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Dr Jim's Thursday Thoughts 9-2-21

Our brain is an amazingly complex three-pound structure. 60% of the dry weight of the brain is made up of fat with about 25% of the body’s total cholesterol in the brain. In case you are wondering, there is evidence that higher cholesterol levels later in life might reduce the likelihood of dementia. This three-pound lump of fat and cholesterol is about 2% of our body weight yet utilizes about 20% of the total energy expenditure (calories) of the entire body! Surprisingly our brains have gotten significantly smaller over the last 20,000 years. HERE is a good article that discusses several hypotheses as to why this may be. One of the things we know is chronic stress and depression can actually shrink the brain.

The average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute, according to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California. That adds up to a total of 70,000 thoughts per day. It looks like 70% of this mental chatter is negative — self-critical, pessimistic, and fearful.

There are some very strange disorders of the brain such as; exploding head syndrome disorder (hearing phantom explosions in your head), Capgras syndrome (thinking loved ones have been substituted by impostors, robots, or aliens), and Cotard’s syndrome (believing you are dead).

I am very interested in recognizing and understanding my cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that negatively impact decision-making. HERE is part one and HERE is part two of a blog covering some of the most common cognitive biases and how to mitigate them. One of the biases I find most interesting is called the Fundamental Attribution Error. Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to hold others accountable (while giving ourselves a break). It says that humans will tend to attribute the actions of others to their character (and not to their situation or context) yet attribute our own actions to situation and context (and not to our character).


If you haven’t read it yet, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating book. Gladwell opens with the story about a museum’s purchase of a forged statue that could have been avoided if experts would have listened to their first impression. When this statue was first presented to the museum the experts immediately (in a blink of an eye) doubted its authenticity, even though didn’t have any evidence to prove that the statue was forged. After examinations and analysis of core samples, the statue was finally put on display. Eventually the statue was proven to be a forgery. Gladwell refers to this example throughout the book to prove his point that the first impression is often the one we can trust.


I recently read THIS article on the famous Milgram Shock Experiments. Milgram was a psychologist at Yale University who was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. He was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities, for example, Germans in WWII. The conclusions of the study were that “ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.

People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school, and workplace.”

From an article “The Perils of Obedience” by Milgram:

'The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.'


On a lighter note, HERE is a list of the names of things you probably didn’t know.

HERE are 21 Rules of Life That Will Change You by Japanese Ronin Miyamoto Musashi. My favorite is number 4 - Think little of yourself and strongly of the world.

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