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Neuroscience of Change

What's the Story With Your Brain, Part 1

A little more than six months ago, when she was not quite three, my daughter awoke very upset, saying to my partner, “Mommy, I can’t read!” Of course I can’t be sure, but it seemed she was longing to be able to simply explore her books on her own (rather than being upset because she feels pressured to read from us, say. We don’t really have timelines for what she needs to be able to do when).

One of the wondrous things about being her dad is the expansive and probing illumination of her stories. She’ll flip through a book and tell herself a story about it. We do a lot of role play. Are you the submarine? I’m the piranha. Will you be the grocer? Let’s have lunch in the park. Pretend lunch. And as other parents will confirm, these imaginings come mostly from who knows where.

Besides being part of how we learn and remember things, story may be central to healthy neural function. Previously, we discussed how oxytocin activates a kind of...

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From Trauma and Courage to Safety

empathy neuroscience safety Apr 14, 2021

These days bring me effortlessly to the big questions. I wonder about basic stuff: Who am i? Why are we here? What's worth doing? If I'm candid, it's probably also a consequence of being dad to a toddler, curious about everything. Being a parent is partly an opportunity to be in awe at random, unexpected moments. It's humbling to be surprised by this.

One of the things on my mind is safety. I've had a relatively narrow view of what it means to be safe, for different reasons.

We were taught as kids to be mindful to be physically safe in each moment. We didn't discuss how the way we live may be dangerous for our future selves, or future children. And we're neurophysiologically ill-equipped to respond to such abstract threats. With an alligator I have a visceral reaction. With climate instability, or a pandemic, there's some imagination involved. For many of us, most of the time, the consequences of our actions are literally imaginary.

We also were not taught that safety is wildly...

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Why The Bystander Effect Has It All Wrong

 

This past week, I've been thinking more about the so-called bystander effect, and about what encourages pro-social, "heroic" behavior. I wrote about this before the US election last November, about how the concept of the bystander effect is incomplete, flawed even. In short, there is ample evidence that when not surrounded by (secretly instructed) passive bystanders, people tend to help, even at personal risk.

So I've been wondering why this notion of a cruel, self-centered, unhelpful world has such traction in our time, despite evidence showing that  we are generally empathic and active interventionists. It led me to wonder who benefits from such a narrative, this tale that people are innately passive -- even selfish -- bystanders? Put another way, what changes might happen if more of us were motivated by a realization that actually, our desires for a beloved community are widely shared?

We are accustomed to thinking that active caring is unusual, maybe a consequence...

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