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Access Your Aliveness: What the Brain Sees

This lesson is a part of an audio course Hack Your Brain, Access Your Aliveness by Dave Wolovsky

Before we start, let's pause again, take 1 deep breath, and sigh it out with an audible sound.

Then prime your attention by saying, "I'm learning now."

In the previous lessons, we learned how important the feeling of Aliveness is. Each moment of Aliveness adds to a life energy reservoir inside us, which empowers us to solve problems and take positive action more easily, which in turn makes it easier for us to experience moments of Aliveness.

In this lesson, we're going to learn a functional principle of our aliveness processor, the brain.

The brain's main function is to keep us alive, which is no small matter because existence is very confusing. There are a million ways to die for each way to live. We'll get more into the brain's survival strategies later, but first, let's consider the basic idea of what the brain pays attention to, with so many choices in such a complex world.

The brain's simplifying strategy for accurate perception, or making sense of reality, is paying attention to contrast. We don't need to know what's actually true to survive. We just have to know what's relatively true, what's more intense and less intense, and especially what's changing.

The contrast strategy is why we have visual illusions. Certain objects can look bigger or smaller than each other while being actually the same size, or things can look like they're moving when they're not. We see these illusions because the brain relies so heavily on contrast between neighboring colors and shapes.

Contrast plays a role in other senses as well. 70 degrees Fahrenheit feels warm if you've just taken a nap in a walk-in freezer, but not if you're coming from a Brazilian jungle at high noon. And once you've been in a 70 degree room for a while, you don't notice the temperature at all.

The contrast shows up in hearing too. Someone loudly snacking on a bag of potato chips is only annoying if everything else around you is quiet. If you were riding a motorcycle at 60 miles per hour, you wouldn't notice. And the annoying chip eater sitting behind you would have a difficult time getting the chips in their mouth.

Emotions are also signals of contrast. Neuroscientists say that negative emotions are signs of becoming less certain about our own survivability, while positive emotions are signals of becoming more certain about it.

Positive emotions are flavors of Aliveness, holistically pleasant contrast.

In general, this phenomenon of being most sensitive to transitions is because of something called "neural adaptation." Our brain cells send the strongest signals when stimuli start and stop, rather than when they continue.

This feature of the nervous system will lead us to understand how and why our life energy can be controlled by other people hacking our brains, and how we can take that control back.

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Written by

Dave Wolovsky