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How to Think Outside Your Brain

How to Think Outside Your Brain

This week our guest is science writer, Annie Murphy Paul, who just recently released her latest book, The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain. In the Extended Mind, Annie takes us on a tour of the different types of intelligence we are able to tap into, focusing primarily on three often overlooked forms: thinking with our bodies, thinking with our surroundings, and thinking with our relationships.

In this episode we explore these ideas in much greater detail, and also dig into how these forms of thinking relate to our use of technology and to our lives.

You can find Annie at https://twitter.com/anniemurphypaul & her newsletter at https://anniemurphypaul.substack.com/


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Host: Steven Parton - LinkedIn / Twitter

Music by: Amine el Filali



people, thinking, brain, gesture, feel, body, writing, thoughts, mind, book, social, nature, mental, head, idea, bit, sensations, attention, movements, distractions


Annie Murphy Paul, Steven Parton

Annie Murphy Paul  00:00

If we can instead harness our innate sociability, through activities like storytelling and arguing and debating with each other and teaching other people then we bring in this whole suite of other cognitive abilities that remain dormant when we're just alone thinking, you know, sitting at our desks, maybe with our earbuds in and, and not interacting with other people.

Steven Parton  00:39

Hello, everyone, my name is Steven, pardon, and you're listening to the feedback loop on singularity radio, where we keep you up to date on the latest technological trends and how they're impacting the transformation of consciousness and culture. This week, our guest is science writer, Annie Murphy, Paul, who just recently released her latest book, the extended mind, the power of thinking outside the brain, and the extended mind. And he takes us on a tour of the different types of intelligence, we're able to tap into focusing primarily on three often overlooked forms, thinking with our bodies, thinking with our surroundings, and thinking with our relationships. And this episode, we explore those ideas in much greater detail. And we also dig into how these forms of thinking relate to our use of technology, and to our work lives, including how to be a better manager, and a better leader. Now, if you're interested in having more conversations like this, that you've been hearing on this podcast, consider joining our free community where these kinds of conversations are taking place regularly. For instance, you can join myself and dozens of other members of the community at one of our virtual events that we host every other Tuesday. If you do decide to join, please come find me in the room. And let's have a chat about some of the things you're interested in. But until then, let's jump into this episode. Everyone. Please welcome to the feedback loop. Annie Murphy, Paul. Wouldn't let's just use that as a jumping off point to start, then maybe you could just tell us a little bit about yourself. And what actually motivated you to write your latest book, which for those who may not know is the extended mind the power of thinking outside of the brain?

Annie Murphy Paul  02:26

Yeah, so I'm a science writer, and I am I beat is writing about research on learning and cognition. That's become what I write about. In any case, I would say that more narrowly, I have been writing I had been writing a lot about the science of learning. And I kept finding, finding lots of really interesting threads of research that seemed to connect seemed in some way to me to connect to each other, but I couldn't really figure out how they connected and I'm talking about research in embodied cognition, which is the idea that we think with with our, with the movements and gestures of our bodies, and the sensations of our bodies, and situated cognition, the idea that where we are affects the way we think, and then socially distributed cognition, which means, you know, that we we don't think with our own brains alone, but we we join our minds with other peoples, in a kind of collective intelligence and, and then I ran across an article that was written by two philosophers and published in 1998, the philosophers were Andy Clarke and David Chalmers, they wrote an article called the extended mind. And the very first sentence of the of the article said something like, where does the world where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin? And this to me was, you know, a fascinating question, a provocative question, because our usual answer to that question would be well, it stops at the skull, it stops at, you know, at the boundary of your of your own head. But Clark and Chalmers were advancing this theory, this notion that actually no thinking our thinking processes are spread across, you know, the body, physical spaces, other the minds of other people, and also what they were most interested in our tools, our devices, our technologies, and how we use those as kind of an extension of our of our minds. And so when I read this article, I realized that this was the big idea that was pulling together all these different strands of research that I had been interested in. And this was what I was looking for, in the sense of a new way of thinking about thinking a new way of conceptualizing what it is we do when we try to when we attempt difficult cognitive tasks that all that activity is not happening here. It's actually happening you know, I'm in a, in a much wider frame. So that became the subject of my book,

Steven Parton  05:07

and you touched on it there. But the book also breaks down into those three parts, which are thinking with our bodies thinking with our surroundings, and thinking with our relationships, could you kind of just take us on a little bit of a tour of what each of those really looks like, perhaps starting with, thinking with our bodies?

