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#336: How Your Emotions Are Made | Lisa Feldman Barrett


Today’s guest is at the forefront of understanding human emotions: what they are, why humans evolved to have them, how they’re different from feelings, and what science says about how to manage them (rather than get yanked around by them all the time).

Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett is a University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. She’s written several books, including How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain and Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain. In this conversation, we talk about how we can “deconstruct” our own emotions, and the overlap between her research findings and Buddhism.

And one more order of business: Next Monday, April 12, we're launching a two-week series about hope. Hope was perhaps one of the cruelest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. As we start to inch our way into a vaccinated world, there are ways we can skillfully engage with hope without setting ourselves up for disappointment. And not only are we exploring hope on the podcast, but we also have new bespoke meditations from our podcast guests and teachers dropping in the Ten Percent Happier app so that you can actually practice hope as a skill. If you don't already have it, get the app now so that you're ready to practice. To get started, download the Ten Percent Happier app, for free, wherever you get your apps.

Full Shownotes: https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/lisa-feldman-barrett-336

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
From ABC this is the ten percent, have your protest. Dan Harris hey team. I've, I've often joke that is man, emotions have not always in the most appetising subject for cover Asian, however, as I've learned the hard way and repeatedly emotions are there whether you want to look at them or not, and if you choose the path of denial or compartmentalization you will inevitably be owned by those neglected and overlooked emotions, but what our emotions anyway, how they differ from feelings? Why we evolved to have emotions in the first place and what science say about it: we can manage emotions. hopefully, rather than being yanked around by them all the time. My guest today is at the forefront of understanding all of these questions from a scientific sample,
She is doctor, LISA Feldman bear it. A university distinguish, professor of psychology, northeastern University with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. She's written several books, including how emotions are made, the secret life of the brain and seven and a half lessons about the brain this conversation. We talk about how we can deconstruct that's her term, our own emotions, air. We talk about the overlap between her research findings and Buddhism before we get to that. Here's just one quick item of business next Monday April twelfth we are launching a ten percent happier a two week series about hope where interesting and exquisitely have a difficult moment when it comes to hope, there are a lot of reasons to believe that were Emerging out of this pandemic, but there are also still lots of variables out there,
including new variants of the virus, that we cannot control. So how do we skilfully engage with hope without setting ourselves up for me? of disappointment so will be exploring the notion of hope. As a skill here are the pod cast, but we also have new but spoke meditations from our pod cas guests and teachers that will be dropping in the ten percent happier app. So you can actually, as I said before, practice hope as a skill, if you don't already have it go, get the app now so that you're ready to do the meditations that will be combined with the episodes that would be dropping in MID April download the ten percent have your app for free wherever you get your apps to get started, Having said all that lets diving now, Adapter LISA, Feldman, Barrett, LISA Velvet thanks for coming on proceeded my pleasure. Let's start with a little background, I'm curious. How did you get interested in emotions
she's laughin, already the rule of law by all about how do I get interested in him Since I suppose I got interested in emotions because it was a perplexing problem. When I was in graduate school, I was doing search, and I had my own little replication crisis when I was in greater school. In that I was attempting to replicate, published research findings, which is what you do as a graduate student at first before you conduct your own experiments, you try to rapid. experiments and have already been published peer, reviewed and someone, and I was unable to replicate eight experiments in a row which led me to think that maybe I was trying to have them, career and there wasn't really cut out for science. But when I looked closely at all of the evidence when I just covered is that the measures of emotion, work, functioning They should have been functioning
based on anything that I had read, and so more, I dug into it the more I realise there were these really interesting paradoxes in the emotion research literature that no one was paying very much attention two and I found it, super intriguing, but I thought really optimistically there I would just you know a couple of months away from my main dissertation topic in kind of solve this emotion in others, ocean measurement problem issues? I was thinking about it and then I will get back to my main topic, my reservation and then you know fast forward. Almost thirty years, and here we are so the interested emotion grow not out of some personal fascination violence at risk Just me search, it sounds, like goes quite a technical thing. I am also trained as a therapist and one of them,
things that I am really good at is detecting what people say. What people tell themselves, isn't necessarily what the evidence from their own life indicates. So when there's a disconnect between what people believe and what the evidence shows in their own life I'm really always draw to that as a therapist. I was always drawn to it as a person in my own life I'm drawn to it and as a scientist I'm drawn to So really what happened was in the emotional. future science were writing about emotion in a particular way, but then, when. actually dung into the data it didn't match what to say, tests were saying, and I I found this to be real fascinating and also. really like perplexing and scientific problem that there were these massive question: that word unanswered that other people didn't. You
