We can all make better decisions and get the most out of our brains, Berlin says—but we need to understand them first. Berlin is a cognitive neuroscientist and the host of PBS Nova’s “Your Brain.” All Things Insights’ Seth Adler had a chance to sit down with Berlin at TMRE to chat more about our brains, creativity, perception and all points in between.
In terms of how we can be more creative, and productive: What are at least some of the keys to opening up more productivity in our daily lives?
“The best thing you can do for productivity and for your brain is sleep,” recommends Berlin. “I know it sounds counterintuitive, but take a nap during the day. That increases productivity. The more you do the things we know that are healthy for our body, the more we know they are also healthy for our brain. Exercise, eat right, sleep. People have this myth, if I just drink more coffee and if I stay up more hours, yes, you’ll be working for more amounts of time. But you’ll probably be less productive. It really depends on how cognitively demanding the task is. If it’s something where it’s just a rote simple thing, like I just have to put these stickers on as many books as possible, then that’s a form of productivity.”
What about the creative side of our brains? What is different about the aspect of creativity?
Berlin says, “Creativity is a bit different. We always say think outside the box. When I was trying to measure creativity, there was this one test, basically here’s a paper clip. Tell me how many ways you can use this paper clip, which doesn’t feel like it’s the greatest measure of creativity. But in order to access our creativity, we actually need to let go. Let go of control. The worst thing you can do is say, I need to be creative right now, come up with an idea. Take in all the information, all the variables, and then let your unconscious work on it because the unconscious has an unlimited capacity. Consciousness is limited. So go for a walk. The best ideas happen in the morning in the shower, when you’re just waking up, and you’re in that in-between state. Unless you think about it, the more you collect over your sense of self, the more the unconscious takes over—that’s where creativity lies.”
So that’s the human who has consciousness. And now we’ve got artificial intelligence. How long do we have until AI technology reaches consciousness?
“It’s a complicated question. We really need an overarching theory of consciousness to know,” says Berlin. “There was the Turing test, but they can already pass that. The AI system might tell you it’s conscious, but how do we test if it really is? But what we know so far, it doesn’t seem like a software program. Will AI rise to the level of having conscious perception? That means just basic feeling. You don’t need a sense of self to have it, you don’t need language to have consciousness. Other animals have consciousness. Take feeling pain. Being conscious, it’s a feeling. These AI systems might be very complex in terms of information processing and things that we do cognitively. But that emotional piece of it, the feeling piece of it, it doesn’t seem like it has that.”
How far away are we from such tools as neural networks connecting the dots between humans and technology?
“What’s more likely is that we are going to start merging with technology for the sake of treating illness, either psychiatric or neurological illness; we already implant electrodes in our brains. And we start merging with the technology. Over time, we might become more like cyborgs, and that might have super-intelligence. But I think there’s a lot of steps to go,” notes Berlin. “Our biggest, limiting factor is our understanding of the brain. For example, if you said, I want to have an implant that increases intelligence. Well, where would you put that implant? Where does intelligence lie in the brain? We don’t know. As we start to understand the brain better, then we can start to use that technology in those ways. What is that going to mean for us in terms of being human? Where do we fit in with all that?”
See the full video for more on Seth Adler’s conversation with Heather Berlin at TMRE, as they chat about consciousness, the future of neuroscience, psychedelic psychotherapy, micro-dosing and more.