Annie Murphy Paul  05:27

Yeah, so, you know, in Western culture, we have this very old bias, that that mind and body are separate. And that body is the body is sort of animal and grubby, and, you know, irrational and unruly. And that the brain, the mind is something more celestial and, you know, elevated and in fact, what scientists are, have been discovering, and demonstrating more and more is, is how very interconnected the brain and the rest of the body are, and how influenced the brain is by the body. And not just in the other direction, we think of the brain sort of telling the body what to do, but in fact, the brain is receiving this constant flow of information from within the body. And that's actually the topic of the first chapter within that section, thinking about the brain, I've read about a phenomenon known as interoception, which is the capacity to sense those internal sensations as opposed to the way we collect all this information from the outside world, through our senses, we also have this flow of information that's constantly regenerate being generated within our bodies. And it's my argument, it's my contention in that chapter that we, that that that flow of internal sensation, which many of us kind of, you know, suppress or ignore actually has a lot of information to share with us, it actually is a way of cueing us into a wealth of nonconscious knowledge that we have stored, but does not accept, accessible to us, except through these kind of little pokes and prods that arise from our bodies. So the more interoceptive li attuned we are, the more we can take advantage of this stuff that we we know, but we don't know, we know it, if you know what I mean. Um, and then the other two chapters in that section are about thinking with gesture, you know, the way that the movements of our hands are actually part of our thinking processes. And also moving with sorry, thinking with like whole body movements, like the way that say taking a walk, helps to prime our brains to think in a more dynamic and creative way. The idea is that by moving in certain moving our bodies in certain ways we can induce our brains to think in certain ways, which again, is kind of turning that causal arrow around you know, we think of the brain is telling the body what to do, but in many ways we can influence this the state or the operation of the brain by by moving the body. Do you think that Italians think better? Because you know, I can't be the first person to you know, I actually get that question quite a lot. Yes, um, you know, if there is research, or what I can say is that there is research suggesting that when you suppress the, the urge to well, when you suppress the urge to move, but also when you when you suppress or require others not to gesture, then then people's thinking suffers. So it does stand to reason that the more you gesture, the the more the more fluent your, your, your speeches and the more fluent your thinking is. So I think, yes, the Italians may have an edge over the rest of it.

Steven Parton  08:56

Yeah, I'm not sure if you've done any if your research led you to this, but this is a topic that's fascinating to me as well. And if I remember correctly, one of the things that I've come to find is that gesturing actually seems to have led to the expansion in the part of the brain that deals with language and that a lot of it was like mirror neurons and our attempt to repeat gestures started to promote language. I think it's in Broca's area I don't know I just wonder if that's something that you've came across because it seems like a really close tie.

Annie Murphy Paul  09:28

Yeah, well, language like verbal language and gestures are really closely interconnected. But But if anything, gesture came first you know, linguists think that gestures were our first means of communication. And that verbal language came later and even to this day, you know, babies when they're learning language, they start gesturing and conveying meaning through gesture before they're able to say words. So we kind of recapitulate that, that that human history but also It's the case that gesture is is, you know, we might think of it as this kind of clumsy accompaniment to speech, but it's actually often a few steps ahead of what we're what we're saying in words. And our newest and most advanced and most cutting edge ideas often show at first in, in our, in the movements of our hands, that's before we can actually, we're able to put something put words to an idea. And then we can actually sort of bootstrap our thinking we can we can read off of our hands, the motions of our hands, some element that informs our verbal account of what we're trying to, to explain or understand. So really gestures, far from being a kind of lagging indicator, they're actually at the cutting edge of our of our thought processes.

