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  • >>Ming: [Chinese accent]

  • Hello. Good afternoon, my friends. My name is Ming. I'm the jolly good fellow who at

  • Google. And I'm jolly today because our honored guest, Rich Hanson, brought this book, right?

  • This book is about happiness, love and wisdom and it's about a new science of happiness,

  • love and wisdom and is called Buddha's Brain. It's like, it's all my favorite topics in

  • one convenient value sized packet.

  • And so what-what's there not to like about this book, right? That's why I'm happy today.

  • Dr. Rick Hanson, he's a neuropsychologist, author and teacher at the intersection of

  • psychology, neurology and contemplative practice. He co-founded the Wellspring Institute for

  • Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and he's the author of the book called Mother

  • Nurture, which is one of very few books that I-I am aware of, maybe the only book, that

  • is about taking care of, about taking care of mothers. And he's also an-an authority

  • on how the arrival of children affect moms, fathers and marriages.

  • And Rick enjoys rock climbing, good conversations and good books and in his free time he tries

  • to save the world.

  • [laughter]

  • So with that let's welcome my friend, Dr. Rich Hanson.

  • >>Rick Hanson: Okay.

  • [applause]

  • >>Rick Hanson: Thank you, Ming, thank you.

  • Well, with Ming here, I'm in good company.

  • Can you hear me okay?

  • How's this sound?

  • It's okay, alright, great. And if it gets bad, please let me know.

  • I wanted to say first of all that I've never been to Google before. I use your products

  • many times a day of course, but one of the great things about being able to be here is

  • that gives me a little thing I can use to impress my kids. And that's very important

  • when you're a parent.

  • As you probably know or will discover, they are 22 and 19 and so this is one of the very

  • few things that actually made them pay attention to anything I had to say.

  • So, my intent here is to go through a number of topics, four in particular and to do it

  • fairly quickly.

  • So, my son to put be me at ease said, "Don't worry Dad, you're gonna be talking to some

  • of the smartest people on the planet."

  • [laughter]

  • And thanks Forrest. I'll, but in a way that's kind good because I do tend to zip along at

  • a fairly breakneck pace. And so my plan is to go through these topics kinda in four sections,

  • pause for breath at the end of each one, do some few questions or comments, and then keep

  • going, alright?

  • I'm gonna be working a lot within one of these three circles: Buddhism or really contemplative

  • practice generally, the one I'm trained the most in is Buddhism.

  • I'm not here to push Buddhism or any ism, but it's a source of great insight into actually

  • how the mind works, as well as psychology and neurology.

  • That said, I think it's humbling and appropriate to appreciate the fact that there's really,

  • literally, so little we actually know about the mind and the brain these days. It's a

  • nice quote here from Ani Tenzin Palmo here. Now, no one really still knows yet what a

  • thought actually is even though we're goin' to be talking about them a fair amount.

  • Okay, so prelims out of the way, let's get into your amazing brain.

  • First, some basic specs. It's kind of mind boggling for me endlessly to appreciate really

  • how complicated the brain is.

  • [laughter]

  • In particular, I wanna focus as an overarching theme on the fundamental idea of using the

  • mind to change the brain for the better, so that it benefits the mind and in widening

  • ripples, all beings.

  • So, to do that we wanna get, I wanna get first at some basic information about the brain

  • and about what I call self-directed neuroplasticity. The fundamental idea that mental activity

  • sculpts neural structure, which gives us opportunities increasingly to intervene actually inside

  • the black box of the brain.

  • That's important because there's a fundamental problem in that the brain through biological

  • evolution is highly inclined toward noting and responding to negative experiences, and

  • in particular has a kind of deeply engrained threat reactivity that's then increased by

  • personal history as well cultural and political factors that leads to what I call "Paper Tiger

  • Paranoia."

  • And so then last I'm gonna talk about what to do about that, with self-directed neuroplasticity

  • in terms of coming back to the natural state of the brain which is really the optimal brain.

  • So I thought, "This is my opportunity at Google, I'm gonna take a big swing and hopefully hit

  • the ball."

  • So, let's dive in.

  • And one way to think about this is purely abstractly, fine. But a more powerful way

  • to think about it is that what we're talking about is happening right here, right now,

  • right between your ears.

  • Okay. So here we go.

  • Back to where we were, the technical specs of the brain.

  • Kinda remarkable to realize that in roughly three pounds, about five cups worth of tissue,

  • are about one point one trillion cells, 100 billion neurons, a trillion support cells.

  • They're connected with each other in a variety of ways. A typical neuron connects with about

  • 5,000 other neurons making about 500 trillion synapses.

  • Lots of information moves through the brain and the nervous system. The brain moves information

  • around like a heart moves blood around in effect.

  • A fair amount of, of the interaction between neurons is just noise. Noisy networks as you

  • all probably know are very, are the, are optimized for signal transmission, but that said, out

  • of all the noise there are so many signals going on in the brain that in the time it

  • takes roughly to take a single breath, roughly a quadrillion messages moved around inside

  • your head.

