Eight Insights Not Found in Other Books
My book How to Understand Everything is largely a compendium of the ideas of many experts that have been interpreted through a life lens of working in marketing communications, for many years, since I left university.
I have worked on projects in diverse markets including food, beverages, toys, software, pharmaceuticals, educational products, industrial processes, consulting and many others. While working with companies I have made it my business to become familiar with their production processes and the benefits (or not) of their products. I have studied the underlying ideas, scientific and social, to become knowledgeable enough to explain pertinent points to potential customers, who are often experts in their respective fields. And consequently the domains of my inquiry have not been constricted by the silos characteristic of academic institutions.
Also, my perspectives have been honed by the economic marketplace rather than by academia. Those who are members of academic institutions observe how colleagues and pupils react to their ideas and tend to judge them accordingly. The dynamics of this process, unless an academic is obstinately contrarian, lead them to think similarly to the majority. I have not had the privilege of working amongst intellectuals who appreciate dialoguing about matters of neurophysiology, mathematics and other arcane matters. Instead, my ideas have been judged by the sometimes harsh realities of what works, or does not, in the marketing arena. Theories that are wonderfully logical and well-argued are destroyed if they fail to achieve the desired goals.
My perspectives therefore have foundations that are markedly different to those of academics. While I embrace the findings of scientific researchers my overall synthesis of their ideas is largely original.
The book expresses eight insights, or “big ideas” that are novel, and as far as I am aware, not explained elsewhere. These insights are not called out in the text and so I list them here:
1. Consilience has Arrived
I argue that we have collectively arrived at a point where the various academic disciplines have grown together allowing us to decipher how neural systems work. When we jettison mythologies about the uniqueness of the human brain, that it handles “information,” and operates by “thinking” — it no longer remains a mystery.
2. Bottom-Up Approaches
While it is becoming increasingly common to read about bottom-up thinking and emergence, I am not acquainted with books that have applied this approach to making sense of the physical and biological worlds, as well as to the processes happening in our brain. Our sensory apparatus performs the remarkable feat of organizing what we experience into instantly recognizable categories. The categories themselves are not pre-existing — although they appear to be.
3. Cymatic Models of Cell Modulation
I devote only a few paragraphs to the subject of of cell modulation. I believe that the dynamics of the intracellular medium have been largely overlooked because study of the structure of DNA and RNA is much easier. I employ the metaphor of drum circles. While this doesn’t appear sophisticated it helps bring the discoveries of those studying microtubules into the limelight.
The connection between beat-split of mother and daughter microtubules and the mathematics of the Fibonacci series came from my attempts to describe the science intelligibly. Right or wrong, I believe this insight illuminates new ways of thinking about how organisms operate — that is, as emergent systems from the bottom up.
4. Consciousness is No Longer a Mystery
While the word sometimes has meanings that relate to spirituality and self actualization, I explain consciousness biologically and propose its foundations were formed over 500 million years ago. I avoid using unfamiliar words like qualia and sentience and eschew theories with acronyms like AST, NCC, IIT and GNW. I contend that discoveries by frontline researchers allow us to understand consciousness in ways that are relatively simple and matter-of-fact. See this 20 minute video.
5. The Brain Acts In-the-Moment
Academic modes of thought have biased us towards believing that the brain operates through a process of thinking and reasoning. This perspective is tenable only if there are processes occuring in the cerebral cortex that are unique to humans. With advances in genetics and the discovery of the deep homology of our genetic makeup it has become clear that the human cerebral cortex is not fundamentally different to the cortex of other mammals. Its unique capabilities result from its relatively large size and the interlinking between the areas involved in speech comprehension, writing, speaking and manipulating objects.
A conclusion, that I believe is inescapable, is that the brain is a complex critical system that operates in-the-moment, constantly modelling situations forward. Explanations of behavior and quiet introspection happen after the fact, adjusting the landscape for future actions that occur dynamically.
Amongst neurophysiologists it is well-accepted that neuronal systems are “goal-directed.” I point out how this manifests in all human communications — where there is always some sort of “point.” I explain how complex matters over time become distilled into words and phrases that are simplifications, and yet members of the group employing them are brought together with a shared belief in their meaning and purpose.
7. Deep Roots of Our Social Nature
I argue that the roots of human sociability result from various behaviors observed in our evolutionary forebears. The attachment and nurturing instinct are operational to varying degrees throughout our lives and help form the foundations of civilization — and our sensitivity to social concerns.
8. Instant and Fluid Tribalism
Neuronal systems from primordial times onwards have the purpose of instantly judging whether things and other organisms are beneficial or harmful. This mechanism is how the human brain works.
One mode of thinking characteristic of academia is that human beings can become moderate through education and by employing objective reasoning. I believe that when we avoid acknowledging the realities of our biology it gives a pass to academic and political approaches that pit tribal groups, real or created, against others. Under the guise of fairness it becomes easy to whip up anxieties that are potentially catastrophic.
My perspective is grounded in the hard sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and genetics that is then fertilized by the ideas of mathematicians and computer scientists. The synthesis of ideas from diverse disciplines enables us to face up to the facts about our neuronal mechanisms and recognize that science itself is a social enterprise replete with mythologies.
The overall conclusion is that our abilities to understand are often overstated and we need the humility to learn from domains that have been productive through history including those that are philosophical, spiritual, scriptural and personal.