Steven Parton  10:49

And do you think that has any bit tie in with the way writing tends to help people remember things like, for me, personally, I love using pen and paper versus typing something because typing feels very standardized, like every button click is just a button click, and then yeah, it's a thing that looks the same, but when I write it, it's got a very unique set of curves and movements that I perform. And I really think that empowers my thought,

Annie Murphy Paul  11:14

yes, yes. Now there's, there's evidence there to to suggest that forming letters, as you say, when you form letters with with your with a pen in your hand, each letter is different. Whereas, you know, tapping each key on a keyboard is it feels the same. And it doesn't have the same memory inducing effect or memory consolidating effect as writing something. writing something by hand, but I think there's an even bigger difference between putting words down on paper, whether it's with a computer or, or with or with a pen and keeping it in our heads, you know, that that's Wi Fi. It's my view. And I think it's supported by the evidence that we try to do too much in our heads and keep too much in our minds, rather than offloading our thoughts and ideas, and thereby getting some perspective and some distance on them. And there's evidence to suggest that that we get what what psychologists calls that detachment benefit from taking those ideas out of our head, putting some space between us and them, and we get them we see them differently. And I think writers or anyone who is who has, you know, struggled to, to articulate an idea finds that they deal with those ideas differently when they're down on paper than when they're still in our heads.

Steven Parton  12:38

Yeah, absolutely. I always, I always say that one of the things I love about writing is that when it is on the paper, I can judge it objectively. But when it's in my mind, I'm stuck in the subjective lens. biased, and it doesn't help me work through anything. Right, right. Right. You talked about interoception there and one of the things you talked about is the some of us are more tuned to it, versus others. And I'm wondering what are some of the ways maybe that we can increase that attunement that we can maybe become more aware of what's going on in our body?

Annie Murphy Paul  13:11

Yeah, yeah. So one of the methods for increasing interoceptive attunement that's received the most research support is it's a component of mindfulness meditation that's known as the body scan and that is a practice when you bring open non judgmental curious attention to those sensations that are rising arising in your body and one way to do it is to focus sort of on one part of the body at a time and the idea is just to again not to judge it not to feel like you need to do any do anything about it just to be aware of the sensations that are there all the time whether it's you can feel your heart beating or you can feel a tightness in your chest or your stomach you know just to to feel what's going on and to tap into that flow of sensation that is again with us all the time but that we so often when we're not meditating when we're not consciously attending to it, we tend to just overlook

Steven Parton  14:17

it in your research Have you come across any work that suggest that doing this increases your thinking capacities, like have they had people do tests before and afters of body scan for instance, and said okay, this person actually was more creative, more productive, was able to more quickly solve this problem has that was there any work like that done that you've seen?

Annie Murphy Paul  14:39

Yeah, it seems to increase being more interoceptive Lee attuned seems to increase our resilience including our cognitive resilience meaning, our ability to persist with a difficult cognitive or mental task and to you know, rebound from adversity or challenge. Because, you know those internal signals there, that's a moment by moment kind of gauge of, of our energy levels and how much capacity we have to take on a difficult task. So when people are when they're out of tune with that, when they're not aware of of where their body is, in a sense, then they can easily get overwhelmed or they they're surprised by the fact that they suddenly feel irritable or tired or, you know, not not capable of undertaking a challenge. Whereas if you're in tune and in touch with those internal signals, you can kind of manage your, your energy reserves better, you can prepare yourself for a challenge, you can kind of maintain yourself through that challenge. And then you can recover once the challenge is over in a much more effective way than if you were sort of cut off from your body and all the information that your body has to share.

Steven Parton  15:56

Do you think there's ever a chance that that could be deceptive or misleading? Because when you were saying that, that brings to mind truth detectors or you know, lie detectors, and there's some evidence that says, Get 85% to 95% of the time, these are accurate. The APA, I believe, on the other hand, has said that replication study after replication study says that they're not really accurate because people's sweaty palms or heart rate or whatnot can be a result of just being afraid of having the conversation and not answering with a lie. Sorry, like, I don't know, if that's something that you looked into, but yeah, like, maybe, you know, like, I'm, my palms are sweaty, because I'm scared to give this speech and because I know that I don't have to be as scared or maybe Yeah, yeah, you know,