seem to notice for questions, and this to me just seem completely fascinating and I just was hooked. What were the questions that people were overlooking well, for example, pick up any introductory textbook in psychology, or you pick up many many popular talks about emotion, many many research papers, and it will tell you that every emotion has its own signature in the body right that anger and fear sadness and so on can be distinguished from one another by just lie, king at people's heart rates, their damage, their sweating and you know their respiration, powders and so on, and that that this idea that each emotion category has something imprint comes from William James, the great William James, who is considered one of the founders of american psychology. What were you going to read William James? He didn't say that in fact he said the exact opposite of that.
mean literally the exact opposite. He said there is no physical today for anger, anger can be many things that can feel like many things. Your face can do many, things your heart will do anything, so I mean thing: but again when you're angry. How often do you give that stereotypical scowl, that's supposed to be the universal expression of anger, do you scowl frequently, when you're angry I get a real live as one of my big emotional go Jews. I remember from your back and I'm just saying you when you think about when you're angry de sometimes, but often I pretended not there and you know just revert to passiveaggressive paviers. Do you school when you're? Not angry? I think my resting face is pretty close to scale. So, yes, okay, so interesting way, the evidence shows that people scowl when their angry about thirty percent of the time we
it's more than chance and we'll get you publication in a really good journal. But what that means is that Ninety percent of the time people are not scowling when their angry they're doing something else, that's meaningful with their face, and sometimes that might be smiling. Sometimes that might be crying or frowning. Sometimes, that might be sitting silently and plodding the demise of their enemy and heart rate. Are your blood pressure will go up or go down or stay the same in anger, Depending on what physical action your taking, some of you were looking at some his face in their body in trying to predict whether they were angry or not. You would be wrong. Seventy percent of the time, and also people scowl when the not angry you know, my husband makes a full facial scowl when he's concentrating really hard and unbeknown to me
So why would you now, as I was telling my lab when I first met my husband, You know you're dating. I was telling me what makes us for facial scowl when he's ain't really I can you believe that in their like New York as you Do you know that you do not editorially freaks out I'm like seriously? I had no idea so my point is that not the what do in anger- is not reliable, but that you have many anchors, you don't just have one there's no entity, there call anger. You have hope anger for you and for me and for everybody else in the western world is a population of variable instances, and you know your bread, this constructing anger, in particular situation, for you to achieve a particular wall and the expression of anger. Be tailored to that call? Sometimes anger is unpleasant. Sometimes it's pleasant. Sometimes there is very high arousal. Sometimes it's not,
So the idea that there is one set of features that defines anger in the face. In the body in the brain or would have. You is completely a mess. but if you were to read most textbooks until recently were most popular size books there. Really. You would be led to a very different story, and I found that really really interesting and it doesn't really matter whether you're looking your studying the voice of the face of the body of the brain, it's the same story over and over and over again variability as the norm, and that's just in western cultures. That's actually just within a single person. So, the idea that there are these universal signatures is not the evolutionary story of emotion. There is an evolutionary service way more interesting and weigh more complicated and weigh more useful, actually James Elles about it the evolutionary here. Why do we have emotions? I was gonna
my one of my questions was live. What our emotions aware whatsoever has been emotions and feelings and why we have them in the first place. Well now thoroughly grain question. So, let's start with feelings, first cause it so much easier for me described so less. All the way back in evolutionary time to the EU to carrying period in the earth history, when the earth was populated with creatures that had no brains, These are really fascinating creatures, and some of them are still alive today, because their environment, their knees as it were, that's what it's called a nation and ecological niece hasn't changed very much, so they haven't changed very much. and these animals are interesting because. They can move in sophisticated ways, but they have very few senses
They can't see they have no eyes no ears, no smell, very simple touch, basically, if something like a literally touches their skin, their outside of their rights. they would react to it and they dont have eyes. They have an ice spot for light and dark. That's to regulate their circadian rhythm, and they don't have hearing but they have won. Vestibular, sell that less and keep their bodies operate in the water, for example, but they can move which means they have some kind of internal system that keeps all the parts coordinated so that they can move under their own steam if they want to end what these animals do is they kind of plant themselves in the sound like a living blade of grass and they just color filter food until food goes away and then they reject themselves in the sand and the name move themselves random.
