The Extended Mind | Annie Murphy Paul

Summary of: The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain
By: Annie Murphy Paul


Dive into the world of ‘The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain’ by Annie Murphy Paul, where you will discover the fascinating connection between our body and cognition. Explore the concept of embodied cognition and learn how our body’s signals, emotions, and movements can influence our decision-making and enhance our intelligence. Find out how practices such as mindfulness body scan and engaging with nature can sharpen our awareness and boost creativity. Finally, uncover how our external environment and social interactions can have a significant impact on our mental processes.

Trust Your Gut

John Coates, a former Wall Street trader and PhD holder in mathematics, noticed that the most successful traders trust their gut instincts during key moments. Coates conducted further research and found that being in tune with your body through interoception, or embodied cognition, can make you smarter. Traders who accurately detect the beats of their own hearts are more successful. The same skill can give you an edge in many areas of life, and one way to improve it is through a mindfulness body scan exercise.

Boost Your Brain with Movement

Our minds can benefit from movement in more ways than one. Movement heightens our visual system, improves recall, and helps us make quick decisions. Moreover, making movements that match a concept forges more durable neural pathways in the brain. Even small gestures can give your thinking a boost.

Our bodies can store and process subconscious information, and we can access it by increasing our awareness of subtle bodily cues. However, a study shows that our cognition can also get a boost by movement. The study compared the performance of two groups of radiologists examining the same X-ray images. The group seated at their desks caught about 85 percent of the irregularities while the other group examining the images on a treadmill caught 99 percent of them.

But why does movement have this effect on the mind? Our ancestors had to constantly be on the move to find food, water, and avoid danger. Thinking for them meant having heightened recall, being aware of subtle signs of danger, and making quick decisions, all of which were deeply connected to motion. This is what our brains evolved for. Our visual system heightens when we move forward, exploring an environment, making us better at seeing things around us.

Making movements that match a concept has been shown to forge more durable neural pathways in the brain. Children learning addition through hopscotch, for example, is a good example of this. Movement can also help us come up with novel solutions to a problem. Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, famously used to move about in his lab while imagining that he was a virus attacking an immune system, and vice versa.

Even small gestures can give your thinking a boost. You don’t have to do hopscotch or imagined battles like Salk. You can try making small gestures that match a concept, move around, or just walk as this can help you think better.

Gesture Your Way to Better Communication and Faster Thinking

Christian Heath’s research shows that gestures are integral to communication and can even speed up thinking. When we use gestures, our hands have often already delivered the message before the words exit our mouth. Gestures not only improve communication and comprehension, they can also ease the cognitive load and make one think faster.

Artistic Breakthrough in Nature

In the 1940s, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner moved to a farmhouse on Long Island for a change of environment as well as respite from the struggles of city life, and this move led to a breakthrough in Pollock’s art. The restorative power of nature is backed by empirical evidence, with exposure to natural patterns enhancing cognition and reducing negative thoughts. Nature’s impact on Pollock’s art may have come from experiencing the enlivening effects of nature’s repeating patterns, and the feeling of awe he experienced while gazing at Long Island Sound. Awe has a mind-opening effect, correlating with a drop in reliance on preconceived notions.

The Power of a Personal Workspace

The idea that a personalized and private workspace can foster creative and analytical thought is not a new concept. Jackson Pollock, for example, found sanctuary in his barn-turned-studio where he was freed from the distraction of the outside world. Research has shown that our working environment plays an important role in our productivity, happiness, and creativity. Specifically, the level of control we have over our workspace and the degree of privacy we are afforded have a significant impact on our work output. Psychologists Craig Knight and Alex Haslam found that giving workers a sense of ownership over their workspace resulted in improved productivity and well-being. Moreover, the open-office plan that became popular in the last century has been found to decrease concentration, erode trust, and inhibit creative thought. The proximity to constant social interactions and the sense of being monitored creates mental exhaustion and can hinder intelligent thinking. Personalized and enclosed workspaces are crucial for creative thinking, and while collaboration is crucial to an extended mind, the importance of personalized space should not be overlooked.

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