Annie Murphy Paul  16:47

yes, yes, no, I have two thoughts about that. One is that being attuned to those, those ground level bodily signals can actually help you intervene in that process of constructing an emotion because as you as you note, you know, an an emotion like nervousness has exactly the same physical correlates physiological correlates as a state like excitement. And when we tune in not to, not to the idea that I'm so nervous, I'm so nervous, but rather, what am I actually feeling okay, my heart is beating faster, I have some butterflies in my stomach, my, my palms are sweaty, well, maybe you know, maybe that's my body, getting me ready for a challenge. That's it's prepping me for this, you know, this, this difficult thing I'm about to attempt and I'm actually feeling I'm feeling ready, I'm feeling pretty excited for this, you know, so you can kind of get in on the ground floor in terms of constructing that emotion from the, the, the fundamental or basic parts of the raw materials of the bodily response. But then another thought that came to mind when we were you mentioned, can those being misleading those internal signals, that's actually what happens or part of what happens when people suffer a panic attack is that often they they are tuning in a little too much to their bodies, and they say they feel that they're not getting enough oxygen and their breathing is becoming you know, really shallow and rapid, that can actually feed on itself and, and lead to lead to a full blown panic attack. So interestingly, the, the recommended treatment for that is called interoceptive exposure, where you kind of get a little taste of that interoceptive feeling, you know, you might, a clinician might have you blow into a paper bag or through a straw or something. But you do and you do it in a very safe and controlled setting and you learn you your body and your mind learns over time that No, actually I'm fine. And you know, my breathing may be a little bit quick and shallow, but but I'm, I'm not gonna, you know, this is not my I'm not under threat. And so we can learn, as long as we're attuned to our internal signals, we can learn to work with them.

Steven Parton  19:04

And that's like a just a form of exposure therapy really at that point, right? Yeah,

Annie Murphy Paul  19:07

right. Mm hmm.

Steven Parton  19:09

And now what about thinking with your environment? This is one that I really enjoy as well. Can you talk a little bit about how we think with our environment?

Annie Murphy Paul  19:19

Sure. Yeah. And this is where I really get into a main theme of the book, which is that the brain is not a computer the brain is you know, the, there's a very common metaphor that under guards a lot of the way that we talk about the brain, which is that the brain is like a computer. And this is one way in which a computer is quite different from our brain. Our brains are really sensitive to they're really they're really responsive to the environment and the context in which we do our thinking which is not the case for a computer mic, my laptop here will operate just the same here in my living room, as it would if I took it to the park. You know, so but people and their mental processes work very differently depending on where we are. And one of the clearest examples of that is that we, the way we respond to being in nature and you know, a lot of us know already that when we go into nature, when we spend time in nature, we feel more relaxed, more laid back and sort of more, more at ease. But there's a reason for that, which is that you know, human beings evolved in an outdoor setting this life we live now where we're inside a house or a car like upwards of 90% of the time, that's a very modern recent development. But we really, we evolved to live outdoors and our brains evolved to process the stimuli that are found in nature, in a very effortless and easy and an in a way that is actually very pleasing and pleasant. And that's part of why we find we often find that our mood is elevated when we're outside and the way that our attention is engaged by nature, you know, say by rolling waves or by leaves that are rustling in the wind, it's it's a very diffuse, and kind of I'm sorry, the word the phrase that psychologists use to describe it as soft fascination. It's very different from the the hard edged kind of attention that we have to pay to our work or our studies for a student. And so spending time in nature is a way to sort of refill the the tank of our attentional resources because our attention, although it's being sort of pleasantly diverted, when we're outdoors, it does, it's not being drained and drawn down the way it is when we have to focus on our work. So we can go outside, spend some time outside, and then come back to our work with our attentional capacities refresh.

Steven Parton  21:57

I suspect then if you're talking about fast, soft fascination that you've looked at the attention restoration theory from Kaplan Kaplan. Yes. And that's so can you talk AI is one of my favorite bodies of work? So I really love that. Can you talk a little bit about more about that directed versus, like, more passive form of attention? And maybe how you think that's affecting us in this very, like, digital, concrete, fast moving world that we live in? versus maybe the natural environment?

