Worth a trauma-consideration. Worth a share.

Secondly... being a writer, I WROTE for this assignment. Give me ten minutes and a full paper comes out. In hindsight, looking at everyone else's entries, IIIIIII did too much. Whoops. Figured I might as well use this content elsewhere since I already feel like a dumbass in my class forum.

Enjoy. I need to get back to school now.

In his November 2, 2011 talk at the California Academy of Sciences, David Eagleman asserts that our brains have complicated programs underlying all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. What we consider to be “our brains” and “our thoughts” actually only includes a tiny portion of the neural activity that controls our everyday functionality.

For instance, we aren’t aware of all the tiny electrical signals that have to be generated in a particular sequence through particular compartments of the brain and transmitted through our bodies in order to drink a glass of water or drive a car. Humans consider their thoughts and actions to be directed from their consciousness, but in fact, most of our existence is taking place “under the hood,” as Eagleman puts it. We have intricate brain processes that we are generally not capable of paying attention to, and therefore, we don’t realize that they exist.

The limitations of our human attention have a purpose. The evolutionary drive to pay less attention to these basic brain functions underlying our visual perception and arm movements is likely so we can pay more attention to the actual steering of the car. Further, having intricate thought and memory processing take place “behind the scenes” allows us to concentrate on the important matters at hand each day, while our brains clean, condense, and integrate new ideas in the background. Those “Aha! Moments” we all experience are actually days and weeks in the making, but we aren’t capable to pay attention to the more subtle breadcrumbs that are leading up to the loaf coming out of the oven.

This is important insight for many of us, who wonder how and why we have certain intrusive thoughts and impulses, or even struggle with triggering memories. It doesn’t feel as though we are the ones causing these disruptive or distressing experiences – and that’s because, in a way, we aren’t. Our hidden brain processes are running in the background, interpreting our experience through the lenses of evolution and personal history, and directing the show. We may not be conscious of these critical brain functions, but they can be indirectly analyzed to improve daily living.

This information is especially relevant in the case of folks with mental illnesses, who would be empowered to better understand the neurochemical mechanisms responsible for their negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviors. For instance, those of us who suffer from clinical depression or PTSD symptoms might be relieved to “separate” ourselves from our survival-based brain functions that have gone awry. Realizing that these negative ruminations and memory recollections are not what we commonly consider “our” brains allows us to assess our sneakier thought patterns through directed attention and awareness.

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