Re: Ch. 3: Exploring Your Brain ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
A series of questions about the nature and evolution of the brain can usefully be explored against the framework of this ecological observation. The first point here concerns the nature of causality. There is sometimes a naïve immediate tendency when we are looking for the reason why something happened to focus on the most obvious cause and effect, not fully taking into account the highly complex web of connections and processes that link everything together through space and time.
Harrison points out that each human brain can be seen as like a separate ecosystem itself. The brain requires vastly more blood and energy than any other organ, and its complex responses somehow integrate processes with a speed and efficiency that is vastly better than technology can yet copy in many ways. For example the ability of sport professionals to react instantly to perceptions such as the position of a ball builds on brain capacities that have evolved over millions of years of predation and avoidance to enable us to respond to adaptive pressures.
There is a whole emerging science of behavioural insight that builds on observation of brain function. One example I found really interesting was that when students were asked to remember either a two or seven digit number, and then were offered chocolate or fruit, those who had to stress their brain by remembering a long number were more likely to choose the comfort food. Their cognitive reserves were depleted by the bigger memory task. The stress meant they chose pleasure over health, consumption over investment, the present over the future. This is explained at http://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevalua ... nd-poverty
. This surprising finding makes sense as we consider the brain as a whole ecosystem. Rather than seeing the food choice in isolation, it is part of a mental and physical context. It gives new meaning and power to the old kiss saying, keep it simple stupid.
That issue of unexpected causalities within the brain is an interesting one which is relevant for all sorts of situations. For example the ability of people to contribute to a discussion at booktalk is affected by the stress level in their life. Our ability to step back from immediate personal problems and consider bigger issues is directly affected by the physical stresses on our brains. Often we don't realise we are under stress, as in the example of people remembering long numbers.
At that World Bank blog there are a bunch of other fascinating examples. For example holding a grip for a long time is more a test of will and mental energy than of physical strength alone.