Annie Murphy Paul  22:28

Yeah, well, um, you know, you mentioned fast moving or fast moving modern world. And that's that's another contrast that that is brought up by the attention by attention restoration theory is not just the contrast between nature and the way it engages our attention. And the way our work, you know, of sort of focusing on abstract symbols, how that engages our attention, very, you know, very differently. But also nature as opposed to more urban or built settings or being indoors, there's, you know, there's a lot of straight angles. In our in a built setting, there's a lot of loud noises, fast moving cars, and people. And that's a very different setting from nature, where things that tend to be, again, that the stimuli tends to be more diffused, more sort of more soft edged. And also, you know, there's there's not a, there's a lot of variety in terms of color and hue, but within a restricted range. So like lots of green and more green, but so all these things are sort of easy on the mind and the way in a way that urban or build settings are not.

Steven Parton  23:44

So what are your thoughts on how that may be affects our intelligence, and our well being maybe from a socio economic or like kind of equality point of view, because if we're talking there about an urban environment, causing more amygdala activation, and you're more vigilant, and you're less able to kind of like access the carefree part of your brain that maybe thinks more critically? What does that mean for people who live with parks and yards and have all this open space versus people who are living next to a busy highway in a train and have cars honking and bars right outside their window? Obviously, they're going to think differently?

Annie Murphy Paul  24:30

Yeah, yeah. And, you know, one of the themes that I tried to bring out in the extended mind is dia is the fact that once we accept that these things outside our brain have have such a big impact on how well we think, then we have to really look at the fact that and take stock of the fact that these mental extensions are in no way equitably distributed, and that includes access to nature and green spaces. The New York Times had an amazing piece a couple months ago, that looked at how much more green almost on a block by block basis, affluent neighborhoods were, as opposed to, to support neighborhoods, less affluent neighborhoods. And, you know, I think we know in a sense that even even as we are a very brain bound society, we do tend to locate intelligence in the brain. But I think at the same time, our behavior shows that we understand that these mental extensions like like access to nature, and green space really do make a difference, because we, the price of those things is bid up, you know, you pay more for an apartment, overlooking Central Park than you do one that overlooks a brick, a brick wall, you know, so, and of course, people who have the resources and who have the privilege take advantage of those things, and are able to kind of engage in a rich, rich get richer cycle wherein money buys you mental extensions, and it buys you the ability to think better. And I think that's a big contributor to inequality in our society that we haven't really looked at very much.

Steven Parton  26:13

Yeah, absolutely. And what do you think about the kind of, I guess, reconciliation between thinking with the benefit of a device or an external neural system of some, some kind, you know, whether it's a notebook or like a smartphone that you take notes with, and the effect of having digital objects in the environment, and maybe the most Pavlovian? Or, you know, dopamine drip effect that they have? Mm

Annie Murphy Paul  26:43

hmm. Well, a couple of thoughts there. One is that, you know, human beings have been thinking outside the brain, extending their minds for time immemorial. So this is not, it's not a new thing. And I don't think it's something we should be afraid of, in the sense of, Oh, my God, if we delegate all our mental faculties to, to our devices, what what will be left, actually, I think, for a lot of routine and mundane tasks, it's, it's great to be able to offload those to a device that we can count on that is reliable, and then free up that mental bandwidth for the kinds of thinking that only humans can engage in, you know, higher level cognition like planning and imagining and creating. At the same time, we have to use our digital devices skillfully, like any mental extension that the trick is and how you use them. And there are certainly ways that we end up using our devices so that they don't expand or they don't extend our minds at all, they're actually sort of contracting our, our minds. And just one example of that is is this common idea that kids don't need to learn Vax anymore, because they can just Google it. And you know, what they need to do is, is learn how to think. But it turns out that in order to engage in the very kind of think kinds of thinking that teachers and parents and other adults want kids to learn how to do they actually need a base of factual information stored in their head, so we can't, our use of mental extensions has to be skillful, and it has to be informed and not an and not just casual or haphazard, if we want to actually use it to think better.

