Sunday, September 29, 2013

Land of the Prefrontal Cortex

The world of information we spend so much time in is not just a
frontier in itself but is creating a new frontier inside our brains.
The pre-frontal cortex is the location in the brain most active when
we’re planning, imagining, analyzing, all the things that are
particularly human. It’s the place we generate ideas, where curiosity
blooms, where we’re using the most evolved part of the brain and
enjoying every minute of it. Peak experiences are always connected to
stretching ourselves, being fully involved in a challenge. And by
using this part of the brain we’re increasing its area. The brain
changes in accordance with how we use it, giving more fuel to the
parts we use the most and less where we don’t. This means as we use
these capacities they develop. New circuits grow; new patterns of
association are created and reinforced.

We enjoy it because the brain is designed to reward good survival
behavior. Developing the skills in the newest part of the brain is
strengthening what builds our efficacy in the world. So many inputs
from the prefrontal cortex go to the primary reward center it would
suggest that this is how we’re meant to grow. Use of investigation,
imagination and self-expression stimulates the nucleus accumbens,
initiating dopamine mechanisms that increase attention and focus. This
is demonstrated by studies of happiness that found the most important
factor was being involved in some sort of self-improvement. It’s why
videogames are so pleasurable. So are learning, building skills,
creating and wondering. For the most part, time on the Internet is
time using and building the prefrontal cortex. Like most other parts
of the brain there’s a left and right. Language and symbolization, the
way we break things down, analyze, sort and examine parts are methods
of the left. It’s the right prefrontal cortex that is a new frontier
to be developed by more and more visual orientation to the
relationship between things and not the tiny parts. Sensitivity to
patterns and overviews are the necessary evolutionary step to develop
harmony in the world. We can only grow wisely by having perspective on
the big picture.

It may be that with so much time in the Land of the Prefrontal Cortex,
people have naturally gravitated to exercise, yoga, tai’chi and sports
to balance the mental life by taking care of the body that supports
it. It might be why I need to work with physical matter now, to make
things out of clay that use more of me than my brain and my hand. It
still feels strange to be to working with a physical object instead of
looking through the portal of a drawing into another world of mind.
Throwing bowls on the wheel permits no other world. Attention must be
centered. In a world of distractions this may be what attracts me

Interacting with our technology is getting more visual all the time.
Our brains are evolving to match our tools. But cultivating
mindfulness is important to being more conscious of what’s directing
our attention

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