To another spot where probabilistic leadership more food and then they plant themselves. There they're kind of like these little worms, essentially but I'm not exactly where I'm supposed to have little Gill, slits, but they're kind of like worms that are shaped like worms, but they have these internal coordination systems that helps them move like coordinate the park body, so they can move under their own steam. So. When there's a looming darkness that happens really close to them or when some comes up and not just them. That disrupts their internal coordination. So it's like they get a sense of the world for free. It's not a great sense because it doesnt tell them what's happening exactly in the dust. tell them what to do about it exactly, but it just tell them something's going on out there that I need to care about, because my interest no coordination has been disrupted, and that means something outside in the world is happening. So if anything looms above it
like a piece of shell were like a leaf or another creature, it doesn't really matter the animal will react and move in a particular way like an instinct kind of. So that's what it has. Okay, but. If you fast forward in evolutionary time you see, animals that have developed fairly large bodies and because they have learned bodies now they have turn all systems like a heart and lungs and stuff like that which has to be coordinated with each other, and they have a brain now they also have eyes, and so when they see something at a distance, if it disrupts their internal coordination, they don't know what it is they just now, important. If they ve developed was called a ladder align system to be able to sense things the water, because irish feeling of touch
finally evolved in the water as a distant sense, so they could feel vibration and they won't necessarily know what caused the vibration but they'll know o something is disrupting my internal coordination. That means something outside of me as important is happening and so on and so forth. With all these, this consensus. So now their environment has become not just this little shell around their body, but this like very large expanse by time, because they can see at a distance and they can feel some out of touch at a distance and our ability to here comes from that latter align system, so they can detect vibrations at a desk and so many things at a distance can now disrupt their internal coordination system. So. what do you feel that, as you feel that as as affect us feeling when your internal systems is disrupted, you feel that you feel it as feeling pleasant, feeling unpleasant feeling worked up here,
calm? That's what you feel it so, when you feel unpleasant What does it mean I mean something's wrong, but like what could be any number of things really So it is really basic feeling that comes from this disruption of or synchrony of this internal set of systems that we have in our bodies that have controlled now. Why do we have a brain? You know what I actually found to be really interesting. Question like: why do we even have a brain cause? It's like a really expensive organs that twenty percent of your metabolic budget? That's? the most expensive organ that you have done your brain, that three pound blob of meat is like super super expensive. Why do we have it and the answer is we have it, because we have all these internal systems that have to be coordinated with each other. So the way I talk about this in my popular writing is to think about. Your brain is running a buddy
for your body, your brain isn't budgeting money, it's budgeting, salt and glucose and water and oxygen, and so on, which are all the new treaty. There are required to keep you alive and well, and your brain is budgeting for your body kind of like running a supply chain in a way it has to make sure that the new trains are where they need to be before they need to be there in order for this cells to use them, so they you stay alive and well to perform your most important job. which is not anchoring a news, show its to pass your genes on to the next generation and me that generation lives winced reproductive age, that's actually your brains, most important job, so regulating your body. The systems of your body is your brains, most important job and your body is constantly sent
in information back to your brain, about pow, coordinated things are or how cope. Ascetic things are inside your body, and you feel that brain makes that available to itself as these feelings of feeling pleasant, feeling, unpleasant feeling worked up feeling com. These feeling are always with you, their properties of consciousness. There always with you, he's your brains, always regulating the systems of your body and the he's, always sending sense data back to the brain, about its state, and, You are always in a state of feeling, always and sometimes through. Your brain has to make sense of that of the sense data that give rise to this feeling. So if you have a tag in your chest, you know what is it? Is it anxiety Is it that you eat too much at dinner? Is it the beginnings of a heart attack and what is that tug? Your brain has to make sense of what's going on inside your body inroad
