The Biological Mind | Alan Jasanoff

Summary of: The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are
By: Alan Jasanoff


Immerse yourself in a fascinating exploration of the human brain in ‘The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are’ by Alan Jasanoff. Discover how our thinking is shaped not just by our brain, but also by our body and environment. Uncover the mysteries and misconceptions that surround our cerebral cortex and delve into the history of people’s perspectives on this vital organ. Learn how the brain is influenced by complex interactions with our physical bodies and the world around us. By understanding the holistic nature of our minds, you will gain a fresh perspective on the finer aspects of what makes us who we are.

The Cerebral Mystic

The “cerebral mystique” is the misguided notion that the brain is a transcendental object, more than just an organ. This belief began with phrenology in the early 1800s and persists today. Despite modern scientific understanding of the brain as a complex biological organ impacted by numerous variables, popular culture still depicts it as mysterious and supernatural. This summary explains the history of the cerebral mystique and how it impacts our perception of the brain.

Beyond the Computer Analogy

The brain has often been compared to a computer due to its ability to store memories and process information. However, this analogy can only stretch so far. The brain is much more organic and relies on a complex mix of chemical processes to function. Calling the brain a computer reinforces the mistaken belief that the brain is fundamentally different from other organs. In reality, the brain is wet, messy, and thoroughly organic, with about half of its composition made up of glia cells and various fluids that are crucial to its thinking process.

Understanding the Brain’s Complex Simplicity

The brain’s complexity can be simplified, and understanding its basic functions can lead to a better understanding of the brain as a biological organ. Despite having billions of neurons and trillions of possible configurations, it is possible to study the brain’s basic operations. Researchers have identified cortical columns responsible for discrete brain functions, which could pave the way for understanding the brain’s complexity as a whole. Focusing on these basic operations can lead to results, as seen in patients with fewer neurons who can still live a normal life. Complexity is overrated, and simplicity can provide a better understanding of the brain.

Mindreading and the Illusion of Brain Imaging

Have you ever dreamed of being able to read minds? Recent advancements in brain imaging have brought us a step closer to this possibility. The most advanced method of examining the brain currently is through functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, which tracks blood flow in the brain. While fMRI has yielded significant insights, there are limitations to the technique. The images produced by fMRI are not as precise as they seem, due to the technique’s limited spatial resolution. Every fMRI picture is actually a statistical aggregate of hundreds of attempts, and this processing is prone to error. Additionally, flashy headlines in the media often make claims that are not supported by science, based on brain imaging studies. The key message here is to approach any claims made by fMRI studies with a bit of skepticism.

The Brain-Body Connection

The Alcor Life Extension Foundation claims to freeze your brain until you can be revived in the future. Even if this were possible, it wouldn’t be like pressing “play” on a video. Our self is not wholly contained in our brain. Our body is an essential part of our mind because a complex interaction between them generates human consciousness. The brain receives information from and sends signals to the body. The microbiome in our gut also plays a role in our emotions. Research indicates that it might help us regulate our stress levels and deal with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

The Impact of Our Surroundings

Our cognition, thoughts, feelings, and intentional actions are influenced by the world around us. The brain receives ten megabytes of sensory data per second through sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, which impacts brain activity. Dysfunctions like Seasonal Affective Disorder and attention deficits can also be linked to external surroundings. As a result, our behavior is subject to the influence of the world around us.

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