The mind and the body, according to neuroscience, and how that affects thought
And maybe an explanation on differences in Eastern and Western Culture?
The mind and body have always been separate to humans. Moreover, certain concepts are also understood very separately — think colours and numbers. The author in this piece discusses the Deacon doctrine (that our tools of thought and communication formed limited by the brain, not by the brain adapting new abilities). Extending this the author states:
“one reason big ideas are influential and enduring is because they fit with the structure and function of the human brain”.
Eastern and Western Brains
The author looks at a few cultural elements that contrast in their native North America vs. Eastern Cultures and then applied the Deacon doctrine:
- Collectivism vs Individualism — “The nail that stands out gets pounded down” [Eastern] vs “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”[Western].
With the doctrine, maybe Eastern and Western minds are different. The author conducted a genetic study and found differences in how minds regulate serotonin. 2/3 of East Asian minds have a short-short variant of the 5-HTTLPR gene. Only 1/5 of western minds do. The more common Eastern-mind variant has been shown in multiple studies to increase the risk of depression when there is a reduction in social support. As such, the Eastern world may be predisposed to needing social inclusion — through genetics.
- Religion and personal agency — Buddhist “we are all connected” vs Judeo-Christian “individuals will be accountable later”
Buddhist ideas quickly travelled across the east, starting in India. (Note: less than half of Indian minds have the short-short gene, which also correlates with the fact Buddhism is “no longer a major” religion in India.) Buddhism migrated towards minds that seem to require social inclusion more strongly. Conversely, Christianity travelled from the Middle East to the West, where social connection is less emphasised.
“Big ideas seem to have migrated until they found populations with the right neurochemistry to make them sticky”
Brain and body
Using a similar application, the author suggests the reason we separate mind and body is because our brain has developed that way.
Footnote: Other theories have focused on cultural differences due to responses to germs, labour, nutrition, agriculture and more so this is no foregone conclusion — but it is an interesting additional element to the mix.
Inspired by Matthew d. Lieberman’s “What makes ideas sticky” from “What’s next? Dispatches on the future of science” 2009
Recently I began reading this book of science essays that were meant to assess the future. Seeming it is 10 years since the book was published, I thought it may be interesting to revisit these. Here the focus was on how the brain’s structure may influence how ideas are selected.