Our thoughts are intrinsically connected to our wellness, health, and cognitive tasks such as problem-solving and decision-making. I think most people believe thinking happens the same way a superhero uses superpowers: whether flying or reading minds, all a hero needs to save the day is contained within abilities that are solely managed by their brains. Sounds simple enough. But what we don’t realize is, just like superheroes need a bite from a spider or a nearby building to crush their enemies, our brains also reach out to the external world to construct our thoughts. Our brains rely on our feelings, our surroundings, and, of course, our relationships with our fellow humans. Maybe that’s our superpower – not reading minds, but using what’s in the mind of others. 🙂 Annie Murphy Paul has revolutionized the way we think about thinking by proposing we actively and consciously engage with our surroundings. This has profound implications to our mental health and, of course, opens new possibilities in the technology realm. Together with Hagit Alon, Stephanie DuPont, Silvana Carolina Joy, Terence Daniels, Tara Lutman, Eric Nielsen, Quintus Jett, Maria Reina, Peter Tjeerdsma, we embarked on a journey to learn from The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Paul. Below is what we think matters for Transformative Tech. Thinking happens outside the brain Human brains are usually perceived as computers – a piece of hardware made with organic matter and electrical current, reseted to factory settings with proprietary software upon birth. A more dynamic analogy sees the brain as a muscle that can be exercised, improved, and grown. Paul, on the other hand, suggests that the brain is actually like magpies, a bird that builds its nest not only with tree branches but with materials found all around their environment. In her book, Paul presents the theory of the extended mind: thinking doesn’t happen solely inside the brain and is instead a result of incorporating what we learn from our bodies (through feelings, movement, and gestures), our surroundings (through natural spaces, built interiors, and externalized ideas), and our relationships (through experts, peers, and groups). Big Ramifications for Transformative Tech Paul’s The Extended Mind makes us question whether our common way of perceiving thinking – that the only thinking which matters is the mental kind – really tells the whole story. Transformative technologies can support the myriad ways in which we expand our brains to solve problems, make decisions, and form relationships. For example: If our bodies respond to the external world before our brains even have a chance to process that information, how can we become more aware of our feelings, reactions, and physical responses? Interoception, for instance, is the perception of sensations inside the body. Can technology improve our interoception by providing us with biofeedback and biological frameworks to identify and use our sensations? Are there technologies supporting the creation of environments that are more conducive to extending our minds? How can technology help us revel in unbuilt, natural environments to take full advantage of nature’s impact on our brains? Because we use other people’s thoughts to construct our own, how can technology bridge people and facilitate communication? How can it help us translate what is in our minds so other minds can use it? Big Ethical Considerations for Transformative Tech Needless to say, the consequences of Paul’s revolutionary approach to thinking are huge for us. For instance, as architects, designers, and engineers, we could soon build workspaces and living spaces that promote brain overflow, allowing us to easily tap into our environment to think more creatively and solve problems more efficiently. We could create wearables, sensors, and monitors that increase our interoception so we can name our body responses and feel our feelings. Further, we could soon create technologies that will easily tap into other people’s minds. Which, of course, has ethical considerations and can get scary (“thought piracy” holds potential threat). Below is a summary of each team member’s take-away for our Transformative Tech community within the chapters of The Extended Mind. As always, I am excited about your thoughts and opinions on how this new understanding of the brain changes the way you view, use, or create transformative technologies. Love, Nichol, and Hagit Alon, Stephanie DuPont, Silvana Carolina Joy, Terence Daniels, Tara Lutman, Eric Nielsen, Quintus Jett, Maria Reina, Peter Tjeerdsma. P.S. If you want to participate in the next session. We will be reading the classic Embodied Mind