Steven Parton  28:25

Sure. And thinking of the ways our devices, maybe limit our thinking, let's maybe use as a good point to say, from social media to thinking socially, can you talk a little bit about how we fit?

Annie Murphy Paul  28:39

That's a nice segue. Yes, yeah. Well, the third section of the book is about thinking with other people. And I think you know, I've won another theme that has emerged that emerged in the book is in writing the book is that we may have reached the capacity of the biological brain to deal with that we've created a world that is so complex that our the biological brain unaided by other outside resources is almost not able to keep up and so and I think one place where we can see that is that information is so abundant expertise is so specialized, and the frankly, the problems and challenges we face as a society are so complicated and wicked, that we act, there's no it's no longer the case that like an individual can can can tackle those challenges we actually need to learn how to think together more effectively. Because we we need the collective intelligence that arises from a group of people thinking almost as one you know, engaging in a kind of group mind, but that's not really something we learn in our schools or in our workplaces because we have such an, an individualistic focus of you know, an in dividual achievement, individual accomplishment and actually we need to be developing ways to really successfully think together.

Steven Parton  30:08

Yeah. And how do we, how do we navigate? I mean, this is I'm asking you a question here that's probably like, if you can solve this, you deserve a Nobel Prize. But how do we navigate that lust for social validation and social knowledge that we kind of have evolutionarily hardwired into us, that makes us drawn towards this medium that hosts the thoughts of billions? When in reality, those billions of thoughts are probably exposing us to forms of suffering and controversy and outrage and just unnecessary information that doesn't actually benefits us and yet we kind of obsess, you know, for we we want it, but it's not helping us think it's now clouding our thoughts.

Annie Murphy Paul  30:52

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think, you know, the designers of social media platforms and other phenomena of the digital era have very successfully hacked you know, our sort of primitive nervous systems and, and biological brains. And I don't see any reason why we couldn't sort of hack those those biological realities for good, you know, what I mean? It's It's, it's, we're, we're all starting with the same basic equipment, and we all have these universal capacities and universal limitations. You know, it's, it's deeply unfortunate that they've, they've been hacked in order to make money, basically. And we've seen some pretty, pretty awful consequences of that. But I, I have hoped that, having seen that, that there'll be a movement to, to tap into those, those very human characteristics and tendencies, but in a positive direction. I think that's a possibility.

Steven Parton  31:53

And well, let's hope so. Yeah. with you. So let's, let's move this a little bit. out of the realm of theory, I suppose in a little bit more into the realm of practical application. Let's say for instance, you know, a lot of our listeners are entrepreneurs, are people working in the realm of business? Are there things that maybe as like a manager, or a leader, or as somebody who's like, trying to be a better member of an organization? Are there things that we can do to kind of utilize some of the techniques in your book? To think better?

Annie Murphy Paul  32:25

For sure, yeah, I think, you know, managers and leaders can really think of themselves as sort of situation creators, you know, how can I create a context in which my, my co workers and my employees are going to be thinking intelligently, and some of those ways might be allowing people free movement of their bodies and not requiring people to work at their desks, allowing people to be out to go outside and spend time outside to refresh their attention. And then, you know, probably most relevantly, creating social contexts where people can harness the power of the social brain, you know, I think we often think of work of work life, or intellectual life and social life as separate and distinct, and even opposed to each other. It's like, we go to work, we do our work, and then we go out for a happy hour afterwards. But in fact, humans are social all the time, we're fundamentally social beings. And it doesn't make sense to try to turn that off when we're at the office. So if we can instead harness our innate sociability, through activities like storytelling, and arguing and debating with each other, and teaching other people, then we bring in this whole suite of other of cognitive abilities that remain dormant when we're just alone, thinking, you know, sitting at our desks, maybe with our earbuds in and, and not interacting with other people. So the more we can bring sociability and social life into the workplace in a productive way, I think the more intelligent people will be thinking,

Steven Parton  34:07

I feel like that's beautiful, but so antithetical to so many of the current paradigms. There's, there's because there's a real fear, right? And maybe this is something that I think is really relevant to your work. But there is a real fear about bringing the social life into the business world, people, especially now people are afraid of having the wrong social view or the wrong social stance or, or being socially awkward, and then getting fired because they didn't socialize correctly.

