The Naked Brain by Richard Restak, M.D.

These are my brief notes about:

The Naked Brain: How the emerging neurosociety is changing how we live, work, and love

by Richard Restak, M.D.

I began this book early in 2012, having not studied any psychology or cognitive science since college.  It opened up several interesting topics for further exploration, and as a result, I’ve now developed a to-read list of several other books in this general field….and with a particular view toward rational thinking and what it would take to facilitate a widespread interest in it.  Most of what follows are quotations from the book.  I have made an occasional comment in red font.

My Interest

My particular interest in reading this book is the failure of my activities in various fields of activism.  I learned some time ago how to make a logical argument, but I have since learned that the greater trick is to get people to care about logic.  I had been pondering the problem when I happened to hear this book pitched on a radio show and thought I’d give it a whirl.

Interesting Points

I don’t have the time to go into detail about the book at present, so I’ll just paste some quotes from the book here.

  • “We are continuously in the process of trying to explain ourselves to ourselves by coming up with plausible causes for our actions.  This is especially true in regard to our emotional responses.” (p. 38)
  • “Distinctions between emotion and reason presently enjoy an undeserved prominence in our concepts about ourselves.” (p.50)
  • “These studies support the notion that thinking about something and doing it are neurologically similar. And the two activities activate the same regions of the brain, suggesting they share representational systems,…”  “… [some] suggest imaginational exercises as the first step toward self-improvement.” (p. 58)  This made me think about how prayer about one’s own character issues may likely have a reformative effect of its own, without regard to whether God takes any action as a result of the prayer or not.
  •  “Advertisers routinely employ motion-filled ads in order to more easily grab the attention of viewers.  Special effects in the movies exert a similar capture of your attention, on eof the reasons serious drama involving subtle interpersonal interactions doesn’t usually feature a lot of special effects lest attention be diverted from the story.” (p. 66)
  • “We thrive when we’re dealing with people who understand us, people who appreciate and respond correctly to how we’re feeling.  And while some people are good at reading us, others seem perfectly oblivious to our feelings and mental states.”  (p. 74)
  • “If you’re like the subjects who participated in this study, you will become more self-concious when the camera is on….Your reaction time will also increase when the camera is on.  Presumably, your interior dialogue about your performance, accompanied by your evaluations and self-criticism, take a toll on the rapidity of your response.”  (p. 75)
  • “So, as marketers and public relations specialists have long recognized, it’s important to always retain control of the context in which information is first learned.” (p. 77)
  • “In order to compensate for this loss of [forgotten] context, the brain unconsciously assumes that familiar information is true information: ‘I’ve heard that before, so there must be something to it.’ ”  (p. 77)
  • “As other researchers have elaborated, it doesn’t matter whether the false information is presented as fact or opinion or whether it is written or spoken—it will be believed even when the information is identified as false from the very beginning.”  (p. 78)
  • “Warning people about false information also tends to make it more familiar later on.” ( p. 78)
  • “Our brain is organized in such a way that assertions, if repeated often enough, tend eventually to be accepted as facts.”  (p. 79)
  • “As a consequence of this approach to personality evaluation—thinking without thinking—you may embrace or reject someone for reasons that have nothing to do with their actual personality.” (p. 80)
  • “…negative information weighs more heavily on the brain and has a greater impact than equally extreme positive information.” (p. 83)
  • “We are not slaves to the automatic responses mediated by our amygdala and other components of our brain’s emotional circuits; instead, thanks to the frontal lobes of our brain, we have the power to create for ourselves a new and more empowering reality.” (p. 89) This point was poorly worded, for he is referring to our ability to consider more than just our emotions when negotiating the realities of a situation.  In other words, he’s referring to discovering the true realities, rather than taking only the word of our emotions for what reality is.
  • “Typically, people remember up to ten thousand faces and can identify 90 percent of their classmates thirty-five years after leaving school.” (p. 100)
  • “Not only do students tend to mimic their teacher’s posture, but this postural mimicking is greatest for those teachers the students feel the most rapport with.” (p. 109)
  • “Thus the natural tendency to mimic can be overridden, it seems, by a generally negative appraisal of a particular person.” (p. 109)
  • Paraphrase: Tsunami (2004) donations from Western counties went up significantly once advertisements calling for donations specifically mentioned that westerners were among the victims.  “Once viewers could more closely identify with the tsunami victims, contributions to the disaster relief efforts increased dramatically.”  (p. 113)
  • “The mind can be trained to overcome shortcomings by practicing and concentrating on areas of weakness.” (p. 118)
  • “Our emotional responses can also be lessened if we identify and label our emotions….” (p. 123)
  • “Those who chronically ruminate about negative events in their lives or aspects of themselves are doing extra brain processing that may be increasing brain activations in deep emotion-related brain structures such as the amygdala.  This makes it much more difficult for these individuals to regular their negative emotions than it is for  others who are not prone to rumination.” (p. 126)
  • “Despite the common conception that older people are more prone to see the dark side of things, additional research…proves just the opposite.” (p. 127)
  • We now know that we can exert control even under the most difficult of circumstances thanks to our powers of reappraisal.” (p. 129)