patient what's going on around you in the world, and sometimes your brain makes sense of that orchestra of sensations as emotions. So let me say, very restated you just really so that I know that I got it. Feelings are like pretty simple ones way there? The body early stage evolved in a simple way want this. Don't want this safe, safe approach, run away or neutral emotions Are we evolved to layer on top of that which are more complex. Reactions to the raw data. The Felix almost. I might make a couple of a just answer
I would say again the sea from the professor. There that's right now, but maybe you know I mean what I would say is that your brain is always running a buddy for your body. So when I say it's running up You for your body, what I mean by that is, you can think about everything that you do as in terms of deposits and withdraws sleeping is a deposit aiding is a deposit if you're eating helpfully, if you're eating junk food, and I say this as somebody who you know: I love french fries french franchisees like guys most perfect food, I think really, but even I deeply committed to this view. I also know that junk food that we gave a whole commerce about junk food and what I ve learned about, how it completely screws up your mind, the lesson, but what I say is that you know eating real food. Whole food is good
You is like a deposit eating junk food is, is not so No food is what we call it in my house exercising and withdraw cause you're spending resources, but it's kind of like an investment, because if once you replenish shit, you're actually gonna get something for What you ve spent. You know you get a healthier brain and a healthier body Maybe you keep your memory a little longer, you know working intact, and so you can think about learning something new as also an expense. It's an investment. It's like a work out for your brain. Just like exercises You can think about someone giving you a hog that you love as making things slightly cheaper for you to do. You can think about Someone gives you a hungry, you don't love and who you dont want touching you as actually making things slightly more expensive, like you're, paying attacks, innocence.
And these little taxes, you know, can add up over time to a really big deficit. So you're always having some state a few in some state of feeling the feeling actually just tells you that you're running a deficit that there's some internal coordination, which is off it, doesn't actually tell, what to do about it. It's not tied to action in any particular way, even though creatures without brains have what we would call instincts should respond says the idea that humans have these simple institutional reef flexes and layer. On top of that of these more complex emotions and layer. On top of that is rationality or rational thought. Is that also just a mass? The idea that reflexes are these lake obligatory things that happened? Just like you know see something here. Something in that triggers this automatic obligatory stereotyped physical response like
these or flee, or what have you is also not exactly correct reflexes in reflexes. Invertebrate are still very context, driven there still modulated by the context and so What I would say is that what you're brain is really doing is it has to gas at what sense data mean like when you hear a loud bang. What is that loud? Bang that loud, bang some excellent, endure is that loud bang, somebody draft a box is that loud bang, somebody back their car backfired. Could it be a gunshot mean, that's actually reasonable question if you live in the United States or in certain parts, world so, depending on what your brain believes the meaning that it's making out of that loud bang that will dictate what the brain does. What it plans to do
in order to keep you alive and well. That's always true, always true. every waking moment of your life. This is true. Let me back up and say, whereas the information come, allow the brain for it to make meaning out of what that sound means, and the answer is it comes through your past experience, So your brain is using past experience to guess at what sense Dana mean in order to plan a lot so that you can act. in a way that will keep you safe and what you experience about. The world derives from that action plan and that's true, all the time It's just sometimes whenever your brain is using past experiences of emotion to make that guess, then, when it's doing as constituting. an emotion in that moment, which may or may not be appropriate. Well, Propria may or may not be advantageous. You write so, for example,
