Books: Social Intelligence

January 20, 2011 |  by

by Daniel Goleman, 2006

If you want a semi-easy primer on neuroscience and social behavior, read the first 80 pages of Social Intelligence. Goleman has a great heart, a solid mind and connects the dots between memes and brains.

The main point is this:

“Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it ‘sociable,’ inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain – and so the body – of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.”

Goleman calls this looping. Mirror neurons in my brain actually sense your feelings, thoughts and actions (wow!) and activate the same parts of my own brain. Now that’s resonance! That’s what happens in a meme. Mirror neurons in group members activate one other, triggering groupthink, mass emotion and action.

Could it be any more clear?

But that ain’t the end o’ the story. Awareness counts.

Most looping is unconscious. Mirror neurons act automatically – often by what Goleman calls the “low-road” centers of the brain (amygdala, lizard brain and company). But in our “high-road” centers (prefrontal cortex, etc.) we can “watch” what’s happening to us. By observing what’s influencing us, we can choose how we want to act.

Meditators and monks have known this for centuries. Now neuroscientists do too.

In practice it’s not so easy. But the theory is simple.

Through awareness, we have choice.

In choice, freedom.

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