Iconoclast by Gregory Berns

date Oct 11, 2010
authors Gregory Berns
reading time 5 mins
  • Book Title: Iconoclast - A neuroscientist reveals how to think differently
  • Author: Gregory Berns
  • Year written/published: 2008
  • Some extracts:

For now it suffices to know that the iconoclastic brain differs in these 3 functions and the circuits that implements them:

  1. Perception
  2. Fear Response
  3. Social Intelligence

To see things differently…

To see things differently than other people, the most effective solution is to bombard the brain with things it has never encountered before. Novelty releases the perceptual process from the shackles of past experience and forces the brain to make new judgements … Iconoclasts, at least the successful ones, have a preternatural affinity for new experiences. Where most people shy away from things that are different, the iconoclast embraces novelty.

The key to seeing like an iconoclast …

… look at things you have never seen before. It seems almost obvious that breakthroughs in perception do not come from simply staring at an object and thinking harder about it. Breakthroughs come form a perceptual system that is confronted with something that it doesn’t know how to interpret. Unfamiliarity forces the brain to discard its usual categories of perception and create new ones.

Automatic brain thinking….

This automaticity lets us accomplish anything that required hand-eye coordination, but this automaticity comes with a price. In the interests of crafting an efficient visual system,, the brain must make guesses about what it is actually seeing. Most of the time this works, but these automatic processes also get in the way of seeing things differently. Automatic thinking destroys the creative process that forms the foundation of iconoclastic thinking.

Imagination and experience…

The efficiency principle, coupled with the consolidation of large amounts of information and experience as we get older, means that the brain needs to categorize. And yet, imagination stems form the ability to break this categorization, to see things not for what one things they are, but for what they might be… If you imagine something less common, perhaps something that you have never actually seen, the possibilities for creative thinking become much greater because the brain can no longer rely on connections that have already been shaped by past experience.

Lazy Brain…

It is lazy. The efficiency principle dictates that the brain will take short cuts based on what it already knows. These shortcuts, although they save energy, lead to perception being shaped by past experience. How you categorize objects determines what you see. And because imagination comes form perception, these same categories hobble imagination and make it difficult to think differently.

The surest way to evoke the imagination…

… to evoke imagination is to confront the perceptual system with people, places, and things it hasn’t seen before. Categories are death to imagination. So the solution is to seek out environments in which you have no experience. These environments have nothing to do with the individual’s area of expertise. It doesn’t matter. Because the same systems in the brain carry out both perception and imagination, there will be crosstalk… An effective strategy to fight categorization is to confront categories directly. Whether it is categorizing a person or an idea, write out the categories. Jot down some words that categorizes an idea. Use analogies. You will naturally fall back on things that you are familiar with. Allow yourself the freedom to write down gut feelings, such as stupid or hot. Only when you consciously confront your brain’s reliance on categories you will be able to imagine outside of its boundaries.

Social intelligence:

Picasso offers pointed lessons on how to shrink the world. Increase the world’s familiarity with you through productivity and exposure. And develop a reputation so that people are drawn to you and not repelled. Easier said than done. But neuroscience tells us about the biological underpinnings of these 2 functions - familiarity and reputation - and potential ways to make the most of what you have.

Black book of who knows who…

Finally, would be iconoclast should take notice about the black book of who knows whom. Even if you don’t know Donald Trump, you need to have a playbook of routes to him. Given the high attrition rate of messages, the shorter the route, the more likely you will be able to get a message through. Bit distance is not always the most important factor. messages sometimes can take a more circuitous route if they have a greater chance of reaching the intended recipient.

Innovation According to Everett Rogers, the first scientist to empirically study innovations and the originator of the field of study, there are 5 attributes of innovations:

  1. Advantage over existing products
  2. Compatible with existing value systems and social norms
  3. Complexity of the innovation will determine the rate at which it is adopted by other people
  4. Triable allows potential users to try out the idea without much cost to themselves
  5. Visible results of innovation to other people

Iconoclast to icon…

The journey from iconoclast to icon goes beyond the 3 themes highlighted in this book. He conquers his fear of failure and fear of the unknown, and posses enough social intelligence to sell his idea to other people. For an iconoclast to become an icon, large number of people who are not themselves must come to accept an idea that is new to them. And that can only be achieved through one of the 2 ways : novelty or familiarity. Youth or experience.

30 years old…

… brain imaging studies have provided direct evidence of a link between dopamine activity and personality dimensions related to novelty seeking. As it turns out, this relationship changes throughout the human life span, which may explain the adolescent propensity for novelty seeking. It may also explain why in many fields, the age of innovation and creativity reaches its peak sometime before 30 years old.