Tag Archives: Thinking

Whose Thoughts are in YOUR Monkey Brain?

The other day I was sitting at a coffee shop. It is kind of a mix between a coffee shop and a bagel shop. Because I was only drinking coffee, in my mind I was at a coffee shop. Of course had I been eating bagels, I would have remembered it as a bagel shop. Interesting how the mind works like that. You can remember something, and based on slight change of angular memory, the past can take on a whole new meaning. Meaning is a fairly slippery thing. Many people don’t realize just how slippery it is. I guess that’s why so many people get into arguments about things that happened before. They aren’t really arguing about the events per se, rather the meaning each individual gave to the meanings that they each subjectively applied to the past. Because they each applied a different subjective meaning, or interpretation to the past, they actually stored the memory differently in their brain, from a neuro-chemical standpoint, which gives the illusion that they are remembering different things.

I was listening to a lecture once about this subject. The professor who was speaking was exploring how we code and store events have a large effect on how we remember them. She went on to explain that when some people say they have a “memory problem,” that is not entirely accurate. What they really lack is a storage problem. And because most people don’t consciously choose to store their memories in a certain way, when they go and try to recall them, they not only can’t remember where they put them, but they don’t remember what kind of box they put them in. Which makes looking for old memories a problem when you don’t know what color the box is.

So anyways, I was sitting there, drinking my coffee, waiting for the movie to start. It was one of those international blockbusters that has been heavily marketed, with signs everywhere, and trailers before every movie. I was looking forward to it, because I read the book, and I enjoyed it. I actually read the book twice, by accident. And when I say by accident, I don’t mean that I fell down a flight of stairs and read the book on the way down. I read it, and forgot that I read it. Then a couple years later I read another book by the same author, which I really enjoyed. Then I went to the bookstore to find other books by the same author. That’s how I generally read books, by the way. I’ll read one author, and if I like them, I’ll go to the bookstore or the library and read all their other books. So I went to the bookstore, found another book by the same author of the second book, and picked out the first book, which I’d read before and didn’t remember. Then about halfway through it, I realized, “Hey! This seems familiar, I think I read this before!” Of course I kept on reading, because I wanted to see if it turned out differently than before. Because I didn’t remember how it turned out from before, I wasn’t sure if it was the same ending. Which of course, made sense when I saw the movie, because then, everything fell into place, even though they changed some parts from the book.

So my friend walks in this coffee shop, and has this really confused look on his face. Like he was just finished reading this really confusing article on the Internet or something. I asked him what happened, and he told me that he just got back form a lecture. It turns out some really cute girl gave him a flyer for a lecture that some metaphysicist was giving. He doesn’t normally go into metaphysical lectures, but because this girl was really cute he decided to go. I asked him what the lecture was about, and he tried his best to describe it to me. There were several different lectures, and they kept finishing up where each other started. There was one guy that had this really long beard, and another guy that had some really strange sandals.

He said that most people are walking around in a cloud of ambiguity. Because we are so conditioned to get other people to think for us, when there is nobody there to make a decision, you just kind of walk around with a vague sense of waiting to be told what to do. Which normally isn’t a problem. It makes sense to be this way at work for example. It wouldn’t really be very productive to have a bunch of people at work just doing their own thing, or arguing with the boss whenever she gave you an instruction. I don’t know if this is a leftover from evolution, or if it is something that is just hardwired into us, but the brain will always look for shortcuts in thinking. Kind of like when you are driving on the freeway, and you get a traffic report of an accident up ahead, you can imagine ways to go around the problem, so you don’t be late for your appointment. The brain will always find the easiest path to get to a decision. Which worked pretty good when we were cavemen running around chasing our food, or running away from dinosaurs that thought we were food. But in today’s society, when there are about a billion things coming at you at once, it’s hard sometimes for our monkey brains to make a good decision. So modern man has learned to kind of have this vague cloud of ambiguity floating around, waiting for clear instructions. He said that the two biggest forms of guidance come in the form of social proof, and authority. Social proof, of course, is when you go along with the crowd. Everybody has experienced this. You do something, because everybody else is doing it. Of course, this isn’t what you tell yourself, we always have some other reason why we think we are doing something.

The other shortcut is authority. When a police officer, or a doctor tells you to do something, you rarely question them. Unless you are a criminal of course. So in the absence of these two elements, he explained, it can be hard to figure out what to do.

I asked him if he explained how to get around this, and he said he did. I asked him what it was, and he told me.

The best way to get around this is to have clear, strong, powerful goals. That way you will start to see everything in relation to your goals, and your automatic monkey response will decrease, and your evolved human response will become stronger and stronger, and you turn your mind/body system into a goal-seeking missile, instead of an automatic monkey responder.

And he concluded his speech by saying that the choice is up to you. You can let other people choose your goals for you, and walk around in an ambiguous monkey daze, bouncing from one mental shortcut to the other, or you can choose your own goals, and let your goal seeking mechanism do all work to create the life that you want. Then you can eat bagels, AND drink coffee at the same time.

