Book Review: A Whole New Mind

“A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”
By Daniel H. Pink
Riverhead Trade; Rep Upd edition (March 7, 2006)
288 pp.
ISBN: 978-1594481710

 

A book subtitled “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” is already a challenging concept. Even though with that statement the book risks not being taken seriously, it is a fun, readable, and motivating manifesto for living a better life today and anticipating a different world in the new future.

 

“We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer like capabilities of the Information Age,” says author Daniel Pink, “to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”

 

The old, bygone age is populated with computer programmers, lawyers, MBAs, number crunchers – logical thinkers, left brained thinkers. In the new, coming age? Creators, empathizers, pattern recognizers, meaning makers. Artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers. Right brained thinkers

 

To be sure, lawyers, MBAs and computer programmers are not automatically excluded from the list of the new thinkers, nor will they be hopelessly relegated to the dust heap next to eight-track tapes and rotary phones. Still, the MBAs and programmers who reframe their own experience and training into a right-brained, big picture story are the ones who stand to reap the greatest benefit in this Conceptual Age.

 

The first part is about what Pink calls the broad animating idea of the Conceptual Age. It describes the emotional, intuitive, and creative right brain next to the logical, structured, and mathematical left-brain. Far from arguing that it is now time for the right brain’s dominance, Pink claims (logically? creatively?) that it is now time for us to accept the relevance of the right brain on equal footing with the left. Just as a coin cannot have heads without tails, or the east cannot not exist with the west, neither can both sides of our brain act effectively without the collaboration of the other.

 

In the second part of Whole New Mind, the author turns it into a how-to manual while defining a new version of our well-known six senses. The new six senses – Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning – focus on an aspect of life where the right brain shines. Even more interesting, and more relevant to the meaning of Whole New Mind, is that these new six senses are a function not of the individual human body but of many humans working together in a group, a society, a culture. Perhaps this point more than any other makes the most successful argument that we should give the right brain its due.

 

For it would seem that working in groups, collaborating with others, and sharing tasks, responsibilities, and ownership with others that individuals can reach their own potential. Perhaps only the right brain can appreciate that delicious irony. The left-brain is probably balancing a checkbook somewhere. Noting that intuitively making complex neuro-economic, or highly inter-subjective cost-benefit formulations, a right hemisphere dominate function, are “rational” choices we make without much conscious deliberation.

 

Actually, the field of Behavioral Economics, first acknowledged in the early 21st Century as a micro-economic discipline, building upon applied neuroscience. The field focuses on personal decision making during ordinary social exchange, forming humanities essential social nature. “Social Attribution,” a decidedly right hemisphere function, allows for intuitive, automatic complex social behaviors, represents a prime example of nonlinear, conceptual, interpersonal formulations and pattern recognition.

 

Still confused about how and why to cultivate your right brain? Try on some of these suggestions for starters:

 

Design: Look around you. Which things in your workspace were designed? They all were! Do things work? Do your things make you comfortable? Save money? Add time to your day? Make you look better, richer, smarter? What sense of meaning do you get from your things? After reading this section, you will never look at your stuff the same way again.

 

Story: Facts are facts, right? Wrong.  How you tell a story, how you frame the events, how richly you describe what happens – these simple, centuries-old narrative tricks give power to facts. How can sway your toughest critic, sell something, engage indifferent people into a new passion? Just tell a story. We are still human, and we want to know what other humans have experienced.

 

Symphony: The author calls his version of symphony as “a signature ability of composers and conductors” which applies in a much wider area. While technical and routine jobs are shipped overseas, the need remains for recognizing patterns, seeing the big picture, sifting through gushes of information for that one nugget that will change your world. Have you considered keeping a metaphor log instead of a regular diary?  Next time you want to ask “why?” ask “why not?” instead.

 

Empathy: Can you stand in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling? The author argues that empathy is necessary for leadership. Computers cannot do it, off-shored jobs can’t do it either. By knowing and “feeling” what others are feeling, you can persuade, encourage, assist, and lead. Sometimes, people’s most genuine emotions flash on their faces in the tiniest fraction of a second. Did you catch it? It is telling you something that their words are not.

 

Play: Play is just what you think it is, and is as important for adults as it is for children. Did you laugh out loud today? Did you get so much enjoyment from an activity that it felt like playing? The booming billion-dollar industry of video gaming is expanding way beyond the Sega’s, Nintendo’s and Wii’s where kids spend so many hours.  Moreover, “There’s also evidence that playing video games enhances the right-brain ability to solve problems that require pattern recognition.”

 

Meaning: The industrial age gave way to the age of abundance and automation. Now, with so many riches, resources, entertainment, and opportunities for doing stuff all around us, ask: Why? Perhaps these actions will help: Say thank you. Pay attention to your spirit. Ask what you would do if you had $20 million and 10 years to live; are you doing that now?  Why not?

 

In the end, Pink’s picture of a right-brained world fits. Even the writer of this review, surely a right-brained person, had plenty of trouble writing it after reading the book on a Kindle. The space on that Kindle screen was just too tiny, and this book needs a big-picture, holistic, right-brained view.

 

This book is ideal of those with atypical cognition be their differences in thinking comes from any number of neurodevelopmental discrepancies.  Those persons without the “speck-thought” resulting from privatized speech during formative early years in the developmental acquisition of self-regulation.

 

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Medication as Social Compliance

I am baffled by people’s crazy misunderstanding about the role medication plays in ADHD treatment. Despite this disorder being anything but an attention deficit. When properly adjusted the drugs only serve to support a more normal cognitive experience. Working with our existing memory system becomes easier, processing speed improves, and fitting words (and affect) to experience becomes less difficult, as does self-regulating emotion, motivation, and behavior.