Annie Murphy Paul  34:36

Yeah, I know, I guess I don't think that the answer is to be afraid of our social natures, but again, to learn to use them more skillfully and to direct that social impulse into productive thought and work and that it's, it's, it's not how we're used to thinking where we're used to thinking of, of workers being it's sort of in their individual bubbles. And then maybe Getting together for a meeting and then separating out again, and, and there are some benefits as I read in the book to what's known as intermittent collaboration, spending some time alone thinking and then interacting with other people. Because, you know, I don't want anyone to think that I'm advocating something like the Open Office, which is how I actually you know, as I write in the book is actually a really terrible way to try to do complex cognitive work because human beings are so primed for distraction. I mean, that's, that's an evolutionary advantage to be attuned to your surroundings, because it could there could be a reward or threat out there, and you have to be attuned to those things. But for that very reason, an open office is just a nightmare of distractions that pull you out of the deep work that you want to you want to be doing and you want your employees to be doing. So what we need to do is actually us walls, you know, like we used to have when we had offices, to, to protect us from our own tendency to be drawn into, into the distractions that sort of fill the Open Office,

Steven Parton  36:07

this is going to be a personal question. Because as you're saying that I love working in coffee shops. And I love the noise and the movement around me. And I've thought about why this is and I've realized that it's because when I sit at home and I work, I feel like I'm missing out on the world. So I have like a sense of FOMO. When I'm, when I'm in the, in the public, I kind of settled down, because I feel okay, well, if anything's gonna happen, I'm kind of already out in there. So

Annie Murphy Paul  36:39

you're in the middle of you're in the mix. Yeah, yeah, I've, I've had people ask me that, because, um, you know, I think most people agree with me that the off at the Open Office is pretty awful. But then people will say, but I really do like working in a coffee shop. And that's noisy, and there's certainly lots of distractions. And my theory about that, is that in a coffee shop, you do have there's some anonymity, you're not surrounded by your co workers. You're not surrounded by people who are going to grab you and say, Hey, can you help me with that? Sir, I have a question for you or something, there's cut, there's a you're in public, but you're also have this sort of bubble of anonymity and privacy around you. And for some people, that mix of the stimulation that you're talking about the sort of buzzy, you know, atmosphere in a coffee shop, and that bit of anonymity. And privacy is kind of the perfect balance for, for getting work done. But I think that just speaks again, to the importance of context that you actually are going to have different thoughts and do different work at home versus in a coffee shop. I mean, we are that sensitive to to where we are.

Steven Parton  37:42

Yeah. Which was hugely impactful for my consciousness during COVID. Which makes maybe brings us to another fantastic topic. How do you think COVID has affected the way people think considering that it's so drastically altered our social interaction, our environment, and really even our movement? Because we're not commuting? Maybe we're just sitting at home like it feels like COVID is a direct more or less to your book and a lot of ways right now.

Annie Murphy Paul  38:10

Yeah, yeah, no, I've come to think of, of the pandemic as a kind of gigantic natural experiment where a lot of us had our mental extensions cut off or taken away from us very abruptly. So, um, you know, we have been for 18 months now, or however long it's been like, a lot of us have felt like brains in front of screens, you know, we're not, we're not getting up and moving as we would if we were still going into the office, we don't have that commute anymore. And we're not, we're not you know, some, some professors, for example, have told me that they are not able to go into their offices, and they realize that, that their books on their shelves around them, we're acting as a kind of mental scaffold, and that and they feel disoriented because their externalized brain is not available to them anymore. And then, of course, a lot A lot of us have not interacted with people in person nearly as much as we as we did before. And I think a lot of us are feeling it we're feeling in a way that we would not have been aware of before how important those mental extensions are to intelligent that.

Steven Parton  39:19

Yeah. And as you were writing this, were there any, like any aha moments, like, obviously, you set out to write this book, with intention or knowledge of the fascinating topics that exist within this realm. But was there something that you came across during the writing process that like really surprised you?

