Chris: I was just telling you, you've got this brand new book out as the time this airs the extended mind. And I have to tell you, you know, the title hooked me. I'm all about the mind, but. It was a very confusing topic to me. We have this kind of profiling system at work we go through. And one of the things that I was kind of dubbed as, is as a thinker.
I really, I live in my brain. I believe I can solve everything with my brain, just through sheer determination and time. And so when I hear about something that's like, think outside your brain; use other things. I was like, I don't know about this. Right. But as I dug in, it was just that idea that I needed to hear because of the shortcomings of my brain in the current environment.
Annie: Right. Right. Well, I bet your brain does a pretty good job for you most of the time. Right. And so you've learned to rely on it, but there's so much more out there that you could be bringing into the thinking process. That's the idea.
Chris: Yes. And I want to talk about that actually the shortcoming, because we don't enough, but I want to start.
Right off the bat. As I started reading your book, I got it highlighted here. You said our culture insists that the brain is the sole locus of thinking accord enough space, where cognition happens much as the workings of my laptop are sealed inside its aluminum case. This book argues otherwise. What does the book argue?
Annie: You're going to put me on the spot with the elevator pitch, right? So, yeah, so as I wrote there, um, our culture has the idea that thinking happens in here. And what I'm arguing is that actually thinking happens out here. And if you could see my hands, I'm trying to embrace, reach out and embrace, you know, the trees that are outside my window and the tools that are on my desk.
And if there was somebody else here, well, I guess you're here, you know, social interaction with other people. And the way I have my desk, my workspace arranged, all these things, are drawn into the thinking process and can enrich and enhance and extend our thinking processes. But we're limited by our own ideas about where thinking happens.
And we do as a culture. It's not just you, Chris. We do, as a culture, tend to think that the way to think is often alone, sitting still, quiet, you know, bearing down, gritting it out, thinking hard. And that's actually not the best way to go about thinking. You might ha you might have get a much better result if you went for a walk outside, for example, or if you reached out to a friend and said, Hey, can I, can I talk this through with you?
Or if you, um, engaged in some conversation where you were gesturing and you were moving those kinds of extra neural resources, meaning outside the brain resources. Can make our thinking so much richer than when we, as compared to when we just use the brain alone, which is a pretty limited organ, as much as we like to think that it's this incredibly powerful, extraordinary thing.
It's actually just a biological organ that evolved for certain limited purposes. And we've tried to adapt it and we have adapted it to our, our modern world with all its complexities. But there's a lot of gaps there. There's a lot of failures. There's a lot of deficits, as we all know in terms of trying to pay attention, trying to stay motivated, trying to solve problems, you know, that doesn't always go as well as we would like.
And my contention is that it's because we're trying to do too much in our heads.
Chris: Yes. Well, and here's the thing. When you talk about thinking, right? When you say, think outside your brain, use your. It actually is counter to pretty much how we're raised. That's why I struggled so much was, how can I think with anything other than the organ that thinks it'd be like, if somebody said, throw a softball, not with your arm or something, it'd be like, I don't, that doesn't make sense.
Do we have to change the way we, want to get meta here, ee think about thinking what it means to do that.
Annie: We absolutely do. I mean, that, that is my main point here is that we've got to reconceptualize, uh, how we understand thinking how, where we think it happens and get away from what is really just a very narrow, I would almost say like a prejudice or a bias in favor of the brain.
You know, I talk in the book. Um, being a very neuro centric kind of culture, a brain bound kind of culture, where we, we worshiped the brain almost, we kind of fetishize it. We, you know, if you ever see products that are meant to make us more intelligent, they often slap a picture of a brain on there, you know, and we even call somebody who's smart.
We even call them a brain. You know, I mean, we're really very focused on the brain as the place where thinking happens and that limits us, especially these days when expertise is so specialized, you know, there's so much information coming at us. We ask so much of our brains and our brains are saying.
Please, you know, I can't handle it anymore. I need help. And the help comes from these outside the brain resources, um, that we can offload some of that mental work onto, and that we can use to enrich and enhance our thinking. And that's a skill that nobody teaches you, right? I mean, we learn how to use our brain in school.
That's what school is all about. And in workplace training settings and that sort of thing, we, we don't learn there either how to think outside the brain. And yet my contention is that we're going to be needing to do that more and more.
Chris: As you're talking about thinking outside the brain, what do you perceive the goal as if I'm going, I'm going okay.
Thinking is when I'm like internalizing all types of things. It could be my experiences, the knowledge I have my memories to come up with something. Response some solution, some output, how can I use all their parts to come out with an output? Just doesn't make sense.
Annie: Well, and I don't, I want to be clear.I'm not saying that the brain won't be involved in thinking it's always going to be centrally involved in thinking, but one way to imagine the switch is to think about changing the role that the brain plays. It's less a workhorse that you're just driving and driving and more like an orchestra conductor.
That's like drawing from here and drawing from there and weaving it all together into a kind of assemblage that is made on the fly. And so when you think of the brain less as the solo operator and more like the orchestra conductor who's, you know, bringing in all the different resources at the time and the place that is most effective.
That's the way that that's the best way for us to use the brain, rather than just sort of deriving the brain, like some kind of poor, you know, ox in the field or something, you know, and expecting it to do all that labor on its own.
