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Brain’s Sophistication is Unmatched, Nurture it!

[ 7 minute Quick-Read ]

Aristotle said, “Man is by nature the social animal”. 

And our brain is an extremely sophisticated instrument handling this. 

This brief write-up not only pursues the brain’s value but also provides practical tips to preserve and respect it.   

Have you played the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors”? I have seen Japanese kids playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, it’s a 2-minute game to decide a winner. It appears to be a chance game. But it’s not. ESPN covered it in 2007, and a winner was awarded 50,000 US$ award. These winners were consistent. Confirming it’s not by chance or luck. But players mastered the art of human psychology. Winners can read subtle clues into body language, analyze recent plays, and review mental state leading to educated guesses on the next move! A noted scientist has worked on our brain’s such sophisticated social abilities. 

Mathew Liberman, a noted social psychologist, and a neuroscientist has done groundbreaking research in this area. Russian lab offered him 3 million dollars to do research. He declined. He discovered a “default network” in the brain. We all human beings default to this network, in the absence of cognitive work. Even a 3-second break in mental tasks and this network glows. It glows even in newborn babies – suggesting instinctual response. Matthew called it our “social cognition center”. 

This social cognition center is a tool for communication and conversation. The conversation is a very complex phenomenon. You look into the eyes, observe a person, his demeanor, verbal intonations, body language, usage of words, and his surroundings. Your brain analyses this in real-time and supports you in the correct response. And we put this sophisticated, Earth’s most evolved instrument to a reduced level of click on social media, like, upvote, share and so on. We do suffer the consequences of such choices.   

Like, upvote, forward, and comment on social media doesn’t require a sophisticated brain network. It’s like using Laser gun for chopping onions. The results are clear. More and more social media makes people unhappy. Yes, it is supported by research. Because you are “connecting” to the people, and replacing it for “conversation”. The conversation is the need for your sophisticated brain. A large number of connections, tweets, likes, and upvotes can’t replace rich “conversation” with poor “connection”. That is the basic cause of your unhappiness. Craving for a pleasant “conversation” – a real touch with human beings, can’t be restored with bothersome “connect”! 

So how do we shift to the conversation in this hyper-connected world! 

Here are three tips to nurture your brain. 

1: Don’t click like:  

Friendfeed, an early social network invented “Like”. Facebook has just adopted it. These “Like”, “upvote”, “comment”, and “retweet” are just statistical data points. Techniques reducing users to just statistics. It’s the first poison triggering a false connection as a conversation. So stop it, and your mind will start craving for real conversation.   

2: Consolidate texting: 

More and more you text in a day and with someone, your need for real “conversation” drops. So, stop using continuous texting. If texting is essential, keep blocks of time, for example, one hour in the evening or half-an-hour in lunch-break for text. And use it as an asynchronous email service. This action will enable your brain to stop anticipating text as communication. You will engage in real conversation soon. For example, my friend uses text only on weekends. Period. A drastic step, but required. 


3. Hold conversation hours

Hold special conversation hours. Fix timings and let your network know it. For instance, I used to tell everyone to call at 0500 PM. My commute used to start at that time, and I started using my commute time for calls. If someone wishes to talk to me at length, I start calling them for lunch or coffee break. I also set special meeting hours with my students. Steve Jobs was famous to set walking hours for special intensive meetings. My one mentor, a monk – also calls me on a walk after his lunch or dinner for talk. Idea is to make it a rich conversation with explicit time allotment. 

These simple steps will cut poor “connections” and nurture sophisticated brains with what it deserves, rich “communication”. 

[This is my take/summary of chapter-5 of Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism”]

[You can check review/summary of chapter-4 here


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