I have priorities, and one of them is to listen to certain podcasts in a week. Here's one I highly recommend.
I talk about Lisa Feldman Barrett. A lot. And there are good reasons for that. Primary among them is that I always look for alternative takes on things. I tend to be skeptical about anything everyone seems to agree on. I wonder about influencers and thought leaders and all the, well, men, on all the podcasts telling the world how to live and what's really going on with humans. So that's how I got interested in Barrett five years ago when I read How Emotions Are Made, which is not a quick read like her more recent, 7 1/2 Lessons about the Brain.
But no one gets a free pass. I'll read the studies (even if I have to pay for them), the books, and the journals. And yes, I'll listen to the podcasts. And what Barrett writes and talks about tracks. We've been living in an alternative universe of facts about what the brain is for and what it does, largely because our textbooks misinform us, which she does discuss.
As it turns out, the narrative of the lizard brain, amygdala hijack, the triune brain, reaction/response, and stress as negative, is incorrect. It's not the first time a false narrative has won the popular opinion, and it won't be the last.
But the tide is turning, as Barrett is by no means the only researcher (and clinician) who preaches about the mind as a prediction machine or talks about the process of how we come to know the world and act in it (see also David Eagleman and Anil Seth).
When You Listen, You'll Hear . . .
In this podcast, hosted by one of THE psychologist in the popular world, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, Barrett once again catalogs the many misconceptions about the brain. That's important here, because Kaufman does agree that the brain is a prediction machine (because it is!), but he's also a proponent of positive psychology, and he definitely doesn't share Barrett's take on emotion. So what you get to hear on the podcast, is someone changing his mind when he's introduced to new information. And if he can do it, so can you. This reminds me of that podcast Andrew Huberman did with Sam Harris, when Huberman realized he didn't actually know what mindfulness was until that conversation.
That's why I think everyone should listen to the episode. Here's my favorite moment:
By putting the energy into creating new predictions, you're investing in your future self. In other words, by practicing mindfulness, or by training your imagination, the work you put into that — the energy it takes to do that — shows up later as a benefit to your future self. AND, most important, you can't get there without that. Your brain doesn't magically change the way it predicts. You must seed it with new predictions.
Other educational moments included:
Mindfulness practice changes the patterns you've developed regarding your emotional life.
Emotions aren't universal.
There's no such thing as positive emotions.
Your brain is NOT for thinking, but for maintaining allostasis (regulating your "body budget").
Our brains are large because our lives are long.
Your memories aren't actually stored anywhere in your brain (although I think we use that as a term of art when we say that).
Mood (i.e., feeling tone or affect) + sensory input + past experience = emotion.
This was a wonderful discussion, which I do NOT recommend listening on 2x if you're not already familiar with the material.
Meanwhile, if you want to seed your brain with new predictions, listening to the podcast isn't that helpful. You need to DO something different. Here are some practices.
May ease find you.