with the session on Dec 16th from 10-12 AM PST. Sign-up here if you want to join. CHAPTER REFLECTIONS Chapter TT Takeaway Introduction, interpreted by Hagit Alon, PhD The human thought process is not limited to internal brain processes only. We use what is encountered in the outside world to process information and make decisions. Technology designers usually focus on secondary brain capacities, such as memory, logical rigor, abstraction, and focused attention. Transformative Tech can act as a pioneer in technologies centered on primary brain capacities, which are outlined in the following chapters. Recognizing and identifying how our brain uses the external world to function will enhance our thinking process and support the creation of transformative technologies. Thinking with Sensations, interpreted by Stephanie DuPont, PhD Our bodies respond to the environment and then send signals to our brain for processing and interpretation. Not the other way around. Hence, being aware of the inner state of one’s body (interoception) can manage energy levels, increase resilience, lower stress, and improve overall well-being. Body cues such as a shiver, a breath, a sigh, etc. can act as “somatic rudders”, allowing individuals to clarify and decodify their feelings and responses before carrying out decisions. Because the body reacts faster than the brain, technologies that enhance self-awareness through meditation, interoception, and similar practices are relevant. The external world can enhance interoception, such as using wearable technologies for feedback and enhancing emotional intelligence – in this sense, botox can sever human connection as it “disables” body signals from ourselves and others. Thinking with […]
A few weeks ago, I watched the wonderful documentary Gratitude Revealed by Louie Schwartzberg. Schwartzberg is most known as the director of Fantastic Fungi and the Netflix series Moving Art. His speciality is high-end, time-lapse cinematography that creates very unique films. Gratitude holds the same beauty as those previous films but centers on us. Humans making their way through life. I cried throughout the film, which is 15 shorts, beginning with children and ending with elders. One of the elements that struck me was the inspiration of physical loss or death as the motivator of gratitude later in life, say 30+. I spend a great deal of time speaking with people who work in longevity. For example, our 2020 conference featured the psychology of aging with the incomparable Alex Zhavoronkov. Alex is one of the world’s leading figures in longevity and AI driven drug discovery as the founder of Insilico. In the next 50 years, we will dramatically extend our lifespans and healthspans. For example, people are talking about 120 year healthspans. And while you may have recently heard that the global population just hit 8 billion, statistically birth rates will begin to drop dramatically and decline, in many countries below replacement rates during this same period. By then, we will no doubt be growing organs and have improved medicine in a way that will decrease physical loss as we know it today. This then begs the question — how do we teach gratitude for its own sake when we no longer have looming mortality and physical loss to shortcut us to a paradigm shift about the preciousness of life? For myself, my mother passed the month after I graduated from college. My father, in my early 30s. And I have lived long enough to have lost friends too soon. I have witnessed elders fighting against the encroachment of age and young people fighting for their lives from accidents. And in the midst of this, I think — we never know when it is our turn. Savor the now. How do you think we can teach loss-less gratitude? VR Rites of Passage? Tech Gap Years? Daily reminders? We’re going to have to develop something. Any ideas? Love, Nichol P.S.S. Here’s the rest of the series: Love and Tech, Tech and Love The New Science of Emotion and Transformative Tech: Why it matters Experiences as validated Mental Health Treatments? Evolution Favors Fitness, Not Reality 😯 Augmented Imagination Human Syncing and Group Flow Humanizing the Singularity Six Takeaways From My Day-to-day Work Overview: Deep Human – Warm Up Build while Being My Core Premise Growth Triangle The Choice The Growth 🔼 – The Metaverse — a Growth Triangle for Billions? Design Principles – The Metaverse as Human Potential Tech The Stack My Origin Story — And Why We Need Human Embodiment AND Technology The Metaverse (and the Future of Human Intelligence) A New Oath to Take? Defining Modern Neurorights Blockchain for Transformation? Collaborative Capacity How are Paradigm Shifts a Growth Tool?