Chris: When the switch started to flip for me was as I read, I try to refute what I'm reading. Right. I try to look at it with a critical lens that I'm thinking my brain is doing just fine. You know, I was starting to think maybe this kind of, this is going to sound wrong. I don't mean it this way, but pop culture, like, it's fun to think about. It's fun. It's a fun idea. I'm sure there's a lot of good research, but is there any usefulness and then you start talking about the limitations of our current brain and that hit me.
Because there's a lot I want to do. I've got little kids. I'm trying to write a book. I work for a company. I do this podcast. I always want to create. And I beat myself up a lot about my inability to do so. It's a weakness. It's an inability to focus for long periods of time. But then I tend to just think, but that's the way we're built.
That's how the brain is built. And what I came to is, I’m, right. That is how the brain is built, but it doesn't mean that's where we have to stop. So how does this help us get past limitations that we're going to need? In a more complex future.
Annie: Hmm. Well, I want to point out you're right. That the brain is built for thinking, but it's also in a way built to extend itself to, to use these, um, these other resources that we're talking about that is just as essential a part of our nature.
And, uh, as an essential, a part of what the brain does as, as having it all happened in here, you know, if you think about how ancient, um, it is that people have used say tokens for accounting things, or they've even counted, you know, on their fingers or, um, people have accomplished things together with other, other people that no individual could do on their own or people have.
Designed buildings that evoke a certain state of mind. I mean, we've always been in this interactive kind of engagement with our, with our bodies and with the worlds that we live in. So I, I want to, I just want to say that I do think that the brain has evolved to it has evolved to extend itself and that's part of why human beings are able to accomplish such amazing feats.
You know, it's just that we have a blind spot for the way that we do that. And so we don't. Intentionally cultivated the way we cultivate skills like memorization or sort of self discipline and self motivation, all these internal skills that we placed so much focus on, you know, those can get us a long way.
And I think that's you, you're, you're using your brain at its full capacity and it's doing a pretty good job for you most of the time, but you do see, it sounds like that there are times when it, it can't go, can't take you all the way, you know, and, and I do think that that's going to happen to us all more and more, as I say is as, um, the kinds of tasks that we are required to do in this world of ours.
Just get too big for any one brain to complex, to, you know, these wicked problems that are beyond any of us, any one of us to solve. So the only way, in a sense that we can get smarter, given that our brains are working at full capacity right now, the only way to get smarter is to get better at thinking outside the brain.That's, that's what I wanted.
Chris: The best way I learned this through your book was the stories, the individuals, the successes that people had. So we're going to there, but I wanted to set the stage with this because you just said in my mind is one of the most crucial parts, which is we do this. We just don't.
I recognize it. And therefore we don't call. That's so massive how much this space have on our thinking. And here's why I have had an home office for the past 10 years, even before pandemic. And there are some, my previous house didn't have a lot of windows and adjust. Something was wrong. I would say, I think it's a space.
I think it's a light. I don't know. We moved, I've got all this light and like everyday I feel better about creativity, about energy. And so I've intuited. That space has an impact on my thinking. But I'm curious with all your research, what do we know about space and its impact on our thinking?
Annie: Yeah. Yeah. Space is a really interesting facet of, of extending the mind because, you know, there's, there's this, um, metaphor out there that we all engage all the time without realizing it. We compare the brain to a computer. And the thing about a computer is like my laptop that I'm using right now. It works exactly the same, whether it's here on my desk or if I were to take my laptop to a park and work in the park today, or if I'm next to a sunny window, like I am right here.
Or if I took my computer down into the basement and it was in this dark dank space, you know, it would work exactly the same, but that's where the analogy fails because human brains aren't like that, you know, we're exquisitely sensitive to context, to space. And I think you, you found that without even, you weren't even looking for that, but you just found that reaction in yourself that in some one space you can work really well think really well.
And in another space you couldn't. So now that we know from, um, from the findings, uh, handed on to us by scientists, we know more about the kinds of spaces that promote. Intelligent thinking we can arrange our spaces in, in a way that that reflects that in that promotes that. Um, but again, that's kind of not how we're used to thinking about thinking.
We imagine that we can do our work, our mental work anywhere, you know, it doesn't matter. You can sit in that corner over there. I think, you know, in fact, the pandemic is giving us all a chance to have an experience like. You had where a lot of us suddenly had to work at home when we were used to working in an office, or maybe we're now going back to an office.
And I think we're finding from firsthand experience that actually the space that we're in, that we're doing our thinking in it really matters. Do you know offhand any tips or any best practices for space while we're on the subject or is it truly individualized? No, there are some really basic principles that are going to hold true for everyone.
Um, and I'll just outline those real quick for you. I mean, it's really important that we feel a sense of ownership and control over our space, which makes me concerned about a trend that's really taking off and, and workplaces as people return to work for. After following the pandemic, a lot of workplaces are.
Offering their, their employees, what they call it kind of hot desking wa hoteling, right? Where like you don't have your own desk. You don't, you don't have an assigned space. You just take whatever space is available when you show up. If there's a space, you know, and this, I think is a terrible idea. It's a terrible set up for people's, uh, for people doing complex cognitive work, because you're not going to feel that sense of ownership and possession and, um, and control over a space that's only really temporarily yours.
And another. Another problem with that is, you know, when in our work, when we're yeah. In our workspaces or our learning spaces, we actually need to have reminders of our identity, cues of identity and of who we are, what we're doing in that space. Because of course, we all have many identities where a parent.
