In Rudy Tanzi’s highly accessible and readable new book on neuroscience, the scientist distinguishes between the “baseline brain” and the “super brain.” With his co-author, Deepak Chopra, he sets out to unleash the explosive power of the human mind. They do a masterful job.
Tanzi, the director of the Genetics and Aging research Unit at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, has laid out some very useful models for all ages. I was especially struck by the practicality and even measurability of his models. In short, you can check yourself and your own brain growth.
New World for the Brain
The authors define the “baseline brain” as the everyday brain that fulfills the tasks of ordinary life. But the brain is endlessly adaptable and capable of far more fulfilling results than you now achieve. And so in contrast, they explain the “super brain” as that of a fully aware creator using the brain to maximum advantage.
To create a super brain, you need to look at your gray matter differently. As though it were a person. And you’re a leader, teacher, inventor, and user of your brain-person all at once. So you hand out the day’s orders to the brain, create new pathways and connections that didn’t exist yesterday, train it to learn new skills, and be sure to keep it in good working order.
I don’t ask myself to behave very differently today than I did yesterday.
I am a creature of habit.
I don’t stimulate my mind with new things very often.
I like familiarity. It’s the most comfortable way to live.
If I’m being honest, there’s boring repetition at home, work, and in my relationships.
I look upon every day as a new world.
I pay attention not to fall into bad habits, and if one sets in, I can break it fairly easily.
I like to improvise.
I abhor boredom, which to me means repetition.
I gravitate to new things in many areas of my life.
In today’s world, where smarts reign, Tanzi’s recommendations need to be written on our front lobes and personally institutionalized. Not enough attention is given to how a person relates to her brain. And without a new relationship to the brain, which Tanzi and Chopra emphasize, it cannot be asked to do new, unexpected things.
What Holds Us Back?
It remains true, however, that the bulk of the population, including Millennials, continues to hold fast to traditional ideas about brain science and I.Q. In short, although most give lip service to an awareness of neuroscientific breakthroughs, when it comes to practical applications, the conventional wisdom that brain development is etched in stone still remains king within popular culture. In contrast to articles by Charles Murray and many others, the higher IQ that goes with the super brain is NOT inherently limited, and no responsible psychologist believes it is. Research by William Greenough, Marian Diamond, and others has shown that learning changes the brain — permanently.
The question is not merely why it’s so difficult to accept the findings of neuroscience, but also, how do you put the needed practices in place? Sociologists have been measuring the impact of social ties, mutual assistance, network implications, and relational connections for nearly two decades. Their findings show what holds so many back. To a degree that many refuse to admit, brain (IQ) development is not nearly as much of a singularly personal matter as we’d like to believe. What drives us is context: recognition of needs, ambition, and the intellectual strength of our connections. When you find yourself working within a culture with little challenge, more often than not your own growth suffers. Using the gains of the “super brain” can be inevitable within a challenging situation. And — the challenges will keep you on track.
To put it clearly: One of the truly fascinating revelations of the new neuroscience is that the physical and genetic characteristics of your brain don’t matter nearly as much as your own resolve, intention, patience, hope, and diligence. So when it comes to intellectual development, it’s the soft skills that really matter, not the three pounds inside your cranium: your own personally driven soft skills, and your soft-skilled ability to access the intellectual drive and smarts of others. That kind of mutual engagement is what I call the super brain’s ricochet effect.
Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi, Super Brain. (Harmony Books: New York), 2012.
Joyce K. Fletcher, Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work. (The MIT Press: Cambridge), 1999.
Ronald S. Burt, Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. (Harvard University Press: Cambridge), 1992.
Dan Erwin, PhD, is a specialist in performance improvement. Over more than 25 years he has coached nearly 500 officers, executives, and managers from top American corporations by means of his very original, cutting-edge development program. Shockingly, you can't Google his name prior to 2008 — due to the demands of his clients. He blogs at danerwin.typepad.com, and tweets at twitter.com/danerwin.