The tech around us is driving us to distraction. Yet I believe that it can also help us co-create a greater love. The tech overwhelm will force us to decide what we really want and how we want to be. As builders…we need love to build good things for the right reasons. I believe that if we build with love then we’ll make design and business choices that… Serve all with respect and dignity Ensure that what we build is effective Design UI/UX that thinks deeply about our client’s needs before our own. (Love means they’re your “clients” not your “users”) Being worthy of the data they share with us (privacy, ethics, ownership, intention) What does love in tech mean to you? Love, Nichol
Emotion plays a major role in health, wellness, and change. And as such emotion recognition shows up in a lot of tech products in our category. I once thought I knew a lot about emotions just because I have them. 🤣 But, if you’re like me and have been tracking it, you know that the Science of Human emotion has been turned on its head in the last few years, in no small part due to the work of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barett. A few weeks ago, I asked 12 of you to join me in learning together by reading How Emotions are Made by Dr. Barrett. Below is what Isabel Barros, Jason Glickman, Craig Allen, Heather Nolan, Quintus Jett, Stephanie Dupont, Chad Olin, Susan Hamilton, Kevin Caldwell, Terri Persico, Malcolm Holmes, and I think matters for Transformative Tech. You are far more powerful and responsible than you know. Turns out that emotions are not universal. For example, there is no universal biologically derived facial expression or HRV signature for anger. There is however cultural and linguistic shorthand that any group of people might know and thus share. But the meaning didn’t come from their cells. Dr. Barrett presents the theory of constructed emotion, which says that the emotions we feel are deeply personal and “constructed” based on our individual experiences, stimuli, and more. This fundamentally flips the view that we have universal emotion templates like some factory setting that just reacts to stimuli. Instead, you construct each emotion you feel every time. Even if you do it in nanoseconds because culture and language give you a Disneyland-like FAST pass. Big Ramifications for Transformative Tech. How Emotions are Made is one of the most comprehensive and accessible scientific reviews of the new Science of Human Emotion. As such, it gives immense insight into next-gen transformative technologies and where to look for innovation. For example: If two people can have different expressions of the same emotion, how do you confirm this in the biosignal you are using? Personalization and context become the key to accuracy. Given construction, could we leverage emotion to get in deeper and intentionally train the brain’s predictive thinking processes? And, how can a deeper understanding of these predictive systems be harnessed to more effectively support personal growth and emotional development? Big Ethical Considerations for Transformative Tech. Crucially, this has big implications for us. For example, as designers of real, hybrid, and/or fully simulated experiences, we could soon build tech that entirely rewires a person’s interoception network and prediction system. This has major, major ethical implications. And possibilities. This could increase mental fitness dramatically by changing a person’s experience of future emotion. Umm, Wow! 🤯 It could also change our internal sensitivities to certain emotions. Umm, Boo 🤨 Below, find each team member’s takeaway that our community should have about the chapters in the ground-breaking book. I would love to hear your thoughts on how these insights would change the way you view, use or create transformative technologies. Love, Nichol, and Isabel Barros, Jason Glickman, Craig Allen, Heather Nolan, Quintus Jett, Stephanie Dupont, Chad Olin, Susan Hamilton, Kevin Caldwell, Terri Persico, Malcolm Holmes P.S. The next book is The Extended Mind with a 2-hour discussion with me on Friday, November 18th from 10-12 AM PST. If you’d like to participate, sign up here. Chapter TT Takeaway Introduction, interpreted by Nichol Bradford Emotions are constructed – there are no biological fingerprints – any two people can have different expressions of the same emotion – facial, blood pressure etc. Emotions are constructed based on our body traits, culture, and environment. Understanding this is shifting brain research – there are no dedicated areas. Emotions Fingerprints, interpreted by Isabel Barros We can build tech to guide people to subtle experience We can build tech to improve Interoception The classical theory of emotion is trying to access an emotional fingerprint that is universal, and most of the emotion tracking tech today is based on this model of emotion. This theory is proving outdated. As the new theory of emotion evolves there is an evident need to account for more nuance, individual differences & personalization. Emotion Construction, interpreted by Jason Glickman It’s possible to self-influence your emotions based on the content you consume and experiences you create. Can media and tech play a role to assist? Can intellectual understanding that the same physical body sensations cause different emotions based on context assist in meditation or mindfulness training in some way? Possibly incorporated into popular meditation apps? Myth of Universal Emotion, interpreted by Jason Glickman Popular books, magazine articles, radio broadcasts, and TV shows falsely assume that everyone makes and recognizes the same facial configurations as expressions of emotion. Games and books teach preschool children