We're a, we're an employee. We're, uh, you know, a friend when we're in a workspace, we need to have identities. Uh, we need to have cues of our, of our workplace identity in place, reminding us of who we are and what we're doing in that space. At the same time, we also need cues of belonging, of being part of something bigger of, um, the, the groups to which we belong that feel meaningful to us.
And I think, you know, even, uh, in a, in a cubicle, you'll see that people create exactly those kinds of cues on there. They put up those kinds of cues on their walls and have objects on their desk that represent who they are, who they want people to understand them to be. Although some of those objects are really more for yourself to remind yourself of who you are and what you're doing in that role, but then also cues of, of belonging to certain, um, Certain groups to, um, to feeling part of something bigger.
And if you're in a generic kind of temporary space, that's empty of all those reminders and all those rich sort of sources of signification. You're just, you're not going to think as well as, um, as when all those cues are present, it also really helps to work near a window and have a lot of natural light. So that's something I try to try to do as well.
Chris: And the natural light thing, I want to get into nature in a little bit, but I'm dying inside as you're talking about these things. Here's why I just story time here on smart people podcast. My first job out of college, I worked in finance. I worked there for five years.
I never liked it. Not because of the boss, not because of the people, just not my thing from day one, I realized like I'm at a place I don't want to be here. And so, and I had an office right at 21. I got an office. I did not put any personal items in my office. No pictures, no friends, family, no posters, nothing.
It was like Baron. And I did it because I didn't want to stay. I didn't want to claim it was mine because I knew I didn't want to like give myself another reason to stay. It's just fascinating. Because as you say these things about making it ours, I actually went the opposite way of, I don't want to be here.
So I'm going to sabotage it by not making a mind. None of this had any science behind it. And the truth is, this is why I like this topic because we do a lot of these things, but we don't think about them to your point. And then the last thing I'll say is I was working on this nonprofit. We had an shared office space, like a WeWork type thing.
Right. And you come in and you can sit in. But it just so happens that every day, almost everyone sat at the same exact place. Why do you think that is ownership, less cognitive load to think about where am I going to sit? I know when I'm here exactly what the space is like. Here's how long the desk is. That's crazy to me. It's explaining exactly what you're talking about.
Annie: Right? Right. And in fact, that's a kind of offloading, you know, when you can have your stuff, um, arrayed in a way that reminds you, oh, I've got to do that. Or, oh, I didn't get to that. That's two less things you have to keep in your mind, you know?
And so when we expect our brains to hold it all, we're just asking too much of it. When really we could be asking the world around us to do some of that work, thinking outside the brain can be seen a number of ways. But in this example, thinking outside the brain just simply means like I can offload some things, know where they are, but not have to store them inside.
They're stored outside in a place. I understand yet my brain still. Picks them out chooses when to use them. Is that a fair depiction slash analogy of thinking outside the brain? It is. And I, I think we all the most familiar example of, of the way that we do that all the time, it's with our smartphones, right?
I mean, our smartphones effectively act as an extension of our minds and we know that they take over our mental functions because some of our mental functions, because we can't do them anymore. I mean, who remembers phone numbers, you know, now that our phones supply them for us, so that the good side of that, there, there can be some problems with sort of atrophying your, your, your native abilities because you've passed them off to technology.
But the good thing about that kind of offloading is that you can, then you then have more mental resources, greater mental bandwidth available for the higher, higher cognitive. Thinking that you know, is really what you want your brain to be doing. You know, it's good to offload that sort of Drudge work onto, onto devices or onto other kinds of, um, outside the brain resources so that you can save your brain for the stuff that really only your brain can do.
Chris: I've always told myself this and I'm just going to keep telling myself this I'm horrible with names. And I always say, look, that's a memory that I don't need. I got a lot bigger things to think about. You think there's any truth to that? Or do we kind of selectively choose? Do we, do we say this is something that is worthy of my limited brain space.
Annie: We often don't do it consciously, but I'm saying we should do it more consciously. I mean, because then we're more in control of what we're thinking about and how we're expanding, what are our limited mental resources. So, but we're not really, again, we're not really taught how to consciously offload.
Things like names. I mean, you might, you probably have divides various systems for keeping those names, keeping track of those names for you, because you do have to remember names. Hey buddy, that works too. Um, but, um, But yeah, I mean the, in many ways there are, there are some downsides to offloading, but in, in, in most scenarios, in most situations, the more you can offload that kind of road work onto the world onto your body onto, um, onto other people, which you can do through us.
Um, a process called transactive memory, which is where each person in a group has sort of a specialty. And then the group as a whole has access to this enormous quantity of information that not one, you know, one person could not keep track of all that, but the group can. So all of those kinds of resources act as amplifiers for the individual brain.
So it's really a way of allowing the brain to overachieve to do more than it could on its own and who doesn't want to overtake or achieve, you know, do you think that if you summed it up into one sentence is the goal of kind of this book, the research, what we're here to talk about is how to overachieve with the.
Kind of limited storage space or hard drive or whatever you want to call it. We have limited brain that you have. Yeah. How to overachieve with the limited brain that we all have. And again, I want to point that out, these are universal limits. It's not about individual differences in intelligence or anything.
This is, this is what it means to be human. It's what it means to have a human brain. And I think we're not really taught about the limits of our own brains because the brain, I think must have a really good PR agent, because all we hear about from like popular science and, you know, documentaries and science books is the brain so amazing.