Social Proof – Good or Bad?

I was riding my bike through a park near my house this morning. I saw this old guy next to a small stream. The stream is actually a drainage trough that leads to the ocean. They have built so there are several steps going down as the stream flows out. That way the water can pool in each area between the steps. In a few steps, where the man was looking, there were several fish. He explained to me that these were poi fish. When I asked him why they were so big, he explained that there was an elementary school nearby, and the kids would feed them on the way home. Because they can eat anything, the poi eagerly gobbled up anything the kids threw at them, providing it was edible.

One of the friends I used to work with was a very picky eater. She would take forever to choose what she wanted from the menu. Whenever somebody suggested something, she’d come up with a reason why it wouldn’t be good. Not fresh. Too expensive. Vegetables out of season. And the funny thing was whenever she finally decided to order something, she would invariably see something that somebody else had ordered and decide to change her order. Many times it was something that somebody had suggested earlier, and she’d dismissed for some reason or another. I always felt sorry for the waiter or waitress that had to go back and explain to the chef that he or she would have to start over again.

It’s funny how social proof works. You see somebody standing on a street corner looking up at the sky, and you look at the person. But if you see ten people looking up at the sky, you will almost automatically look up at the sky. This phenomenon has been described by many scientists as a shortcut of thinking. Instead of walking up and asking each person what they are looking at, and then making a determination whether or not to take a gander, the brain automatically floods the body with a strong desire to follow the crowd. It’s as if the ability to think for yourself gets temporarily shut off. This can be helpful, and invariably was helpful during our period of evolution. If you saw a bunch of your cavemen neighbors running very fast one direction, you either had the instinct to immediately join them or get eaten by whatever was chasing them. It can have huge negative effects when you are following the crowd in a bad direction, like in Nazi Germany, for example. Certain traits of human nature can be used both for good and evil. It’s important to monitor your thoughts and actions, and make sure they are your thoughts and actions, and not because somebody or some group of people have hijacked your brain.

But my friend finally realized that it was ok to take the advice of friends. And she learned to take her time to make a decision, so that when she finally made it, she was able to stick with it. And the rest of us were happy because we were all secretly a little bit embarrassed for the waiter. All in all it was a good decision.

And since I’ve been feeding the fish, my favorite part is watching how all the fish that are nowhere near the place where I throw the bread into the water come rushing over as soon as they see one of their fish buddies eating. I guess they follow the rules of social proof as well.


Create New Traveling Paths For Success

First allow me to apologize to my readers who have been wondering where I’ve been the last couple of days. I moved to a new city this weekend, and in the hustle and bustle of moving I haven’t had time to write any new articles. Henceforth I shall be posing at my regular intervals, so those of you that have sent emails wondering what’s up, all is well. And thanks for the thoughts.

Moving to a new city is both exciting and sad. Exciting because you get to meet new people, introduce yourself to strangers, and explore new areas of a new neighborhood. One of my favorite parts of moving into a new neighborhood is finding all the local coffee shops and bookstores. It’s places like that where you can chill out and read something interesting that can perhaps expand your mind.

Another thing that is both exciting and sad is saying goodbye the old and creating a new morning walk. My previous walk in my old city took several iterations until it was just right. You know how you try something, and keep shifting it a little bit until you get it just right, right? Like when you order a coffee and you get the sugar and milk ratio just right. It’s as though you don’t really want the refill because you don’t want to mess up the perfect mix that you’ve created.

So I was on my first exploratory morning walk, going down this small side street, checking out this bridge, looking in the window of that shop. And it made me think of how the brain is able to create new memories. From a structural standpoint, it’s almost identical to creating a new traveling route.

Like for example, if somebody says ‘baseball,’ and you automatically think of ‘hotdog,’ that means there is a strong electrical/chemical/physical connection in your brain between the collection of neurons for all things ‘baseball’ and all things ‘hotdog.’ Mentioning one automatically makes you remember another.

So as I was walking I started wondering, as I usually do, which is one of the main reasons for my walks. What if you could engineer the connections in your brain, instead of letting them grow on their own? For example, what happens when you think of the following words:






What words did you come up with? Did you like them? Would you like to change them? One of the great things about human development is that you can learn to create associations in your brain, just like you create a new traveling route, as I was doing this morning. For example, when you think of the word ‘test,’ what if you automatically thought ‘a great opportunity for to show your knowledge?’ Or if somebody says ‘economy,’ how would you like to think ‘a fantastic complex structure where you can make incredible amounts of money?’

Of course, just as it will take time for me to create and settle into a new walking route, it won’t be automatic for you to create new connections, but don’t you think that it’s worth the effort?

I can’t wait until tomorrow morning. There is another street I saw that I hadn’t been down yet. How about you?