The Biological Mind Book Summary By Alan Jasanoff

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The Biological Mind by Alan G.

Wallace (2018) is an informative book summarizing the evolving views on the relationships between the brain, body and mind.

Taking a wide-ranging approach with insights from neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, this book challenges traditional explanations to unveil a complex picture of self-hood.

This approachable primer succinctly explains how our understanding of the biological mind has changed over time, debunking what is known as the ‘cerebral mystique’— namely, the idea that our brains are in totality independent from our bodies and externalities.

There’s something revolutionary within these pages that will have readers questioning their preconceived notions about themselves and those around them.

For anyone interested in dissecting what it means to be human, The Biological Mind is recommended reading!

The Biological Mind Book

Book Name: The Biological Mind (How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are)

Author(s): Alan Jasanoff

Rating: 4.5/5

Reading Time: 28 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio


Alan Jasanoff is a renowned professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As part of the faculty in the Biological Engineering, Brain and Cognitive Sciences departments, his research lab in MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research puts forth some of the world's most innovative studies in neuroscience and brain science.

He is also the author of The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are, an insightful look at how our brains make us who we are as individuals.

In this book, Dr.

Jasanoff dives deep into explaining how it all starts with biology - that is why he truly understands our minds better than anyone else.

Can The Gut Really Control Our Thoughts? Exploring The Relationship Between Mind And Body

Our Thoughts

The Biological Mind by Dr.

Thomas Aczel is a deep dive into what really makes you, you – and the answers will surprise you.

In this book, readers will explore how biological factors including chemicals in your stomach, the lighting in your environment, and the cycles of your body can impact the way you think and feel.

You’ll also find thought-provoking questions that challenge traditional Western thought which sees the brain and body as two separate entities.

In fact, new scientific research has revealed that this separation goes far deeper than we first realized; our mental functioning is intertwined with physical elements in ways we’re only just beginning to understand.

Through entertaining anecdotes and case studies within each section, you’ll discover just how much influence our biology can have over our mental health and processes – from gut health to circadian rhythms.

The Biological Mind is for those who are curious about unraveling the mysterious relationship between mind, body and spirit!

The Brain Has A Special Mystique That Disconnects It From Its Biological Nature

When it comes to our brains, most of us are fixated on the extraordinary rather than just seeing them as a biological organ.

This is likely due to the “cerebral mystique” which has been perpetuated since the early 1800s.

This was when German scientist Franz Gall popularized phrenology – a theory that claimed a person’s intelligence and character could be mapped onto the size and shape of their brain.

Despite being wrong, this caused people to become fascinated by the brain and its capabilities.

Famous figures from Abraham Lincoln to Walt Whitman were even subjected to Phrenological exams.

Years of research have gone into understanding how complex our brains are and we now know that an array of variables all impact how it functions.

However, in popular culture, pictures depicting brains ethereal, almost transcendental – surrounded by mystical blue or green light – project an illusion that this organ is more mysterious or elusive than biological one.

Even though science has come a long way in disproving phrenology and understanding how intricate our brains really are, many of still view them as something unusually special because of this “cerebral mystique.

The Brain Is Wet, Messy, And Rely On Complex Mix Of Chemical Processes To Function

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the brain is like a computer, but in reality it’s much more organic.

The brain does have many similarities with technology, such as storing memories and processing information, but there are also differences as well.

For example, unlike a dry silicon circuitry of a computer or smartphone, the brain is full of fluids.

This includes blood and cerebrospinal fluid, which is filled with ions, nutrients and signals that help keep the brain functioning smoothly.

Five percent of the volume of the brain actually comes from these fluids.

In addition to this fluid volume, half of the brain is made up of glia cells (also known as ‘glue’ cells).

For a long time they were thought to be just structural elements giving support to neurons.

However, recent studies show that these cells are just as important for how our brains think as neurons are – if not more!

In one study from the University of Rochester human glial cells were grown inside mice forebrains, resulting in faster maze-solving capabilities compared their unaltered parts.

The take away here is simple – like other organs in our bodies, the brain relies on a complex mix of chemical processes to function properly and efficiently.

The Brain’s Complexity Does Not Have To Remain A Mystery: It Can Be Studied And Understood

Brain's Complexity

Though the complexity of the human brain is immense, scientists have managed to breakthrough and gain a better understanding of how it works.