The brain brains. So extraordinary, it's the most, uh, complicated and complex object in the universe. And then we hear that. And then when our own brains fail us or they don't do quite what we want them to do, we blame ourselves and we think, well, maybe, maybe it's my brain. That's not so great. You know, but it's actually the Universal limits of the brain that affect us all that you're running up against.
Chris: You know, that was something that came through loud and clear in your book. And I have to say, I don't come across many books that can thoroughly change a, a P uh, perception of oneself. So for myself, you know, it can be hard on myself about, um, not being able to follow through with things.
And you said, look, this is like everybody's material, right? This is everybody's makeup. Do you believe that those amazing humans who do overachieve have figured out a way to think that, you know, to extend the mind, to think outside the brain without realizing it?
Annie: I do. And in fact, there are a whole host of studies that show that experts, you know, the people that we Revere as being really good at what they do, you know, of course, in our brain centric society, we usually think, oh, well, they're really good at what they do, because they've got a lot of stuff up here.
They've got something special that I don't have. But what research is revealing is that experts are actually people who are masters. Yeah. That thinking outside the brain and they are more apt to extend their thinking with the body, with spaces, with other people than our neighbors says who, who struggled because they try to do it all in their heads and they're they run up against those limits.
Um, so I think that's actually, to me, a very interesting new way of thinking about expertise that it's really about an expert is someone who has managed to translate it and the limits of their brain by getting really good at extending. And that's not usually how we think about experts. Do you think that the average person who doesn't use the language we're using today to explain it?
The equivalent is like when I was in college, I noticed a lot of people had to do different things to learn or succeed on a test. And, and do, do you think that's the equivalent of what we're talking about here? I do. And I think, you know, at times I've thought that people who have specific kind of, uh, learning challenges, like say people who have a learning disability or dyslexia are kind of the champions of thinking outside the brain, because they've had to th the, the, the limits on their own brains are such that they've had to devise all kinds of incredibly ingenious and creative ways of getting around those limitations, those limitations, their brains limitations might be a little more visible to them because not everybody shares them, but they, I think to me, it's such an inspiring.
Story of human ingenuity, you know, that people are able to get around the limitations of their own brains and they, but they do it by kind of feeling around, you know, in almost in the dark and figuring out what works through trial and error. And I think we could be a lot more conscious, a lot more intentional, a lot more, um, directly instructed instructive of people of how to do this. And that would, um, that would benefit all of us.
Chris: You said this really early on in your book during my many years of reporting, I never, before encountered an idea that changed so much about how I think, how I work, how I parent, how I navigate everyday life. And you also talk about almost using some of this to write.
So I wanted to ask you about your writing process and how it modified that or improve that. Given writing seems to me, and I've talked to you a bunch of authors to be one of those tasks where the successful do it outside the brain. Like they have a process of going for a walk, moving their space, talking to people, whatever it is to get to a really difficult outcome.
So tell me if I'm wrong here, but like, did you employ any of these tactics, techniques, ideas to accomplish a difficult feat, like writing a long detailed book?
Annie: I did. And in fact, you know, I think I say in the book, I don't think I could have written, I don't think I could have written the book as successfully if I hadn't employed the very things that I was learning about in the course of researching and reporting the book.
Um, you know, one of the most useful things to me in, in, in terms of writing the book was, um, you know, we talked about the importance of space and the use of space as a mental extension space can also be functioned as an extension. Not, not in the way we were talking about with like the way we arrange our workspace, but how we.
Take the mental contents of our brains and spread them out onto a physical space. Like whether it's, um, a piece of paper or a whiteboard or a bunch of post-it notes, you know, what you're doing is taking the mental map that your brain constructs, because we do, we do navigate through the landscape of ideas in a way that similar to, you know, the way we evolve to find our way through a landscape in the real world.
But. Take that mental map and make it literal. And we put it, we spread it out in front of us and we can interact with it. We can inspect it with our senses. You know, we can see it, we can read it out loud and hear it in a way that doesn't happen when it's, it remains here in our head, that changes our relationship to it.
In fact, there's a psychologist who uses this great phrase that I like that he says when we take our thoughts out of our heads and put them out on into physical space, we get what he calls the detachment gain. We put a little distance between ourselves and our thoughts and that that distance makes all the know all the difference.
And I think we've had this, we've all had this experience. Or that we take advantage of this when we print out something that we're working on, um, you know, a computer doesn't need to print something out and mark it up and maybe pass it around to some friends and then go back and readdress that, that piece of work again.
But that's how humans are. That's how our particular kind of cognition works, that it benefits from being passed through these loops, you know, um, out into the world, back into the brain, out into the world again. And so that really made this, you know, pretty ambitious project of mine possible that, um, I, I do have a giant wall with, um, post-it notes that are, you know, that allowed me to move ideas around in a physical embodied way.
And that's something that we don't always bring in to the process of work that we think should be all very cerebral and intellectual.
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Chris: I think that's a huge problem of mine writing a book or whatever, coming up with ideas. I've just conditioned myself. If I can't do it, my brain, that's a shortcoming on me. Right. And the older you get, you realize the stupidity behind that statement, honestly. And you try and figure, but to your point, like you put it out there, you move it around, you get to feel you moving it, see you moving, experience it outside your brain.
Different seems like a better way of working. So what I wanted to start digging into is examples of this happening kind of like we just went through and in it, we'll learn about the different ways, the different things you discuss in the book on how we do this one that I love, but I need to talk through in order for you to convince me was intraception.
