Understanding Ourselves Through The Lens Of Science

We have inhabited the earth for over 7 million years. From our quadruped ancestors to our modern self, we are all connected by an unbroken chain of evolution that continues to extend. Despite spending millions of summers on the planet, it is only in the last couple hundred years that we have begun to unravel the mysteries of the brain and the mind.

From Soul to the Brain

Ever since Santiago Ramón y Cajal shared his beautiful yet intricate drawings of the neurons inside a brain in 1852, neuroscience has been growing at a considerable pace. Thanks to modern computer simulation, imaging, data models, and advanced scanning techniques, neuroscientists have been able to create perfect models of our brains. Thought leaders of the yesteryear used to think that our decisions, choices, and values were products of the soul or the mind. But modern science unearthed that all of our thoughts, desires, emotions, decisions, responses, and creativity stem from brain functions.
 
The studies recognized our reptilian brain, the baggage we are carrying to this day from our ancestors. This reptilian brain is responsible for our "fight or flight" responses when things go south. Then there is the cognitive part of the brain, a latter edition to our repertoire thanks to evolution. All of our memories, reasoning, social response, rationality, calculations, communication, and creativity are the gifts from our ever-evolving cognitive brain.
 
With modern technology and the internet, neuroscientists can collaborate with experts from many different. Their findings divide the human nervous system into 'Parasympathetic' and 'Sympathetic'.

  • Sympathetic: The sympathetic nervous system represents our reptilian or lower brain. It gets activated in the presence of a threat and triggers the fight or flight response and floods the body with adrenalin. 
  • Parasympathetic: The parasympathetic nervous system is active when our brains are in cruise control. It keeps a lid on the reptilian responses and allows us to go through life without an unnecessary adrenalin rush. When we are eating, feeding, working in offices, and communicating with others, the parasympathetic nervous system does its job.

The presence of the parasympathetic nervous system is vital in the current social structures. The threats we are likely to face in the modern world might elicit wildly inappropriate reactions if only the fight or flight mechanism were at play. But current job roles and work environments are relatively sedentary. The ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle carried higher risks but introduced a healthy way to channel the adrenalin rush that is triggered from time to time. Without that outlet, the sympathetic response to the perceived "threats" of modern society and do not naturally have a way to dissipate, which causes damage to our bodies, nervous systems, and brains.

From Threats to Rewards

For centuries, the survival of the human species relied on raw instinct and chemical triggers that differentiated between threat and pleasure. While adrenalin allowed us to survive, dopamine made us thrive. We had created a reward system which resulted in the basics of human life such as water, shelter, food, clothes, and companionship. But as we stepped into the modern age, the traditional threats had either vanished or transformed into much more subtle variants. The conventional reward system also became inadequate over time as extrinsic needs, such as money took the front seat.

Under these climates, a new breed of leaders arrived who focused on enterprises rather than empires. They eliminated threats as a motivator and created a reward system that encouraged creativity, camaraderie, and critical thinking.

Intrinsic Satisfaction

Intrinsic needs such as the need for learning, success, and achievement can act as strong motivators. Modern leaders often create an environment where the competitive element eggs peers to strive harder. The same applies to our social presence as without specific achievements, skills, and success we might feel excluded. The intrinsic needs fuel our ambitions, curiosity, and propensity for bettering ourselves.

Setting the Expectation

We have an innate sense of expectation from the society and the world in general. If our expectations are not met, we either recalibrate our expectations or move away from the situation. Thought leaders create an environment where expectations are laid out clearly and designed in a way to be conducive to performance and productivity.

Extrinsic Satisfactions

Extrinsic satisfaction is an excellent motivator after we have met our needs for food, lodging, safety, sex, and clothing. Money is a useful and powerful extrinsic motivator as it helps us fulfill our other needs. 

Handling Threats

As we have mentioned earlier, the nature of threats has changed drastically, but the "fight or flight" response remains. We now feel threatened by social rejection, humiliation, insult, job pressure, completion, angry emails, threatening phone calls, and so on. However, our response to these threats has to be socially acceptable. Due to this suppression of innate response, we often fall into a damaging trap. Hence it is important to avoid such threats, and for leaders must create an environment where employees feel safe.

Seeking Fairness

Fairness is one of the fundamental human needs. An environment where equity is maintained often boosts performance, creative thinking, action, and thought. An unfair system creates a sense of discomfort. People either move away from such situations or their abilities to improve are significantly deteriorated.

Assessing Ourselves

Modern neuroscience has unearthed much of the hidden treasures of our brains. But not everyone is a scientist. Hence getting a quality understanding of how we function and should function in a society is often out of the reach of most people. That is where assessments come in. Assessing yourselves can be a wonderful way to identify your emotions, intelligence, thoughts, behaviors, skills, and other useful nitty-gritty.

Concluding Thoughts

Thanks to the studies and findings of neuroscience, we are in a position to learn much more about ourselves than our ancestors ever could. With the knowledge of our nervous systems, brains, and social responses, we can be more productive and less vulnerable. Modern leaders can help immensely by using assessments as a tool to understand people and can lead to an environment that motivates everyone to their best in a holistic way. 

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