these allegedly universal expressions. International political and business negotiation strategies are likewise based on this assumption. Psychologists use false theory to assess emotion deficits in patients. How would correcting these assumptions improve society? Happiness is the one emotion category that people are able to perceive without the influence of emotion concepts: “Happy” might be the closest thing we have to a universal emotion category with a universal expression. Why is this, and what does it reveal about universal human nature? Origin of Feeling, interpreted by Craig Allen As designers of real, hybrid and/or fully simulated experiences – we have the ability to influence or change people’s operating reality as emotionally believable simulations will provide a path to rewiring a person’s interoception network and prediction system. We should consider ways common predictive system results could be utilized creatively to promote greater understanding for how emotions are linked to past experience in order to support personal growth and emotional development. As we are architects of our reality – and knowing how A.I. combined with designer drugs and increasingly realistic simulations will shape our future and concept of reality – will we share a common reality or will individualized existence fragment into everyone living in their own personal Idaho? Concepts, Goals […]
We have a mental health problem. Global stats are sobering. The suffering is staggering. There aren’t enough therapists, psychologists, teachers, or psychiatrists to even begin to meet the need. You’ve read enough of these heartbreaking stats online — so I won’t go there. Over here, I’m tired of crying at mental health conferences. This is why I believe in Transformative Tech as scalable, affordable, and accessible means to support people to heal, grow and thrive. It’s why I started talking about fusing mental health and tech in 2015. And it’s also why I’m a supporter of the Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab and recently spoke at the Stanford Mental Healthcare Innovations Summit created in partnership with Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The Stanford Health Care Lab is one of the brightest innovators in mental health. Follow them. So, how do we begin to fix this? We need to expand the tools we have to support mental health treatment. We need to lean into prevention. More Tools: Digital therapeutics and VR treatments are well on their way to becoming strong validated tools for mental health. ✅ Psychedelic-assisted therapy continues to make its way through FDA trials. ✅ But, I also want to see a wider set of experiences as validated mental health treatments. The Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab has been exploring this too with several well-known retreats, workshops, and experiences — looking at dozens of pre-post psychological and biodata markers. Seeing the early data took my breath away and I was filled with hope. One promising tool is “The Work” by Bryon Katie. A modern version of an ancient practice known as Direct Inquiry, Katie’s Four Liberating Questions can be life-changing. The core method is being investigated with good foundational research. Ariel Ganz has a forthcoming paper on Byron Katie’s work, which already has ~18 other papers showing improvements in depression, anxiety, stress, shame, self-stigma, and well-being — across tons of populations including teachers, cancer patients, etc. Ariel is working with the legendary Mike Snyder, Stanford’s Chair of Genetics and Director of the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine. Byron Katie’s method is free, available 24/7, and can be practiced alone or with a partner. This overcomes a lot of the access problems with traditional therapy. However, the key lever here to understand is the importance of being reimbursable. Why? Access. Companies and governments mostly only pay for validated tools so, even if something is free, if it isn’t validated it is not on the list Awareness. Big channels like companies and governments increase the awareness of a tool dramatically Willingness. Willingness-to-try in employees goes up 3x if a company will pay for it – for themselves or their dependents. People already use experiences to support their mental health but without validation, they remain primarily available to the elite. Japanese doctors prescribe forest-bathing — the US healthcare system doesn’t and, in its current form, can’t really without validation. I’m excited by this area of research as once the core methods become validated… We can create inexpensive tech delivered tools to be developed that can reach more people through wider channels and reimbursement. We can create tools that support preparation and integration so people get more benefit from mental health experiences. We can create tools that allow people to see their own progress so they don’t lose hope. And to help with prevention, we can teach people The Work, and other things like it before they need it. Love, Nichol P.S.S. Here’s the rest of the series: Evolution Favors Fitness, Not Reality 😯 Augmented Imagination Human Syncing and Group Flow Humanizing the Singularity Six Takeaways From My Day-to-day Work Overview: Deep Human – Warm Up Build while Being My Core Premise Growth Triangle The Choice The Growth 🔼 – The Metaverse — a Growth Triangle for Billions? Design Principles – The Metaverse as Human Potential Tech The Stack My Origin Story — And Why We Need Human Embodiment AND Technology The Metaverse (and the Future of Human Intelligence) A New Oath to Take? Defining Modern Neurorights Blockchain for Transformation? Collaborative Capacity How are Paradigm Shifts a Growth Tool?