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Thinking larger

On April 21st, 2017

No one doubts that we’re social creatures, designed to share food and shelter, but last week I came across some evidence in evolutionary theory suggesting that we’ve also been designed to share our thoughts.

Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, has written The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, a book with a fascinating theory: that people have the power not only to share attention but to understand and imitate and hold someone else’s intention.

Sharing thoughts

This idea got picked up in a recent blog by Philip Fernbach, Steven Sloman, cognitive scientists at the University of Colorado and Brown University, respectively, who write that we were designed to share thoughts and intentions because our own knowledge bank is necessarily narrow.

Think about a heart surgeon; he’s likely to know loads about hearts, but not so much about lungs or kidneys, and may have to enlist a few of wingmen with knowledge of those body parts should his patient develop a pulmonary embolism or have a kidney pack up.

As Fernbach and Sloman put it, ‘The mind is built for collaboration, yet we lionize individual achievement.  . . .This is a myth.  Great accomplishments demand the ability to share knowledge and work together to solve problems.’

As we evolved and our brains grew ever more sophisticated, we learned to share intentions and pursue joint goals. In other words, we learned to share our thinking together – to become a hypermind.

 

Brains in tune

After studying the EEGs of a batch of pairs of guitarists, the psychologist Ulman Lindenberger and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, discovered that when two or more people play music together, their brains begin to mimic each other. The brain waves of each pair become highly synchronized and “in phase”—that is, their brain waves begin peaking and troughing at certain key moments.

Entire areas of the two brains create synchronized patterns, particularly the frontal and central regions, but also the temporal and parietal regions, those parts of our brains that govern our sense of self in space, and in this instance, the synchrony suggests the guitarists begin to feel a sense of unity with their fellow guitarists.

The same team went on to study guitarists who were improvising together and discovered what’s been called a “hyperbrain pattern”—the tendency of the brains to work in tandem so closely that they come to resemble a single giant brain—particularly when both guitarists are playing at the same time.

Other scientists at the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom and the University “G. d’Annunzio” of Chieti-Pescara in Chieti, Italy, have discovered the same results when studying shared thinking—or what they refer to as Team Mental Models—between groups of jugglers. The juggling pairs develop not only a hyperbrain pattern, but also coordinated heart and breathing rates.

 

Supersized intention

I have discovered similar effects with my Intention Experiments and Power of Eight groups: when a group of any size is sending an intention, they longer are a collection of separate individuals. The borderline separating them has been erased. They become a supercharged hive, a supergroup.

They aren’t just connecting—they’re merging – and the intentions appear to get more powerful.

‘The myth that we can do it all alone – that we can master the world solo in all its detail and complexity – may be comforting, but it is not only wrong: It is also counterproductive,’ say Fernbacha and Sloman.

Of course these scientists are talking about shared knowledge, each of us contributing our own little piece of the knowledge required to do a task, like so many spokes in a wheel. But the same holds true when we’re just setting an intention.

We’re not only better off being in a group, we’re better off thinking in it. What starts out as a single note becomes a thundering symphony.

Comments

comments

10 responses to “Thinking larger”

  1. Signe Klepp says:

    Facinating reading - and so true. This is the experience when a team works well. We call it so many things, it's nice to know what's really at work. But to get there - "looking at the same card" - it must take a willingness or having a positive attitude for the brains to cooperate?

  2. kate says:

    Team Spirit - something most of us must have experienced with much pleasure

  3. Thank you so much for this. I am sharing it with many people who have glimmerings of this but you express it so well. I am looking forward to the things I signed up for you to send. Maybe we can straighten out our present world if we let our intentions work their power.
    This is part of the key. Blessings, Trish

  4. Giving experimental/pictorial evidence is a step further in acceptability for the ‘power of intention’, as is with collective prayer and further credence for many to psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s concept of ‘The Collective Unconscious’ which refers to the unconscious mind shared by all of humanity, and in terms of ‘co-operative thinking’ many other sentient animals such as non-speaking dogs and horses who can ‘sense/read’ our emotions, although the hyper sense of smell of certain animals may be responsible for some of the latter. This synchrony is not ‘intention’ driven and may be *pheromonal, which may engender the emotion of ’empathy’, but ‘intention’ is a cognitive ‘set up’ of and by the mind which can use the faculty of consciousness and thought to broadcast to the four corners of the Earth to potentially millions of people unknown to each other that can be harnessed to do good.

    If we think of ourselves as ‘transceivers’ and possessing a ‘body electric’ it is not surprising that our brain’s messaging service, which is electro- chemical, can have this combined power to connect and to have a powerful 'healing' affect on others of the same species. The more Science shows evidence for our wider powers to do good the better.

    *Pheromonal - pheromone. : a chemical substance that is produced by an animal and serves especially as a stimulus to other individuals of the same species for one or more behavioral responses—called also ectohormone.

  5. JANIE THOMAS says:

    AMEN Sister! Thanks for sharing this info, it confirms what I have thought to be true in my work with people that I could synchronize with, it is amazing what happens. Looking forward to manifesting multitudinous beneficial solutions for the tasks we face.

    Not by might, not by power but by my SPIRIT says the LORD of HOSTS.

  6. Kim says:

    Together We Are Better!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this important information!

    I have been a proponent of collaborative learning (over individual experiences) for many years and incorporate group intentions when I facilitate workshops in literacy foundation. These studies prove the power of group learning.

    As we are also learning that the most important indicator of well-being (physical and mental) is the strength of one's relationships, it's all making sense...

  8. Jef Pepermans says:

    Do we need these 'scientific' data to confrim what many people already know and practice? I'm a singer myself for about seventy years and have experienced this hyperbrain pattern very often.
    Detail: the second line under the heading 'Supersized intention' contains a writing error with serious consequence. It should read 'they no (this word is missing) longer are a collection of separate individuals'.

  9. Susan Burger says:

    I love this message and it is so fitting for a gathering I'll be going to this afternoon "Potluck for Peace". Setting intentions together for a world that has seemingly gone mad, and knowing that there is great possibility beyond anything we can imagine for change as we continue to come together.

  10. Tess Taft says:

    Please put me on your blog mailing list. I met you in the 1990s at a NICABM conference and have sent your book to many friends. I didn't know you were doing a blog. thanks, Tess Taft

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