Annie Murphy Paul  39:36

Huh? Yes, I mean, I think one of the biggest one of the pieces of research that had the biggest impact on me and the way I do my work as a writer is this. This idea of cognitive offloading, and again, this idea that we have a notion that experts are people who are good at their jobs, do it do everything in their head. And actually that's that's mistaken, experts are actually turned out to be those people who are most skilled at using these external resources, you know, using their bodies using physical spaces using the minds of other people, that's what makes them experts is that they're really good at doing those things. So I have really tried to implement this idea of cognitive offloading, getting stuff out of your head, and getting it out into physical space where you can manipulate ideas and, and information as if it's physical objects or navigate through it as if it's a 3d landscape. And I'm really aware now that when you're able to use your embodied resources, that way, you actually can think much better than if you just keep it all inside your head, where it doesn't have an opportunity to be changed or enhanced by contact with the world. And where do

Steven Parton  40:55

you think this goes, as someone who's basically acting as a social scientist, very much in this in the capacity of writing this book? Where do you feel like we're going? Is it a positive direction? is a negative direction? Are we being better about thinking? in these ways? Is our environment really lacking? Is technology screwing everything up?

Annie Murphy Paul  41:17

Yeah, well, I'm, I tend to be an optimist. And I see, I see, for one thing, the pandemic, as I said, sort of alerting people to the fact that we do have bodies we do exist, and we are embedded in physical spaces, and where we are makes a difference. And also, we have all felt the impact of not being physically present with with other people. So I am hoping and I see this happening in particular in education, that we can embrace the fact that we are whole human beings, that we that we're not just sort of brains on legs, you know, and that, and that we're not computers, either, that we we have to understand, we have to understand ourselves as as evolved biological creatures who are actually more like animals than like machines, you know, and that's a real paradigm shift from the way we've we've been taught to regard ourselves.

Steven Parton  42:11

Yeah, absolutely. That's a reminder that we are animals, I think is a very important one. Well, okay, I know we're coming up a little bit on time here. So I don't want to run over. But I do want to give you a chance to talk a little bit about anything that you're working on now, or just direct people to where they can find the extended mind and your most recent work.

Annie Murphy Paul  42:33

Yes, sure. So I'm, I'm very active on Twitter. And I encourage anyone who's listening to reach out to me, they're at my handle is at Annie Murphy, Paul. And I have a newsletter that I just launched this week, actually, it's called thinking outside the brain. And one thing I'm really excited about is that I'm starting what I'm calling a cognitive advice column. Because you know, so, so often advice columns are about our emotions, and our relationships. And those things are so important, but I find that many of our biggest struggles are really with ourselves and our minds. And so I my ideas to bring the wisdom and the knowledge generated by cognitive science and, and psychology to bear on these questions that, that I think are just as important, which is, how do we, how do we manage our mental lives, you know, not just our emotional lives? And so I'm really excited about that. And I'm looking forward to sharing that with with

Steven Parton  43:29

readers. Has that come out yet?

Annie Murphy Paul  43:32

The first one is kind of the first one is coming out tomorrow. Oh, wonderful. Good

Steven Parton  43:36


Annie Murphy Paul  43:37

Yeah, I'll give you a preview. It's about people who fit and this is something I've heard from a lot of people people who feel who fidget who feel compelled to move a lot when when they're working or thinking but are aren't, are embarrassed about that, or

Steven Parton  43:53

I don't know what you're about to say, but

Annie Murphy Paul  43:56

I've been made to feel embarrassed or ashamed or like they, they should, you know, just be still you know, and so I'm writing about how that's actually fidgeting is actually a way of modulating our level of arousal in a very granular and effective way. And it's something that we should be encouraging rather than shaming people for so

Steven Parton  44:21

this is good news. I do the the facial hair thing all the time. It's my addiction. Well, wonderful by the time this airs, that should be in the show notes. Annie, thank you so much for taking the time and join me in this conversation.

Annie Murphy Paul  44:36

Thank you, Steven. It's been a pleasure.

Steven Parton  44:38



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