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THE NEW SCIENCE: Changing Ourselves by Changing the Brain

“Does mind exist?” asks neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, as he opens a two-day conference on his favorite subject, interpersonal neurobiology. Siegel is on a mission to tell the world that by working to make changes in your mind you can reorganize the neural pathways in your brain. He insists that if you work at it, you can spend more time in “Beginner’s Mind” and improve your personal relationships. Unsatisfied by the old scientific definition that the mind is what the brain does, he says that “such a view essentially reduces the mind to an MRI.” As he sketches an upside-down triangle with mind and brain at the top two corners and relationships at the lower vertex, he explains that “The mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information. There are two worlds—that of physical reality, and that of mindsight.”  Siegel defines mindsight as “our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others. It is a powerful lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, integrate the brain, and enhance our relationships with others.”

So if the mind is that upside down triangle, what’s the brain? Or, as Siegel prefers to call it, “the embodied brain.” At its most basic level, he says, the brain is a nest of neurons in the head that connect our anatomy with our functioning, with ten to the millionth power of firings taking place all the time. Since our prior experiences have shaped our own personal neural firing intensity, how we process them is key to our wellbeing. We can process the information and impressions that come at us in two ways: by either top-down or bottom-up strategies.

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