Tell us about that because I think we hear about it. Uh, I, it sounds nice to believe, like, to feel and all that, but so just let's start us off from the basics. What is it?
Annie: Yeah, well, so one problem is that we've got this unfamiliar word right called interoception and it, and I can, I think, make it clear for your listeners right away.
When I say there's, there's another word that we're all much more familiar with, which is gut feelings. Like we know, we know what that is. We know what it means to have a feeling that is not coming from, you know, from your, from your doesn't feel like it's coming from your brain. Doesn't feel like it's coming from your mental activity.
It's just, it's a sense that you have. And, and we all know that sometimes those feelings really bear out and what's interesting is that scientists have dug into exactly what that is. You know, what that, what that feeling is. And that is the study of interoception, which is the, you know, just like we have all these sensory organs that allow us to take in information from the outside, inside our bodies.
We have. Uh, comparable range of sensory, um, receptors that are giving us information about what's going on inside our bodies. So some people are, um, quite well attuned to their interoception. One way that that's meant, uh, measured is whether you can hear your own heartbeat. And I think if your listeners, uh, if you're aware of your own heartbeat, I think if your listeners ask themselves, can they feel their own heartbeat, some of them can, and some of them are like, what are you talking about?
That's not, that's not possible, but it is possible. Um, and there's a whole range of other cues, of course, not just your heart, but all kinds of other often very subtle feelings that arise from within your body and the way that, that the, the, um, connection that that has to thinking is this, that. Every day as we go about our daily lives, we're, there's just a barrage of information coming at us.
And it's too much for our conscious minds to process con you know, in, in a way that we're aware of, but all the same on a non-conscious level, our brains are, uh, taking in all that information and noting patterns and regularities so that when a pattern, um, reappears, when something that we've encountered before it shows up again, W we, we have a sense, like I've been here before.
I know what this is. Like, I know how to respond. I know what will be a successful way of addressing this, but again, it's, that's not conscious. So that, that, that pattern awareness is not conscious. So how can we use it? The answer is that that's what gut feelings are telling us. That's when that it's the body, that's like kind of giving us a little poke, like, Hey, we've been here before.
We've seen this before. You know, this is something to pay attention to. This is something to feel worried about or confident about. And it's this really very elegant system where we don't have to be thinking consciously all the time about these patterns, which again are so complicated. We can't consciously really even articulate them, but we, if the more tuned we are to these internal signals, the better we can make use of them when they alert us to these patterns that we've encountered before.
Chris: I love it. And you use the example of, and I forget, uh, what's the woman's name in the book that you used, the example of Susie or back the therapist too. How, how does she, how does Susie Orbach do it? And what did you learn from her?
Annie: Well, you know, one thing I was looking for when I wrote this book is, as we were saying before, people who are really good at thinking outside the brain and all these various different ways, and one class of people who are experts at using these internal sensations to inform their thinking are clinical psychologists therapists, because it's actually a part of their training often that they learn to attend to their internal signals as they're listening to a patient speaking, because that can give them information about what the patient.
Him or herself is thinking. And this is the other amazing thing about interoception is that it's really a bodily basis of empathy between two people. Because, you know, we, we, we have very limited access to what another person is feeling. We don't know what's going on in another person's mind or heart. We only know what's going on inside ourselves.
That's the only thing we have, uh, embodied access to. So what happens is that when we're talking to someone, we very subtly mimic their facial, um, their, their facial expressions, their postures, and then we kind of read off from our own bodies. How am I, how am I feeling? And then that's how we know how. Our conversation partners, feeling and therapists are experts at this they're champions at this.
And they use the feelings that arise within them, to which they have learned to pay very close attention, granular attention, to get a sense of what their patient is thinking. And that's what Susie Orbach was saying that, you know, just as much, I think what I quote her saying in the book is just as much as we cultivate the mind, we need to cultivate the body because that is a real source of information that, you know, most of us are kind of going about our day, not paying attention to our bodies, not paying attention to those very subtle signals that rise up in us.
And in fact, The idea of how to do really hard mental work is to push that aside, you know, to kind of power through and ignore what the body is telling you, because really it's all happening up here. But that means that we're missing out on this incredibly informative source of, of knowledge and wisdom that we kind of ignore it are to our disadvantage.
Chris: Listen, quick plug for your book here because you just did it again. And the books, The Extended Mind, and I know you write for a living, but you were so good at being one step ahead of me as the reader. And I appreciated it. And I think it's what we're talking about. It's that empathy, it's an understanding it's going through the journey yourself, because like you just said, what's the problem in my mind with interoception it's that it's not coming from the brain, therefore it does not have relevance.
And then you dispel that myth and you just did it right. It's so key to what we're talking about here. We're not taught it so we don't understand it. And we need to tune into those feelings. And I have to say for listeners, if their mind isn't blown right now, you should probably just stop listening to my podcast because here's where I, here's where you got me.
I used to teach a presentation class where we talked about mirror neurons. We talked about mirroring the other person where it comes from, you know, everything from being a child, marrying your parents and all this. But what I never thought of never really knew and never dug into the research is even that is an experiential act.
So I always thought of it is, we mirror so the other person knows we're paying attention and connect it. That's how we build connection. I think there's a lot there. We like people that are like us, but think about it. Okay. I see you slumped over. I see you this eye. So I do that without thinking subconsciously, and then I go, how do I feel when I'm in this position?
