As we learn more about how our brains work, it’s clear that metacognition – thinking about thinking – is key to managing ourselves for optimum, context sensitive, brain function. Sounds nebulous, but it’s not really. As we understand how perceptions, emotions, rationality, decisions and other functions are processed in competing and collaborating areas of the brain through different neural pathways, we can step back and better understand why we do the things we do. And maybe manage our brains a bit better.
We might also be able to understand the brains of others better. So when you see a Glenn Beck on Fox News, blubbering that Barack Obama is coming for you like the Nazis came for the Jews, you can see that this guy clearly has an over-active amygdala – he can’t help it, he’s scared. Maybe Glenn Beck fans share that trait. When Rachel Maddow of MSNBC debunks the the Obama / Nazi analogy as perposterous, with a devastating, fact-based argument, she’s coming at us from the frontal cortex. Problem is, the Glenn Becks and Bill O’Reillys of the world can’t hear that. In fact, neither side can hear the other. They’re using different parts of their brains. (Unexpected hypothesis: are Republicans more emotional, fear-based thinkers, and Democrats more coldly rational, analytic thinkers?)
In an ideal world, we’d use our evolving understanding of the brain to better understand and talk with people who hold opposing views. In the real world, just the opposite seems to be happening. We use our understanding of neuroscience to “frame” issues so we can convince others that we’re right (confirming our biases feels good after all). This essentially amounts to weaponizing brain research. It’s a Red Queen, zero sum game. No one wins. Both sides just keep escalating their rhetorical tricks, as both sides have access to the latest relevant neuroscience.