  • The brain is literally the most complex object yet known to science; more complex than an

  • exploding star; more complex even than the American economy.

  • [laughter]

  • So, here's a schematic neuron. You can see the receiving end at the le-at the left as

  • you face the screen. The output end is at the right hand s-side. It is like a little

  • on-off switch. Neurons are continually firing. A neuron that's not firing is a dead neuron.

  • And basically the summation moment to moment of roughly 5,000 inputs every few milliseconds

  • determines whether the neuron will fire.

  • [pause]

  • Okay? Great.

  • [pause]

  • So, I wanna talk now about two critical words that are really easy t-to lose. This is probably

  • the most intellectually danced slide I've got. I wanna talk about the mind and the brain.

  • I define the mind as the flows of information through the nervous system. The nervous system

  • has its headquarters in the brain. Information is represented by the nervous system much

  • like a computer hard drive represents information, or sound waves right now are representing

  • information; radio waves represent information. It's the classic and familiar distinction

  • between hardware and software.

  • In essence, therefore, apart from hypothetical transcendental factors, the mind is what the

  • brain does. No brain, no mind.

  • Now, I say the brain is the necessary condition for the mind; it's also a proximally sufficient

  • condition. It's only proximally sufficient because the brain is embedded in our nervous

  • system, embedded in a body, embedded, whoops, and embedded in culture and both here and

  • now and across time.

  • So, to talk about the brain as the, the brain as the local, the locally, it's the necessary

  • condition and it's the locally sufficient condition for the mind. And as we'll see,

  • the brain also depends on the mind.

  • Now the way to understand the brain is really in a context of biological evolution. The

  • nervous system is about 600 million years old. As you know life came on the planet about

  • three and half billion years ago. Multi-celled creatures arose around 650 million years ago

  • and they were complicated enough to need some method of communication between their sensing

  • organs and their motor systems around 600 million years ago, thus the beginning of the

  • brain.

  • In terms of vertebrates it essentially evolved more or less in the way you see. This is kind

  • of a schematic picture. The inner reptile brain and there's the squirrel monkey brain

  • and there's the early stone tool making hominid brain, the cave man brain and the modern brain.

  • The modern brain is essentially identical with the cave man brain.

  • How many of you by the way have blue eyes or green eyes? Okay. You are mutants. In other

  • words, until about 5,000 years ago nobody had blue eyes. I mean biological evolution

  • is continuing. The first blue eyed person was identified probably about 5,000 years

  • ago; probably around Denmark and then blue eyes have proliferated around the world for

  • various reasons.

  • But evolution is continuing.

  • So, in terms of that evolution the brain developed three fundamental goal-directed systems. You

  • could say they're motivational systems; this why we do stuff.

  • The first system was the avoid system: withdraw from threats; freeze; back up; get away. On

  • top of that then with roughly invertebrates, crustaceans, lizards and so forth, and fish

  • in the sea, a more sophisticated approaching system developed to pursue opportunities.

  • And then with birds and mammals and then primates and particularly humans, the attach system

  • developed. That's the social system in the brain that forms connections and bonds with

  • us and seeks proximity, closeness, intimacy, love, and belonging.

  • Although the vagus nerve as it evolved loosely matched to these three systems, they're anatomically

  • blurred in their distinctions in the brain and they intertwine with each other and any

  • single system can use two others for its ends.

  • This typology by the way: approach, avoid, attach or avoid, approach, attach is one we'll

  • be returning to again and again. And it's a really useful way to think about how people

  • are motivated and also think about how suffering and dysfunction and harm arise in terms of

  • each one of those three systems.

  • And also, on the other hand, how happiness, benevolence, and helpfulness arise in a different

  • mode of action in each one of those three systems.

  • So, love and the brain. It's interesting to realize and this is what's called the social

  • brain theory, that probably the primary driver of evolution of the brain in the last hundred

  • million years has been social capabilities or love broadly defined.

  • For example, reptiles and fish approach and avoid, they don't attach, right? They have

  • their babies, they swim away, if the babies are still there a few hours later they'll

  • eat them, mos, in most species. Whereas birds and mammals do raise their young and often

  • form para-bonds at least temporarily.

  • It's interesting that the brain developed in three major stages driven really by the

  • reproductive advantages, which is the engine of biological evolution of social skills,

  • if you will.

  • The first stage was with birds and mammals. They've got bigger brains per body weight

  • than reptiles and fish do because the quote unquote "computational requirements" of raising

  • young and picking a partner require a bigger brain.

  • Similarly, at the next stage of development, there is a correlation between the size and

  • complexity of the social group of a primate species and the size of the cerebral cortex

  • in proportion to body weight.

  • In other words, the grooming, the hierarchies, who's up, who's down, who's alpha, who's beta,

  • how can I still get some if I'm beta, the coalitions and all the rest of that. Right?

  • You've gotta have a pretty big brain.