The average human brain consists of 60 billion neurons, each with at least 10,000 synapses – resulting in trillions of possible configurations.

But surprisingly, these numbers are not always necessary for the brain to maintain its functionality.

For example, one woman in China was found missing 80% of her cerebellum yet was still able to live a perfectly normal life with very few impairments.

Even more remarkable are birds like ravens and parrots whose brains do an astounding amount considering their size by exhibiting advanced social behavior and tool use yet on average measure only ten milliliters in volume – less than 1% the size of a human brain.

Most impressive however is how that despite all this complexity, scientists were still able to identify individual structurs called cortical columns which account for distinct brain functions and measure only millimeters in diameter making them much easier to research than billions of individual neurons.

In fact, further studies into how these columns interact could be key to our understanding of the biological organ as a whole rather than as an enigmatic enigma.

The Reality Behind Brain Imaging: Appreciate Its Limitations To Avoid Misleading Headlines

Brain imaging techniques have come a long way in the last few decades, but they are still not as perfect as they appear.

For one, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has a spatial resolution that is limited by the size of blood vessels, which can make it difficult to locate smaller differences in brain activity.

Additionally, the images produced through fMRI process need to be highly processed before becoming visible, and this processing can often produce errors or misleading results.

In fact, a 2011 study put an unsuspecting dead salmon in an fMRI machine and still produced pictures that appeared to show activity in its brain!

This highlights how even the most advanced technology can lead us astray without proper analysis and interpretation.

Most alarmingly, this technology is often badly misrepresented in the media.

Headlines claiming do-it-yourself brain scans for iPhone users were based on a study about increased blood flow associated with emotion, but made no mention of love specifically.

It’s important to remember that current brain imaging techniques are not as perfect as they may seem and should always be approached with skepticism when presented in popular media.

Our Minds Are Products Of Complex Interactions Between Our Brain And Body

It’s easy to assume that the brain behaves like the pilot of your body, controlling everything from when and how you move to your emotions.

What we often forget though is that this relationship between the brain and the body is a two-way street — even if you’re the one calling the shots!

Our minds are not confined only to our brains; both what happens in our body and what happens around us influences how we think, feel and act.

For instance, hormones help regulate physical state like stress or fear, while our gut microbiome can play a major role in determining our personality.

Even various external forces such as our environment have an effect on our thinking.

Put together, these biophysical processes show us just how intricate a machine we really are.

The “self” is not just determined by neurons firing away inside the skull cavity; it’s a result of complex interactions between our physical bodies and biological brains.

Blessed with all this information, let’s use it to inform who we become tomorrow!

Our Surroundings Can Directly Impact Our Thoughts, Feelings, And Actions

Our Thoughts

According to the Biological Mind, our thoughts, feelings and actions depend heavily on outside influences.

This is due to the fact that our brain receives a significant amount of input from our five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

This can be as much as 10 megabytes worth of data per second being sent straight to our neurons!

So it’s easy to see how external forces have tremendous control over our brains and behaviour.

Take for example seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

When the sunshine hours in winter months decrease, the optical nerve is not able to sense enough photons which triggers the suprachiasmatic nucleus to produce melatonin; a chemical linked with drowsiness and sleepiness which can lead to depression in SAD sufferers.

Our attention is also dictated by external forces; whether it is top down (like when we choose what we’re interested in) or bottom up (reflexively turning towards loud noises).

Ultimately, this means that out behaviour is always subject to change depending on our surroundings.

The Brain Isn’T Always To Blame: Examining Neuroessentialism In Human Behavior

The idea that the brain is solely responsible for human behavior is known as neuroessentialism and it’s been on the rise in the field of psychology.

While focusing on the brain can be beneficial, it can also overlook other important contributing factors.

Charles Whitman’s massacre is a prime example of this.

Whitman had a tumor on his hypothalamus and amygdala, yet environmental factors like an unhappy childhood and rough marriage may have also played a role.

This highlights an important truth – that blaming an individual’s actions solely on their brain might overlook other key external forces at work.

This view is also evident when we look at teenage behavior.

Neuroimaging studies seem to suggest that because their prefrontal cortexes are less developed than adults, teenagers’ impulsive actions must just be down to their brains.

However, physical causes such as hormonal spikes could also be playing a part, and social influences could play an even bigger role in shaping behavior; teens often get less responsibility and respect than other age groups which can hinder their chances of displaying more mature behaviors.