This is an exemplary is a lot because I think I just one of my favorite examples: but has real meaning. I there's research find it, but there is also a real meaning there. You know when things are uncertain,. Or when there are multiple meanings that your brain could give to something, or When you're preparing, a big metabolic, away. So you know your brains, preparing you to do something super hard, you have an increasing arousal. There are systems in your body and that will increase around all their systems in your brain, that will increase arousal you'll feel jewelry. How do we usually make sense of that? We are making submit his anxiety, sometimes fear, but you couldn't be sensible in other ways, is a comfortable feeling, but you could make sense of it and other ways when my I was twelve years old
a tiny little thing, but you assessing for black belt and karate with this tense degree. Black bell, this guy, is seriously powerful. Guy he's like a temporary black. I think there are like what like ten of them in the country. I mean like just really powerful guy. And she's testing. Amidst all these, like big hulking adolescent boys, who she has a spar with ok, and what does he say too,. he doesn't say, calmed down little honey, he says, get your butterflies flying in formation and I was like that's brilliant and it turns out there is this whole line of research about people who have difficulty with testing society who fail not just feel tests, but they feel courses and they can
Graduate and that actually a college graduation massively changes your earning potential over your lifetime. So we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime If you learn not, Lucy arousal, because you don't want to do that, you have something hard you have to do. You have to do a test, but if you learn to make sense of it differently,. instead of conjuring anxiety, you conjured determination, you can master those tests and you can pass those courses and you can change the trajectory here. Higher life that may sound like jet. I mind tricks to you. If I wasn't a scientist, might sound that way to me, but it isn't and in fact can train your brain to make sense of you sensations very differently as emotions, or sometimes deconstruct them into some.
that is not an emotion but just as those that simple feeling which is really. I mean in a sense what mindfulness meditations attempting to do right, but I mean the example I like to give us your audience. Like our listeners. Kent me now, but I ll just show you and I'll, hopefully they'll be able to stimulate us like. If you pick up a glass of water on Google, it I see you look at a glass of water to you looks like an object. A three dimensional object, but let's say you wanted to pay this on a canvas when I try the summer camp as I would look at this object and I would try to read: The three dimensional object on a two dimensional canvas and it would look like a pretty rendering of a three dimensional object on a two dimensional canvas, but what a professional painter will do and artists will look at this object and deconstructed into pieces of light,
like others, why? But there's blue and there's a little green another on yellow and grow, and then what the artist will do as will paint the pieces of late and poof you. Have a reasonable looking three dimension. object on a two dimensional canvas. Unless you're me, in which case it will still it, but the point is that what you ve done? Is you deconstructed the object and you ve constructed it closer to what you might call the stream of experience and I found this meditation is attempting to do something very similar to that where you are leading to not construct not to grasp at perceptions and construct things out of them, but just to try to experience them in their most basic form and One of the most basic forms is a fact so it would mean, for example, wake not in the morning and feeling like crap
immediately trying to make sense of that as like what happened yesterday with your spouse or what gonna happen today or you know what new political thing is: gonna drive you not, sir. No, it could just be you didn't get enough sleep. It could just be your dehydrated because it's the morning, it could just be that maybe you know you're not a morning person and it's not your time of the circadian Heaven feel a lot of energy? It could be You know, for example, throughout this whole covert mass a lot of times you Would ask me home feeling- and I would say my body, but it is running a deficit today and that's not just simple wordplay. That's me saying well, I'm kind of feeling like crap today, but I'm can a blows up in making it meaning fall cycle.