And then I project that feeling up, back onto it. That's insanity.
Annie: It's wild. Isn't it? And what's so interesting is that people who are more interoceptive and highly attuned are more empathetic and it makes sense because they are paying close attention to what they're feeling. And so they're really able to feel what the other person is feeling.
It's more intense for them. They're not ignoring or pushing away those feelings that can tell them, oh, this, this person is feeling sad or this person is feeling anxious. And I know that because I feel an echo of that in myself. They're very sensitive to that echo. And so that's another reason to cultivate our interoception is that it's really a source of emotional intelligence.
Chris: Yes, that's so cool. Okay. Let's do a couple more here. One I want to talk about is other people's impact on our thinking, right? Um, Always noticed that people I gravitate towards are not necessarily realists, they're optimists, because I'm an ideas guy and I need you to get excited about it. And then I'll run through a brick wall and I have to be talking things out, like, I'll think it through my head.
And then I go, I got to talk to somebody and I actually solve it as I talk. So tell us about the science behind the impact of others on our thinking.
Annie: Yeah, well, you know, this is actually another way of getting at a theme that we've been pursuing here, which is the limits of the brain and, you know, one really interesting thing.
If you read books about the brain, you know, there is this whole thread about how it's so amazing. And so, um, incredible, but you'll also read a lot about the brain. Uh, there are built-in biases and the ways that, you know, we, um, you know, this is kind of like the work of Daniel Kahneman thinking fast and slow.
We were really hamstrung by all these, all these biases and, and, um, blind spots that seem to be built into the human brain. And there's some very interesting work by a cognitive scientist named Hugo Mercier, who says, wait a second. If human reason is so amazing, why is it, you know, why is it so limited and hamstrung by all these cognitive biases?
And he says, that's because we're using it wrong. You know, that's like expecting, uh, a person to breathe under water. We don't have gills, you know, we're not built that way and we're not built to think alone reasoning evolved as a capacity. That's meant to be used socially. That's meant to be engaged. In interaction with other people.
And when we use it by ourselves, when we do that, thinking by ourselves, we run into all kinds of problems because it's, we're using it in a, in a setting, in a context in which it was not meant to be used. So that's a theme that runs through the last, last, the last third of my book is about how we extend our minds with other people.
And I give a, I offer a lot of examples of how social activities like storytelling, arguing with other people, debating with other people, teaching other people, these activities engage a set of cognitive processes that remain dormant when we're just alone thinking alone. And so we actually think better when we think with other people.
And again, that goes contrary to our idea of like the solitary genius, who has this amazing insight when he's all by itself. You know, in fact, um, we do, we think better when we are. With other people, because we're such fundamentally social creatures,
Chris: What you're saying there about the biases kind of make sense if we, if we have a blind spot and we just do it in our own brain, that remains a blind spot, but it's easy for us to call it out and others, because it's not our brain, you know, you know how many times you're having that conversation and you're like, hold on.
This is, and people go or use it. How, how did you spot that so quickly? Or how did you change that so fast, but just because it's not our thought it's similar to what you were saying about writing things down. It just detaches us from it.
Annie: Exactly. Exactly. So. Why do we think we have to keep it all in here?
That's actually the worst thing we can do. You know, when we could be getting, we want to get it out of our brains as often as possible and in as many ways as possible. And one of them is, as you said, talking it out. I think there's, there's two things, at least two things going on there. One is that you're getting the reactions and the responses from the other person.
You're also hearing yourself talk through it. And you're realizing often we don't realize until we have to explain something to somebody else, all the gaps and the, you know, the misunderstandings or the lack of understanding in our own, in our own thought processes. And as long as it, as we keep it inside our heads where those are sort of hidden from us, and then they get exposed.
When we have to, um, speak, speak them aloud to somebody else.
Chris: I was trying to pick and choose which story, which figure I kind of liked, but I figured I know what it's like to write and you know it better than anyone else. What was your favorite, figure? Illuminated thinking outside the brain in a way that made them extraordinary.
Annie: You know, that comes to mind is, um, James Watson, who along with Francis Crick was the discover of the double helix structure of DNA.
And I didn't know the story of how that happened. I guess I probably thought that they, you know, these brilliant scientists kind of came up with it in their heads. I would have assumed that cause that's, that's the story that we, that is handed down to us, the kind of story that we are familiar with, but what actually happened was that James Watson was trying to figure out how these, these chemical basis fit together.
Um, he, he had, he had had a kind of partial solution, but he just couldn't take that XD couldn't seem to make that final step to figuring out how the bases fit together and in what structure to create, um, DNA. And so what he did was he, he. Th the, each of the bases, the chemical basis has a particular shape.
And he, he drew those on cardboard and he cut them out and he was literally trying to put them together and he had an idea of how it was gonna work. And he could see in a way that interestingly, he couldn't, when it was just in his mind and he's like, oh, that must be the solution. I think I've got it. And then he's, he's doing it out in the world, out in this physical kind of embodied way.
And he's like, no, you know what? I see that really isn't going to work. Um, and then. The moment of sort of illumination and insight was not just like a realization in his own head. It's when he was just sort of playing around with these cardboard cutouts that he'd created almost in a very kindergarten kind of way.
I mean, that's what I, I think it's, it's kind of crazy that we allow children, you know, to, to play in this embodied and, um, physical way, but then we're like, oh, that's, but that's just for little kids. We don't, we don't need to do that as smart grownups, you know, but James Watson, Jim Watson really was physically, um, fitting these pieces together and, and he saw only, only in the, in the doing of it and the physical fitting together, he was like, oh my God, this is how it works.