Ultimately, seeing the brain as fully responsible for our actions stops us from understanding the entire picture – both internal and external factors should always be taken into account when exploring why humans do what they do.

We Should Be Cautious Of Overemphasizing The Brain’S Role In Mental Illness

Mental health challenges are very complex and can have many causes.

We must be ever aware of the potential impacts of over-emphasizing the role of the brain in mental illness.

While it is true that some forms of mental illness have neurological roots, we must not discount other potentially equally important factors that could be contributing to someone’s struggles such as social circumstances and environmental concerns.

For example, individuals with a diagnosis such as depression may find that unemployment, lack of income or social isolation can worsen their symptoms.

This highlights the importance of addressing these external issues in addition to treating individual patients if we want to make progress in improving mental health outcomes.

Unfortunately, a strictly neuroessentialist view has also led to terrible outcomes historically.

In the past, psychiatric conditions were seen as moral failings and patients were often treated unfairly because of this stigma.

Even today, mental health sufferers regularly report being treated differently than those with physical ailments when they disclose their condition.

Therefore, it is important that we take a nuanced view on the causes and treatments for mental illnesses instead of relying solely on a ‘broken brain’ model.

Understanding that there may be multiple considerations at play when it comes to treating psychological disorders will help us create more holistic treatment plans as well as foster an open and inclusive society for all who suffer from these conditions.

Brain Hacking May Be Too Risky And Unavailable To All To Make Transhumanism A Reality

Brain Hacking

It’s often assumed that neurotechnology will lead to enhanced humans with perfect memories, increased mental processing power, and an array of useful skills.

The reality though is that promises about enhancing the brain with neurotechnology are mostly unrealistic.

One key reason why is due to the incredibly narrow focus on manipulating the brain itself.

This type of “brain hacking” suggests that the best way improve oneself is to bypass the body and upgrade our grey matter directly.

But this could be a dangerous process and has limited success in terms of real results.

Rather, it’s easier and more effective to make changes outside of the skull rather than within it.

Why risk injury from medicating or electrodes when you can just pick up a calculator to increase your maths ability? Or use targeted muscle reinnervation technology for various motor problems?

Finally, if advancements in enhancing one’s cognitive abilities do occur, not everyone may have access which could create further societal issues down the road.

For instance, nootropics drugs can be so expensive only those with large incomes can use them.

All in all, while neuroscience has made some advancements, promises regarding biomedical enhancements are largely unrealistic.

The Human Brain Needs More Than Just A Vat To Find Meaning In Life

The Biological Mind makes a compelling argument that our brains and bodies are inextricably linked, so much so that your brain without your body just wouldn’t be the same you.

No matter how technologically advanced our medical breakthroughs become, there will always remain tangible experiences too complex for a computer simulation to replicate.

A beautiful sunset may feed images directly to our brains, but it’s the physicality of having lungs to take our breath away that really captures the essence of the experience.

Similarly, engaging with our favorite historical figures via simulated conversations just won’t compare to actually interacting with them in real life.

The exact same goes for taste; no matter how realistic a virtual food may be, it won’t measure up unless we also have feedback from other bodily senses that accompany eating.

Perhaps most poignantly, the true value in being human lies in what connects us and grounds us: the environment filled with stable physical relationships and all the complexity they demand.

Without those contexts, the meaning derived from any experience inevitably fades and makes identity itself difficult to maintain.

The Biological Mind shows us that our brains do their best work when connected to a body—one touched by everyday beauty and blessed with real-world relationships whose complexity offers an unmatchable depth of experience rarely felt on its own.

Wrap Up

The Biological Mind by John C.

Eccles is an enlightening read on understanding the brain as a biological organ and how it interacts with our body and environment.

The author breaks down the components of the brain – highlighting neuron connections and brain mapping – to explain how this fundamental bodily organ is responsible for our thoughts, feelings and sense of self.

The book’s final summary emphasizes that we can understand the brain scientifically and that it isn’t some extraordinary force outside of our mere mortal grasp.

Instead, the author reiterates that we need to look at our brains within a biologically holistic context; one where it functions as an interdependent part among larger mechanisms like emotions and physical stimuli from the world around us.

By comprehending this concept, we can gain useful insight into how we think and perceive reality itself.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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