I really enjoyed the Advertising Research Foundation’s Audience Measurement Symposium 6.0, the largest audience measurement conference in the world. I always do — and this time, with my own papers co-presented there, and David Brooks’ keynote, it was better than ever.
Best-selling author and well-known columnist for The New York Times, David eloquently summarized some of the key learning from his new book The Social Animal.
Because David is talking about psychotechnology, which is the work we have done for years at the Human Effectiveness Institute, I was thrilled that such an important public figure and best-selling author is now calling attention to this crucial area.
David of course does not use our terminology. He talks about reviewing our cognitive processes, thinking about how we think, and making improvements in those processes. He is tapping into the latest brain science and popularizing the learning so that it is accessible and valuable to the entire culture not just to brain scientists. This is a very worthy activity. He joins us in this, with the kind of immediate impact we hoped someone would have someday. That day is here.
First he talked about the unconscious/subconscious part of our minds. He pointed out that only 40 bits of the 12,000,000 bits of info entering our brains each second reach conscious attention — the rest goes into the unconscious mind.
He went on to say that emotion — rather than being a flaw as it has been characterized tacitly by this rational culture* — is not in fact a flaw. Emotion is the foundation of reason, because it determines what we value and then reason is a means we use to go after what we value.
Here we differ slightly — emotion and intuition together actually are the foundation for our perception of what is valuable to us. As Jung pointed out, emotion and intuition are actually two different functions — two of the four functions of consciousness (intellect/reason, feelings/emotion**, intuition and perception).
The Human Effectiveness Institute (THEI) considers intuition to be an important part of our minds that has been relatively ignored by the scientific community. THEI also aims to improve people’s performance and their lives by focusing on what works in a pragmatic manner. We have observed that when one gives mental management advice, it is very easy for people to take it the wrong way and then more harm is done than good. The exact wording is mission critical. I am guessing that David knows all this and could not pack it all into one short speech.
If you tell people that emotion is the foundation they are likely to take it that they should simply follow their feelings. People leaving the ARF conference for example could have this as one of their takeaways from David’s talk. However, following one’s feelings as the Rubicon without some balancing rules as regards what to do about reason, intuition and perceptions often has disastrous consequences. In fact when emotion is negative and there is no cognitive tool for processing out the negativity before action, it always leads to disaster of small or large kinds. We welcome the opportunity to explore this further with David. Meanwhile, I am enjoying his book.
In the next posting we will continue to report on David Brooks’ incredibly valuable contributions to our culture, and will continue to point out how we feel his ideas could be sharpened to be even more positively effective.
Best to all,
*We would add that this bias began in Greece in the Golden Age, circa 400 BC.
**In recent psychology parlance, emotion is actually the physical manifestation of feelings (heart rate, breathing rate, adrenalin concentration in the bloodstream, etc.) so when discussing consciousness/mind, the more appropriate term is feelings rather than emotion — but this is just semantics.