And that to me was such a. Such an interesting example of how the myths that get passed down to us about how, what genius is, how it works, how insight is arrived at our flood, you know, because, um, he may not, he may never have taken this final step if he hadn't created these cardboard cutouts, it's very simple and analog kind of, um, you know, physically embodied tool that he used to make this incredible discovery.
Chris: I think it's almost the theme of what we're talking about is by illuminating these things. The point is not just to understand them. And that's important for me because, you know, initially starting this podcast, it was to understand so many things, but what I realized. You can't memorize all this stuff, but it can change the way I think, and therefore act in the world.
Right? Same thing with this, you're going to memorize it, all that, you know, I'm going to ask you for a few techniques, a few ideas, but it's really, if you know this, then maybe next time you feel that emotion or next time you're talking to somebody or struggling with something you'll just experiment.
Instead of, I like your example of like the person sitting on their chin, just thinking deeply,
Annie: It's such a limiting way to go about thinking this kind of just, you know, the thinker, like yeah. The, the gust Rodin sculpture of the thinker. That's how we imagine thinking happens. And it's, we're limiting ourselves by doing that and we don't even realize it.
So I, you know, as much as I'm presenting all this research in the book about what we know so far, I'm so excited to think that we might develop this capacity to. I think outside the brain in ways that we can't, we can hardly imagine now, you know, once we see it, we can start, as you said, exp experimenting, playing, trying things out.
And it's almost like a whole new way of being smart that we've barely explored. And to me that's incredibly exciting.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, imagine if we even get to the point where we can somewhat systematize it. So it's like, okay, if I'm trying to do a long project, I should walk for 10 minutes and dah, dah, dah.
If I'm trying to do something brand new, I should hang upside down. And like, who knows what, you know?
Annie: Yeah. I think it would be really cool if we had, um, a series of exercises or kind of try this approach to, um, To thinking outside the brain, there's even some work on having that, those nudges applied by technology.
Like there are smart meeting rooms now that are wired. That to actually sense, this is amazing, but sense whether people's attention or drifting and sense the sort of level of energy in the room. And when the sensors pick that up, they do things like they'll, um, you know, turn on some, some music or like change the temperature in the room or they'll send it.
An automated message to the, uh, the leader of the, of the team who's leading the meeting and the smart meeting room. Th that, that says you need to get everybody up and walking for a few minutes, cause everybody's really dragging here. So like it could even be that, yes, we need to be more sensitive and more attuned to how to manage ourselves in this way, but maybe we'll actually get some help from technology that will give us nudges, you know, that we don't even have to think about until they tell us it's time to do that.
Chris: Other than the obvious, which is nature's important. I just wanted to ask you about that because we just moved out on the three and a half acres with a lot of trees and I felt the calmest and most relaxed I've ever felt. And I kind of. Ever since I was about 25 and really stressed out, I went, uh, and attempted to hike some of the Colorado trail.
But I remember it was just the place I was drawn to. And I was something like the trees. I don't know what it was. My wife's is water when we know about nature and its impact on our thinking.
Annie: And yeah, this is really interesting to me because I think you're right, Chris, we know we, we have a sense that we relax and we, um, and we, we feel more serene and at ease in nature, but what's really interesting to me is that scientists are, um, they're identifying the mechanisms by which that happens.
And it's not just a kind of general feel good, like, oh, nature's good for the soul kind of thing. Like it's, it's, it, it really goes back to our nature as evolved creatures that we, you know, Hume modern humans spend so little time outside and this is evolutionarily like a new thing. Our ancestors lived in a way that, you know, as one of college has put it to us today would look like a camping trip that lasts a lifetime.
Like they were outside all the time. That's the context in which our bodies and brains evolved. The ones that we still have today. They haven't changed even though we spend all our time inside. And the difference between an interior setting and an outdoor setting is that the outdoor setting is our bodies and our brains are tuned to the, um, to the kind of sensory information that is present in an outdoor setting.
There's um, there's not a lot of sharp edges. There's not a lot of fast moving things. There's a lot of what scientists call softly, fascinating kind of stimuli like Lee. I'm looking out the window right now, like leaves that are, um, Uh, rustling in the wind or like your wife may enjoy watching waves on a, on a beach.
It's a very different kind of stimulation than we receive in when we're, you know, focusing really hard on a piece of paper or on a screen, or when we're navigating a city streets and there's all kinds of loud noises and fast moving objects. So it's those kinds of things, natural settings in which our brains and bodies evolved that were, it's just, it's easy for us to take in that information.
And that is, that allows our story there's of attention to replenish themselves. You know, we, we spent, we spent so much time thinking about attention. I've got to focus, where's my attention. And we don't think about refilling the tank of attention. We think about spending it, but we don't think about replenishing it.
And it's really, it's really time in the outdoors that is. Key to replenishing that attention that we can then use as a resource in those, you know, less naturally kind of appealing spaces that we in, which we do spend most of our time.
Chris: It makes sense, right? From an evolutionary perspective, if you know, your goals are survival.
So it's things like food and some short burst, very important activities that the environment in which you're in would naturally be crafted to allow to replenish for those things. You know, people used to have to hunt forever just to get a dinner. And so it makes sense that as you're eating that dinner, enjoying the environment you're in is replenishing that.