The professionals in (and out) of the field still believe that drugs are a form of social control: once recent paper referred to ADHD medication as a “social leash,” because persons properly medicated are more socially compliant — as if a positive social outcome must mean the intentions of the physician were self-interested and harmful. Nevermind the positive effects experienced by the patient!

What these ill-informed professionals fail to understand (or acknowledge) is that these drugs allow a patient to more effectively make self-efficacious decisions. Cooperation (or “social compliance”, when vilified by these authors) is often a win-win arrangement — it is simply the most self-efficacious choice, not a dominance-submissive or win-lose exchange.

Indeed, the mere fact that one can measure the efficacy of medication by testing reading comprehension alone, without ever examining “social compliance” should be illuminating enough, since neurologically the capacity for reading comprehension and following rule-governed behavior share neuronal pathways.

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Differentiating “Excuses” from “Explanations” and “Error” from “Mistakes” — A Distinction that Makes a Difference

I now explain to clients that the difference between an “excuse” and an “explanation” is the same as the difference between a “mistake” and an “error.”

Humans learn by trial and error. When we constructively examine our errors, we follow the error with an Action Plan. The Action Plan is the natural precursor to Rehearsal, designed to improve the likelihood of an outcome when confronted by similar circumstances in the future. Children that can engage in this process without negative attitude or excessive emotionality that overshadows reason they are more able to arrive at their own Action Plan. Reviewing errors becomes a learning experience, discussed verbally within a relational context, and prepares the adults for the inevitable reoccurrence.

An error only becomes a mistake when we do not engage in this process of reappraisal. Unfortunately, when regret, apologies, shame and rumination take hold, this process is subverted, resulting in the creations of mistakes rather than errors.

Likewise, “explanations” lead to Action Plans, while “excuses” lead to continuous apologies and repeated mistakes. When one is flooded with emotion or overwhelmed by a perceived task, the instinct is to make excuses. To counter this, the client may learn to respond by activating their “privileged access” within their own subjective world, exercising their “veto fiat” to lower their arousal level and thereby permit them a clear workspace to figure out how to best manage the situation.

Stephen Kosslyn has done remarkable research on task performance and the capacity to hold a stable envisioned goal in mind for successful completion.  Along with lifelong friend and fellow researcher Richard Hackman, they have shown that a successful venture — whether person, small group, large groups, doing any endeavor (music, sports, sales, manufacturing, ect.) — is predicated upon the held picture of completing their goal.

 

Rumination as an unintended form of rehearsal

I have worked with clients to write down and often record their own voice, describing the completed project, to keep them on task with good results. My assumption has been their working memory fails to sustain a stable picture of task completion, resulting from an unstable maintenance of the percept, with deteriorated interference controls and goal orientation. I concluded that sustained purposiveness could become supported by top-down, intentional infusing of working memory processes with the visualized intentional plan, initially discussed and tape-recorded. Then they use the recordings to shift sets into activation and for maintaining follow through, listen again to themselves reloads their vocalized action plan, complete with somatic markers, into the current working memory functions, support intrinsic motivation and arousal (when properly medicated).

Stephen Kosslyn’s vision and cognition research illustrates how visualization is a neurological form of rehearsal, which immediately allowed me to see that rumination over past errors reinforces the neuronal networks for prospective problem solving. This would mean ruminative confabulation and recrimination is an unintended rehearsal for error repetition, which made perfect sense.

 

Medication and “Action Plans”

Peter Gollwitzer and a college conducted a study in 2006 with ADHD children using Action Plans, with and without cognotropic medication (Ritalin). In sum, they found ADHD children with or without medication respond positively with improved situationally specific problem areas, to using Action Plans predicated upon a verbalized reappraisal of their “error insensitivity.” The medicated group had a threefold level of responsiveness to using externally generated and written out preplanned alterative behavioral schema when finding them in a similar problematic situation.

When children grow up with continuous assaults on their comportment due to defects in sense of agency, pathological levels of negative expectancy, chronic demoralization, difficulties with coordinated collaborative action, and a general capacity to act with volitional agency, then their neural network organization reflects the accumulation of aversive life experiences. Distorted and confused self-construction become neurologically embedded and habituated within one’s self-narrative conception.

 

References

Ffor no cost copies of the papers referenced, go to Peter Gollwitzer’s NYU website, and look for paper “Implementation Intentions Facilitate Response Inhibition in Children with ADHD,” June 2007, Caterina Gowilow co-author. Numerous other papers of a similar nature are also listed and available.

Stephen Kosslyn and his “Reality Simulation Principal,” can be publicly accessed on his Harvard website, then clicking on the 7-minute video clip “What Shape is a German Sheppard Ears?” Additionally, within Kosslyn’s Harvard website, go to his Brain Research Project for access to Richard Hackman’s and other remarkable papers.

Information on Benjamin Libet and his neuroscience of Mind-Time, Google his name and look for a Stephen Kosslyn review of the book “Mind-Time: The Temporal Factor of Consciousness.”

Global Workspace Theory has an excellent selection of illustrative papers by Bernard Baars, on his website at The Neuroscience Institute in La Jolla California. The free assortment of papers by Bernie Baars on his version of Global Workspace Theory is sound explained by widely held perspective. GWT has become the “concept de jour,” proposed by a broad spectrum of inter-disciplinary academics as our best scientific proposal for explicating human consciousness, which has evolved into the current neurology by our species for the past 70,000 to 140,000 years.

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