Friday, April 24, 2009

Dan Siegel at Google


On Wednesday (4/22), Jenny and I had the pleasure of hosting Dr Dan Siegel at Google, where he delivered a talk on "Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation".  This was the first time Dan and I had met, but we felt like we've been old friends for many years.

Two things that most amazed me:

1. I'm amazed how much I learned in Dan's 1-hour talk.  I thought I knew a lot about the topic already, but once again, I learned that there's so much I don't even know that I don't know.

2. I'm amazed that the first time Dan even heard of Mindfulness meditation was 2003.  Given his expertise in the science and practice of personal transformation, I thought that Dan had been mediting forever like I have.  But no, his exposure to the practice was very recent.  Wow.

Anyway, here is the link to the YouTube video of the talk.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr4Od7kqDT8




And here are the notes taken by my dear friend, Yvonne Ginsberg.


Yvonne's Notes (slightly edited by me)

Dr. Siegel's general theory of mind:

Mind is a process that monitors and regulates the flow of information (Here I presume he means sensory information)  The mind is not just embodied but it is also relational.  The mind is a regulatory process, utilizing measurement to monitor the regulatory process.  Monitoring and modifying are the two essential elements of regulation.  Mental Health is the balanced interaction of all the mental factors, by being able to see the mind (witness, with some step-back) and modify mental behavior effectively (presumably according to the outcome we want, or in relation to our highly held values/criteria).

Dr. Siegel asserts that there is such an entity called 'mind', and it has a specific set of interactions with the brain, and that he would map out these interactions as he described the physiology and functions of the different parts of the brain. 

To represent a model of the brain, he asked us to make a fist and wrap our thumb with our four fingers:

The wrist is the spine, 
the lower palm is the brain stem (location for fight/flight/freeze response) the tucked thumb is the mammalian lymbic cortex which appraises significance of events, motivates, organizes memory and affective issues related to attachment  (bonding in infancy).

The knuckles represent the neo-mammalian cortex which, at the back, processes the external world, and in front, images possibilities, plans --  the future.

Moving forward to the fingers, we come to the most complex functions of abstraction,ideas, generalizations. The pre-frontal cortex is uniquely human in that it generates stories, creativity, and anchors us in relationships

The mid-frontal (which includes the insula), where Dr, Siegel places 'mental health'.

Here is a list of 9 functions related to the mid-frontal cortex:

1. Regulation of body.
2. Attuned communication.  Attachment, mutual attunement, merging.
3. Balance of emotions:  enough that life has meaning, but not too much that life becomes chaotic.
4. The capacity to extinguish fear.
5. The ability to pause before you act ("response flexibility")
6. Autonoetic consciousness ("self-knowing awareness").  Connects representation of past, present and future.
7. Empathy -- be able to represent another's internal world.
8. Capacity for morality -- compassion, acting on highest principles and social good
9. Intuition -- representation of representation of body, hence having access to wisdom of the body

This mid pre-frontal area, referring back to the fist, is in actual contact with a very large part of the rest of the brain, and is one connection away, so to speak.  So he calls this the integrative part, or " a massively integrated part of the brain with the fiercest speed of connection

Mindfulness -- applied intentional attention -- enhances all these functions; and is finally most supportive
 of the mid pre-frontal. Dr. Siegel cited many research findings that show an ‘increase’ in this part of the brain as a result of extensive meditation.

states become traits
strengthening the integrative fibers of the brain  (with mindfulness)

And mindfulness practice has a profound effect on the anterior insula, which generates empathy.

Final statement, and argument for the mind's existence:  “The mind uses the brain to create itself."

3 comments:

  1. This is extremely intesting. Some scattered thoughts:

    1) I imagine that the week-long retreat for mental healthcare professionals that he talks about towards the end of this presentation is Alan Wallace's.

    2) I had never heard before of Susan Kaiser's InnerKids foundation, but appears to be doing something similar to the SIY program for kids.

    3) Whenever somebody implies that the mind may not be identical to or a product of the activity of the brain I can hear the empiricist in me yelling "Where's the evidence supporting that claim?". I'm not saying that neuroplasticity doesn't exist, but that neuroplasticity does not require a dualistic explanation at all. "Neurons that fire together wire together", which is a great way of describing Hebbian learning, is surely sufficient to explain it. Occam's razor cuts any dualistic explanation from the root. For one thing, dualism is not even falsifiable!

    Sorry for the rant. I loved the talk as a whole and his metaphysical remark, whether it is justified or not, doesn't detract from the rest of it.

    Metta,

    David

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  2. I forgot to mention this: If you ever have the slightest interest in having any content related to SIY translated into Spanish feel free to send me an email; Spanish is my mother tongue and I would be glad to help diffusing this knowledge.

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  3. Fascinating. You might also be interested in:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-312291860326281852

    Metta,

    Jon

    Was that a Google hoodie with every comment? :-)

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