Whereas we've completely changed that environment in many cases. And we have extended the hunt to 24 7. You know what I mean?
Annie: Yeah. Yeah. The hunt for something interesting on Twitter.
Chris: Yeah, exactly, exactly. That's why I'm always trying to figure out how does this apply to me? Last question, actually complete change from this.
I had to ask you because as I mentioned, I read your book and not only I thoroughly like it, I know you've written, you wrote origins, you've written some, some really phenomenal books. I know you are a writer. How do you research something like this? How do you compile the scientific with the readable, enjoyable with the, like the Jackson Pollock story or the, you know, how do you compile all of those into a book?
Annie: Yeah. And, and for your listeners to Jackson, Pollock stories about how he painted a certain way when he lived in, in downtown New York city, and then he moved out to. Springs long island, which was at the time, very Verdun and very, um, UN unspoiled. And he, that's where he started painting these, um, the drip paintings for which he's famous, which have a very interesting connection to nature and the kind of stimuli that we find in nature, which I won't get into.
But yeah, that was really, yeah. You know, I do start with the research. Um, and in that case, um, in the research literature, there is a lot of inf there's a lot of studies on fractals. That's a particular, it's a kind of measure of how complex and in what way, the, the sensory information worth taking in how it's complex.
And there's a certain, yeah. Range within nature in which, um, the complexity nature falls within this certain band. And, and that is found in Jackson Pollock painting that that's the connection there, but what's interesting about the research on fractals is that that led me to two studies of, of Jackson Pollock's paintings.
And then I, and then from there having gotten that lead of like, oh wow, Jackson Pollock's paintings were had a fractal complexity that is like that of nature. That's fascinating. Then I went and read a bunch of biographies of Jackson, Pollock. I actually took myself to MoMA, to the museum of modern art and, um, In, in, in Manhattan and sat in front of one of his famous strip paintings for a while and thought, is this reminding me of nature?
You know, that was maybe a stretch, but it's really fun to get a lead like that in the, in the research literature, which often, you know, scientists don't know what they have. You know, they'll kind of say something as an aside and I, as a writer, I'm like, oh wow, that's something I've got to pursue. And then I can do the other kinds of research, which might involve reading biographies, or, you know, if the person is alive talking to, to the person that and getting the story around, um, the, the story that fleshes out, the scientific finding that's real, that's a really fun part of writing for me and the place that's really creative bringing those two parts together.
Chris: So does it tend to start with, kind of started with the idea then, okay, I've got to validate if this idea, well, you know, you come upon the idea, let's just say that, right. I get to validate the idea. I got an extra validate it, right. Um, multiple studies. And then once I have the ideas, it's how do I bring them to life through things that are both real-world relevant and entertaining?
Because I mean, most people won't read a book unless it's fairly entertaining. Is it kind of, is that the linear process to some extent it is.
Annie: That is. And I think it's even informed by what I write about in this book, because, you know, I have a section about how stories are the way that we understand information the best.
And yet, so often we try to convey information to people, whether it's in school or in the workplace with dry lists of information, when we should be telling a story, because we'd get so much more bang for our buck in terms of, um, you know, not just entertaining people, but people remember stories better.
They understand them better. They pay attention to them more. So. It's really about understanding our nature as humans and understanding what we've evolved to pay attention, to, to process, to remember that's a key kind of piece of information that we need to have about ourselves in order to manage ourselves in the most effective way.
Chris: This is the last thing, but it's funny, you mentioned that. So Simon Sinek is a guy that I look up to. And when I think of like, what do I want to do? It's him? And I was watching a talk of his, and I noticed it was like five things, something, something. And I noticed every single point started off with a different way of him telling a story.
And I was like, ah, I found it, like, I found how he does it. Cause I've always wondered, is it this weird accent he has or whatever. That's a big part of it. Yeah. So anyways, I just, that's what highlighted it, Annie, uh, I've loved talking to you. I really enjoyed the book. I love the context. I love the idea. I think it resonated so deeply.
I'm trying to move away from that logical thing and believe more in the externalities of the other feelings. And this allowed me to do it. So again, the book is the extended mind, the power of thinking outside the brain. Uh, tell us, you know, where are you and I, I went to your website. So tell us your website.
Do you write there, uh, where would you recommend aside from the book? People can continue their journey with you, this writing this idea.
Annie: Yes. I have a website www dot Annie Murphy, paul.com. And I do blog there and I'm active on Twitter. That's, you know, at anniemurphypaul.com, I'll be writing a lot of pieces.
Actually, the book comes out on, on June 8th and, and I have a lot of pieces in the work there's, as you can imagine, there's sort of endless spinoffs, you know, of these ideas. There's so many. Uh, avenues that I didn't even get to in the book. And, you know, there's a lot of stuff in the book it's pretty packed full, and yet there's still all kinds of things I wasn't even able to get to.
And I'm really excited to be, to be doing that. Um, now that the book is in the world,
Chris: I love that. Well again, Annie, thank you for joining us. Really enjoyed it.
Annie: Thank you. This was so much fun, Chris.
Jon: That was our interview with Annie Murphy. Paul, hope you enjoyed it. As a reminder, Andy's book, the extended mind, the power of thinking outside the brain can be found. Wherever books are sold. All right, let's jump into the quick housekeeping items. If you ever want to reach out to the show, you can email us at email@example.com or message us on Twitter, @smartpeoplepod.
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