  • Quotation from Marcus Aurelius:  “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” (p. 131)
  • “Social connection is ‘as basic as air, water, or food’ and ‘the pain of social separation or social rejection is not very different from physical pain.'” (p. 131)
  • “The movements of expressions in the face and the body reveal the thoughts and intentions of others more truly than do words, which may be falsified.” (p. 137)
  • “‘The sweet emotions of the soul,’ wrote Duchenne, activate the muscles around the eyes, whereas false or even halfhearted smiles involve only the muscles of the mouth.” (p. 138)
  •  “If the muscles around the eyes don’t active, the smile is only for show….And there are other differences in smiles:  False smiles are less symmetrical than joyful smiles, remain on the face a microsecond too long, and tend to end abruptly rather than fade smoothly away.” (p. 139)
  • “Contrary to what we’ve been taught to believe, emotions rather than logic play the principal role in determining moral behavior.  This is especially true in regard to the resolution of moral dilemmas.”  (p. 147)  What the author fails to acknowledge here is an area of deep interest for me:  the reflective mind, which is part of the conscious/aware mind, can TRAIN the emotions and the unconscious fountain from which they flow.  His comment here comes simply from real-time brain scanning that shows which areas of the brain are active at the moment of decision; they do NOT show just how the realm of emotion got to be as it is, and what amount of deliberate training occurred (or not) along the way.  Theauthor alludes to this briefly in the comment in blue above (from p. 129).
  • “Especially important for achieving moral ethical judgments is our old friend the frontal lobes 9specifically, the orbital frontal cortex).  Given the importance of that area in the formation of moral judgments, it should come as no surprise to learn that the frontal lobes are underactive in psychopaths and others who act without moral or ethical restraint.” (p. 150)
  • (About 9/11) “‘Just about everyone can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news,”…[this] is sometimes referred to as flashbulb memory… [but] it may come as a surprise to you to learn that flashbulb memories aren’t especially reliable after all.”  (p. 152)
  • “‘In many instances memory for the central gist of something that happened is retained, whereas memory for details fades or changes.”‘ (p. 153)
  • “Drawing on social neuroscience research showing the maleability of memory, a new breed of marketers is now busily devising practical applications of social neuroscience aimed at getting us to buy their products.” (p. 154)
  • “…marketers and others can alter memories so we become convinced of the reality of something that never happened.  Psychologists refer to this as memory morphing. (p. 155)
  • “According to research on memory morphing carried out by marketing-oriented psychologists, 25 percent of normal adults will accept the suggestion that they had been lost at age five in a shopping mall and rescued by an elderly person, or that as a child they had spilled a bowl of punch at a wedding.  moreover, these false memories are incorporated into their memories for events that actually did happy at that time in their lives.” (p. 155)
  • “In a related experiment researchers were able to manipulate people’s memory about a past experience by inducing them to believe that the experience had been more positive than it actually was.” (p. 157).
  • “Memories are usually generalized and based on typical rather than specific examples.” (p. 165)
  • “Each time we remember something we unconsciously induce subtle changes in the details of that specific recollection.” (p. 165)
  • (On the power of branding.)  “Read then repeated the [Coke/Pepsi taste] test, but this time he told the subjects which of the samples were Coke.  In this situation [unlike the previous test] Coke was preferred over Pepsi.” (p. 166)
  • “The cost of acquiring new customers is about five times the cost of maintaining established ones.  In addition, making brand loyalists out of just 5 percent more customers leads, on average, to an increase in profit per customer of between 25 and 100 percent.  In other words, the companies that rely on snagging new customers via megabuck advertising campaigns will always make less money than companies that funnel their efforts into making their established customers happy.  (That’s what no-questions-asked return policies are all about.)”  (p. 168)
  • “As the overexposure to catastrophes escalates further, the ensuing burnout comes accompanied with anxiety and depression.  Like it or not, there really are limits on our capacity for empathy and compassions.” (p. 201)
  • “Thus, there isn’t a joy or a happiness ‘center’ that can be shown to light up by an fMRI.” (p. 207)
  • “Further, we now know that culture exerts a more powerful effect than strictly biological factors in shaping our brains.  Take, for example, the dramatic increase in the average IQ, which has climbed 24 points since 1918. ” (p. 215)

This book was worth the read, and is especially enlightening if one has also read What Intelligence Tests Miss, by Keith Stanovich, PhD.  It is quite clear to me that the public is being taken advantage of with regard to its general cognitive negligence.  Little do we realize what a constant barrage we are under from those who seek to influence our beliefs, our behavior, and our spending.  Such individuals are highly motivated to change us.  And the great irony here is that we—the ones who are so very valuable to the marketers—have such little motivation to change ourselves.  It’s not like we’re all so busy on our own personal quests for greatness of character that we don’t have time to be swayed by the marketers!  On the contrary, so many of us are so personally bored and aimless that we welcome interaction from marketers.  We do not realize that the moment we turn on the TV or the radio, we have stepped into their wheelhouse, and that the entire experience is aimed at motivating us to believe, behave and spend as they wish.

If we were a more deliberate and cognitively-responsible people, however, I believe that we would be considerably less vulnerable to the suggestions of the market.

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