See Also: Book Notes, (me), Notes on Consciousness, Happiness Hypothesis, Consciousness and the Brain, Human: Makes Us Unique, Righteous Mind, Consciousness: Confessions, Blank Slate, Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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Seven and 1/2 Lessons About the Brain

Lisa Feldman Barrett

125 pages text; 35 notes; 14 index. Great Innovation: Companion Web Page!!! See Also: Barrett: How Emotions Are Made!

7&1/2 Lessons is brilliant, thin, metaphor laden, rich, frustrating, sometimes humorous sometimes overly professorial and truly wonderful. This is a small short book that packs a whallop of wisdom about the Brain. Barrett never mentions consciousness, but if consciousness is a stream, she elucidates the properties of water and gravity, as well the grasses and rocks that make up our streams.

Barrett is a master of triggering curiosity storytelling, starting with the Title: 7.5 Lessons... Wait! What's a half lessons. What follows is a flow of knowledge that can cling to the freshly poked curiosity. An example from p.10 - there is no WHY for our brains, "no why to evolution". Followed by a great passage on allostasis and what the brain is good for ... "so you can perform nature's most vital task: passing your genes to the next generation." If that is not WHY, then I am a monkey's uncle.

7.5 Lessons has a more developed metaphor for body budgeting (allostasis) than her first book (HEAM). The metaphor has evolving to an accounting department. The 1/2 lesson is that brain is not for thinking but for running our bodies. It is the accountant running our body. Also expanded from HEAM: Social Reality & Prediction. New key concepts here: Social Brains, Little Brains, & Neurodiversity. Standard disclamer: Not a summary, just notes to refer back to.

Epilogue & ToC

When I first got the book I was under deadline, so, I just read the epilogue first. Here are 7 nuggets about the brain:
A brain that constructs such rich mental experiences that we feel like emotion and reason wrestle inside us. See Barrett's Constructed Theory of Emotions and her book.
A brain that's so complex that we describe it by metaphors and mistake them for knowledge. But metaphor and models are all we have.
A brain that's so skilled at rewiring itself that we think we're born with all sorts of things that we actually learn. Dehaene: How We Learn and Plasticity on WikiPedia
A brain that's so effective at hallucinating that we believe we see the world objectively, and so fast at predicting that we mistake our movements for reactions. Lesson 4. Predictive Coding Animation Models
A brain that regulates other brains so invisibly that we presume we're independent of each other. Lesson 5. Great!! See Our Social Brain below.
A brain that creates so many kinds of minds that we assume there's a single human nature to explain them all. Lesson 6. Neurodiversity
A brain that's so good at believing its own inventions that we mistake social reality for the natural world. Lesson 7. Social Reality

Table of Contents: The Half-Lesson: Your Brain Is Not for Thinking. 1: You Have One Brain (Not Three). 2: Your Brain Is a Network. 3: Little Brains Wire Themselves to Their World. 4: Your Brain Predicts (Almost) Everything You Do. 5: Your Brain Secretly Works With Other Brains. 6: Brains Make More Than One Kind of Mind. 7: Our Brains Can Create Reality
Lessons not in Epilogue: 2. Your Brain is a Network. 3. Little Brains wire themselves to the World.

p.50 "As information travels from the world into the newborn brain, some neurons fire together more frequently than others, causing gradual brain changes that we've called plasticity. These changes nudge the infant's brain toward higher complexity via two processes we'll call tuning and pruning."

Pruning Dendrites, the branches of neurons fits into a nice tree metaphor where the trunk is an axon and the bark is the myelin. We need to add a subway to this metaphor. Packets or info are gathered by the leaves, flow down the trunk, into the subway, ride to another arboretum, flow up the trunk to the branches and become neurotransmitters flowing to the surrounding dendrites. At the same time, the top canopy of the forest is a single sheet that also synchronizes thoughts. See Also: the new Dendritic Integration Theory of Consciousness

Allostasis == Body Budget

From companion website:

Peter Sterling calls it Predicitive Regulation. More on allostasis after reading his book

Young and Little Brains

p.61 "Childhood poverty is a huge waste of human opportunity... it's far cheaper to eradicate poverty than to deal with it's effects decades later." (jch - early brain development is critical) Finlay's model of mammal brain development timeline.

This is a Wonderful chapter / Lesson!!! . See Also: Dehaene's How we Learn

Mental Models of Reality

The lesson on prediction was a little frustrating. Barrett understands this deeply, but, this rendition does not capture it for me. I know enough to be dangerous, but, not enough. From previous book: HEAM "Through prediction and correction, your brain continually creates and revises your mental model of the world. It's a huge ongoing simulation that constructs everything you perceive while determining how you act..."

p67. "Last time I encountered this..." is not a good way to think about prediction. In our daily lives, our subconscious and preconscious processing is working with a model that has been abstracted from all of the times you have encountered similar situations.

The best bit on prediction is not in the chapter, but on page 100 - "Your brain's predictions prepare your body for action and then contribute to what you sense and otherwise experience."
My notes on
Predictive Coding / Prediction / Prediction Error

p.71 hallucinations - "Most of the time when you look at cows, you see cows. But you've almost certainly had an experience ... where the information inside your head triumphs over the data from the outside world. ... Neuroscientists like to say that your day-to-day experience is a carefully controlled hallucination, constrained by the world and your body but ultimately constructed by your brain. It's not the kind of hallucination that sends you to the hospital. It's an everyday kind of hallucination that creates all your experiences and guides all your actions. It's the normal way that your brain gives meaning to your sense data, and you're almost always unaware that it's happening."

