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Questions Are The Answer

Part 1: “Abby…someone. Abby Normal”

I’ve been reading over the holiday break which, as my students know, means I have new ideas of how to explain what we’re doing in Shinobi Science. What’s new in neuroscience has been the focus this time and it is not normal.

Most people have heard of the concept of the Lizard brain. It’s part of the triune brain model, which consists of the lizard brain, the limbic brain, and the cortex. The idea behind this is that our base instincts are part of the older lizard brain, that then lead to the limbic brain and our emotions and finally to the cortex and reason.

While this model was created in the 1960s the idea behind it goes back to the ancient Greeks and Aristotle’s three concepts of human will, emotion and reason. Putting humans at the top of the brain ladder if you will. The problem with this theory is that it’s wrong. Modern neuroscience has shown that lizard’s have cortex brains and that there is no one section of the brain solely responsible for emotions or thought.

Everything comes down to conservation of energy and keeping you alive. Turns out that your brain is kind of a bookkeeper and a scientist at the same time. The bookkeeper is responsible for making sure you take in more energy than you use so that you can survive and procreate. The scientist is responsible for figuring out how to do that in each moment. And it turns out that the most efficient way for the brain to do that is not by reacting to what’s going on around you but to make predictions about what is going to happen.

Like a scientist your brain makes a prediction or hypothesis and then collects data from experimentation to determine if the hypothesis is correct or not. The question is whether or not your brain is a good scientist. Your predictions are based on your past experiences and you can choose to accept or reject the data that comes in and stay with your current prediction or change with them. Good science changes with new data.

If I also tell you that changing with them uses up more energy in the short term because rewiring your brain requires more energy can you guess what most people do when their predictions (aka understanding and beliefs) don’t match the data?

So short term learning uses more energy. However long term learning improved our probability of surviving and procreating when we were still in the food chain when the cost of ignoring the data was life and death. This is the same as Shinobi Science. We use science to understand our martial art that was created in a time that if your predictions were wrong you died.

Our martial ancestors cleansed our art on the battlefield testing and adjusting to the data over many generations. We honor them by questioning our understanding and continuing to do so with every experiment.

Part 2: The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You

Let’s look at another example of predictions and data and how far some will go to ignore the data. For this we once again go back to Aristotle and his geocentric model of the universe revolving around the earth. This model lasted for more than a thousand years until Copernicus.

Copernicus was a Polish astronomer and priest who in 1515 questioned this geocentric view and proposed that the earth was just another planet revolving around the sun. He didn’t publish his theory until 1543 and it wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. In fact Italian scientist Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for teaching, among other heretical ideas, Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the Universe.

It wasn’t until Galileo used his telescope in 1610 that the evidence tipped to support Copernicus. Even with this there were still those who didn’t want to accept the new data. Galileo wasn’t killed but he was tried for heresy and put under house arrest for life. But the ball was rolling already.

Around the same time a German mathematician named Kepler was calculating the orbits of the planets around the sun. His calculations created the math to prove that the orbits were actually elliptical and created the three laws of planetary motion that are still used today. Then finally in 1687 building on Kepler’s laws Newton explained why the planets moved around the sun and ended Aristotle’s geocentric view with gravity.

Following the lead of these scientists by building on the questions and experiments of others before us we too continue to question what we think we know.

Part 3: The Wonder Of A Child

Are you happy where you are? Are you set with what you know? Is there more you want to learn or have you comfortably settled in wrapped in your habitual predictions?

There is a Japanese concept called Shoshin with a meaning of “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. Like the wonder of a child exploring the world around them.

If you want to learn, if you want to change who you are and how you feel about yourself and the world around you, it starts with questions.

You have to question what you think you know. You have to question what you base your habitual predictions on. You have to have the wonder of a child.

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