Friday, September 10, 2021

You Are Not Who You Think You Are

I want to point to the NYTimes piece by polymath David Brooks that does a nice summary of several themes that have been emphasized in MindBlog posts - on the recent work of Barrett, Friston, Hoffman, Johnson, and others. He touches on several areas in which our understanding of how our minds work has been completely transformed by work and ideas over just the past 10 years. I suggest you read the whole article and click on links to the articles he references. Here are a few clips:
You may think you understand the difference between seeing something and imagining it. When you see something, it’s really there; when you imagine it, you make it up. That feels very different...It turns out, reality and imagination are completely intermixed in our brain...the separation between our inner world and the outside world is not as clear as we might like to think.
...most of seeing is making mental predictions about what you expect to see, based on experience, and then using sensory input to check and adjust your predictions. Thus, your memory profoundly influences what you see...The conversation between senses and memory produces a “controlled hallucination,” which is the closest we can get to registering reality.
...humans have come up with all sorts of concepts to describe different thinking activities: memory, perception, emotion, attention, decision-making. But now, as scientists develop greater abilities to look at the brain doing its thing, they often find that the activity they observe does not fit the neat categories our culture has created, and which we rely on to understand ourselves...Barrett of Northeastern University argues that people construct emotions and thoughts, and there is no clear distinction between them...emotions assign value to things, so they are instrumental to reason, not separate from or opposed to it.
...there is no such thing as disembodied understanding. Your neural, chemical and bodily responses are in continual conversation with one another, so both understanding and experiencing are mental and physical simultaneously...When faced with a whole person...we shouldn’t think that they can be divided into a ‘mind’ and a ‘body.
...You realize that neither the term ‘decision-making’ nor the term ‘attention’ actually corresponds to a thing in the brain...the concepts at the core of how we think about thinking need to be radically revised...neuroscientists spent a lot of time trying to figure out what region of the brain did what function. (Fear is in the amygdala!) Today they also look at the ways vast networks across the brain, body and environment work together to create comprehensive mental states. Now there is much more emphasis on how people and groups creatively construct their own realities, and live within their own constructions.


  1. Another interesting look at this: Meditation through the lens of predictive processing at - - this is Laukkonen and Slagter again.

  2. Thanks for the reference!