Hallucinations are visions of our mental models. See Anil Seth's TED talk. What happens when prediction overrules the senses? Schizophrenia is it happens too much...

Lot's of good info on prediction, but, no mention of Prediction Error at all.

p.77 "Think about the last time you acted on autopilot. Maybe vou bit your nails. Maybe your brain-to-mouth connection was too well oiled and you muttered something regrettable to a friend. Maybe you looked away from an engaging movie and discovered that you'd downed an entire jumbo bag of red Twizzlers. In these moments, your brain employed its predictive powers to launch your actions, and you had no feeling of agency. Could you have exercised more control and changed your behavior in the moment?"

[jch - jumbled. Autopilot, to me is driving home at night, and if no salient events occurred, you remember nothing of the trip. Barrett is adding in kitchen sink of mindlessness, distraction. I really like the The Elephant And The Rider Metaphor. The Elephant is our subconsious wants and biases and the Rider is the small consciousness trying to steer the elephant as it eats the Twizzlers.

Our Social Brain

p.96 "The best thing for our nervous system is another human being. The worst thing for our nervous system is another human being".

What is truly wonderful about this book is when Barrett "takes lab coat off":
p.96 - "Taking our species' interdependence seriously doesn't mean restricting rights. It can mean simply understanding the impact we have on one another. Each of us can be the kind of person who makes more deposits into other people's body budgets than withdrawals or the kind of person who is a drain on the health and welfare of those around us."

[jch - editorial
Cozolino: Neuroscience of Human Relationships describes all of the hardware we have for interpersonal communication: Gaze, Pupil Dilation, Facial Expression, Posture, Touch and Proximity, Mirror Systems. Still, he does not discuss tone of voice or pheromones. We are both mentally and physically eusocial. If we do not participate regularly in a Real World community, we miss exercising those mental and physical social abilites. It is like having a Lamborghini, but only driving to a movie theatre to watch racing movies.

[ -jch find a place for this notes to self: Hive Mind, Tribe, Community, Elephants on Parade, herds, mobs, flocks - ]

Social Reality Superpower

The superpower that is the construction of social reality is Barrett's bailiwick.

p. 112 You and I can create social reality with other people without even trying, because we have human brains. To the best of our knowledge, no other animal brain can do that — social reality is a uniquely human ability. Scientists don't know for sure how our brains developed this capacity, but we suspect it has something to do with a suite of abilities that I'll call the Five Cs: creativity, communication, copying, cooperation, and compression.

By compression, Barrett is refering to compression of representation, not the general computing term compression. For a single C word to mean " CHUNKING (creating abstraction) that can be used for prediction. Compare the five Cs with Christakis's Social Suite, or perhaps the 8 C's of IFS?


p.100 - "We have learned that humankind has a single brain architecture a complex network and yet each individual brain tunes and prunes itself to its surroundings."

p.101 - "It's important for humans to have many kinds of minds, because variation is critical for the survival of a species. One of Charles Darwin's greatest insights was that variation is a prerequisite for natural selection to work." (jch - we need both of what John Stuart Mill would have called liberal & conservative to survive as a species.)

New facts for me: We have 2X the number of neurons in utero. 2) All mammals have a common brain manufacturing plan.

Affect is not a scalar

p.106 "Unfortunately, affect is not so precise. It just tells you 'Beep! You feel like crap'"

This seems wrong to my intuition. We have various ''ceptions (to grasp): Exteroception (outside), Interoception (Vagus Nerve), and Affective Consciousness (emotions) Sensory Consciousness. See also: neuroception

Panksepp said (in very broad strokes) the flow of information from interoception came thru different organs and the results were more likely to become anger, or fear .. regardless of how it was "mentalized". Barrett rejected the notion that there were emotional circuits because they did not reliably correlate to the predicted emotion.

She also rejects any scientific basis for the ways in which we generalize personality types like the Myers-Briggs MBTI, altho she does take the Big Five seriously. Great humor: "I prefer the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, which is much more rigorous"

Chunking == Abstraction

Five Cs needed to construct Social Reality: Creativity, Copying, Compression of Representation, Cooperation, Communication.

The general term "compression", as in ZIP, MPEG, JPG, MP3, etc, reduces redundancy, but, it produces gobbledygook. Summarizing and abstraction and model making allow predictions. Rather than drop the qualifier in compression of representation, to get a sinlge C word, I would like Daniel Bor's Chunking. Here is what he says:

consciousness is concerned with information - specifically, useful, structured information. Chunking is the main catalyst within the bubbling cauldron of our working memory where we convert the raw dust of data into molten gold, where basic information from our senses joins the highly refined hierarchical edifice of meaning that we've been building up from birth.
. . . Human innovation . . is happening almost all the time in all of us, whenever we are awake. Searching for and then finding useful strategies for solving problems, whether large or small, is a signature feature of consciousness.
Perhaps what most distinguishes us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ravenous desire to find structure in the information we pick up in the world. We cannot help actively searching for patterns - any hook in the data that will aid our performance and understanding. We constantly look for regularities . . .
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The image on the right shows an abstract image of the cortical sheet showing a hierarchy of brain regions with different cytoarchitcture. This structure both needs and provides the mechanics for the abstraction, compression of representation, summarizes, aka Bor's chunking. Finlay, Barbara L, and Ryutaro Uchiyama. 2015. “Developmental Mechanisms Channeling Cortical Evolution.” Trends in Neurosciences.

This same pair of authors are the lead reference for The common brain manufacturing plan. And, by the way, 7 & 1/2 Lessons is dedicated to Barb Finlay!

Amazon Review

2021-01-02 YON <>