The Extended Mind

The Ezra Klein Show: This Conversation Will Change How You Think About Thinking

This is an excellent podcast episode from Ezra Klein of the New York Times with his guest Annie Murphy Paul, author of the book The Extended Mind. In it they discuss the errant model of “mind as computer” that many of us hold and the resulting “productivity paradox” of grinding away at our work and getting nothing done. In Annie Murphy Paul’s words:

“Well, as we go through our everyday lives, there’s way more information than we can process or retain consciously. It would just completely explode our mental bandwidth. But we are taking in that information, noting regularities and patterns, and storing them in the non-conscious mind so that it can be used later when we encounter a similar situation. Then the question becomes, well, if it’s non-conscious, how do we make use of that information?

And it’s because the body lets us know. I mean, that’s what we call a gut feeling or what psychologists, what scientists call interoception, which is the perception of internal sensations that arise from within the body. And people who are more attuned to those internal signals and cues are better able to draw on that wealth of information that we know but we don’t know. We possess it, but we don’t know it explicitly or consciously. So that’s what a gut feeling is. It’s sort of your body tugging at your mental sleeve and saying, hey, you’ve been here before. You’ve had this experience before. Here’s how you responded. It worked or it didn’t work. Here’s what is the right thing to do now.

But in our world where we are so brain bound, so focused on the cerebral and the things that go on in our head, we tend to push the body aside, to quash those feelings, to override them, even, in the service of getting our mental work done, when really we should be cultivating that ability, becoming more attuned and more sensitive to it, because it has all this accumulated experience and information to share with us.”

As a somatic practitioner I can tell you that indeed, the body has stories to tell. Sometimes stories the mind finds inconvenient, confusing, or overwhelming, so they get packed up tight. It has been my experience that pushing that information away is a short term solution that eventually catches up with us in the form of debilitating physical pain or restriction. It is so juicy to unpack it, though, to let it move and tell you in ways only the body can about this wild and precious life of yours. We are here for it when you are ready.