Logically in my life, that would lead to me engaging in actions with people. I'm not gonna take this feeling as a sign that something is wrong with this relationship or something is wrong with not paying that EL or something is wrong. With right, I'm just going to say, while I'm running and by budget does it. This is really hard time, I'm paying extra tax there with me today, because you know I'm not feeling quite at my best, And I think this is a very meaningful difference in how to architecture experience. because you're not being asked around by the sensations in your body and adding on top of it. This whole story that can make everything worse mounting a different story. The different story is my: brain is running a body budget and their feelings that I'm from their body budget and my brain tries to make sense of those as emotions are perceptions or whatever to guide my action and so the action that is good. Guide is that I'm gonna go to sleep all earlier tonight, I'm going to drink a little more, maybe
I have some a little more tea today than I might normally, because I need to use at having to borrow a little energy from tomorrow, because I kind of really needed today. Maybe all allow myself to have an extra piece of chocolate or something again. Some kind of internal coordination that is going on right. I'm running a body budget deficit today, but what I'm I'm to do is make sense of it as anger or is fear or his anxiety or sadness were, as you know, any of the other very easily and justifiable emotions that would lead to different actions that I dont think are particularly productive. In this circumstance? But maybe it is one of those things. Maybe it is. That means that you, you know while there is no real, maybe it really here, because there is your brain of making, I think you know so. Here's the thing when you have a tugging your chest or that you have a tightness in your chest, you're at risk for a heart attack There is a real there there. Ok,
could you really have a heart and your are really does work in a particular way? Ok, but when you the tightness in your chest and that tightness is caused by anxiety or, I would say it sensation that you ve made meaningful as anxiety. The tightest actually like with your brain is making sense of something. It's not just. always at the sensation is there and then you make sense of it like based on it's going on around you in the world right now, and what the state of your body is right now, your brain. Basically, uses past experience to make a gas of what's going to happen next and what is that gas that gas first? Is it attempts to change your physical state and prepare you for an action and that actually where your sperience comes from being, if there's a rustling in the grass and based on past experience, my brain predicts that it will be a snake,
The first thing that my brain is doing is changing my physical stay, its actually changing the state of my body, so I will start to your arousal anxious about sort. If you like, I worked up the sort of feeling and is preparing meet run and that prepares me to potentially see a snake. These predictions are actually the boy changing the power of its own firing, its changing its own neurons, basically firing. So when ninety is causing in scarecrows, causing you to have a tight chest there's no like they're, there thought like anxiety, lives in your body somewhere in your brain, is perceiving it accurately or inaccurately. It's that your brain is responding to the world and the body as it is to make a prediction about? What's going to happen next, those predictions are actual changes that your brain starts to execute, and so the tightness in your chest can be caused by your heart, but it can also
caused by your brain, preparing you to feel anxiety and there's no real anxiety anywhere, except the fact that your brain makes it like When you go to the jammer you work out, I mean none of us go to the gym right roots covered, but when you work out, we go for run or whatever you sweat just yeah. Do you feel that wetness? Is it real to you that weapons. Yeah sure, of course right, but you have any witness answers in your whole body or in your skin. So how is, that you feel wet with sweat when
nothing in your skin gives you the feeling of wetness, and the answer is because your brain constructs it because your brain takes temperature information, cause they're, a temperature sensors and your brain takes touch sensation, cause they're, tub sensors and combine them to completely construct. An experience of wetness That you take as normal and that's what your brains doing when you feel anxiety, or anger or sadness or anything so yet I would say your brain is constructing experience for you that you take us completely normal part of your life in Europe. Completely unaware that your brain is doing it, but it is like your brain. Does it make it self aware that its doing? But it is an that's the same with creating a motion is exactly the same thing. Are you saying that we can just choose to tell ourselves a different story, so we may your feelings again. These are physical, sensations and, instead of for me,
common to walk around with some time is in my chest, often produced while the story, I told myself is often because I mean I'm writing a book and it feels anxiety producing to me, but I can t tell us often in a completely different story, is that, where you're taking this, Yeah I mean choose is a hard word here, because I making it sound like oh so much simpler than an action. We really is in real life, but you of our will have as much control over this the stories that your brain tells itself as you would like. but you definitely have more control than you think that you do the control, though doesn't really happen so easily. In the moment you have really, I think stand. The horizon of control is what I would say so, for example, if you're feeling worked up, you can Try really hard to just talk to yourself differently and calm yourself, down and that won't work. As you know, really, you know
do actually you're a fact them mood or these simple feelings that come from body budgeting is actually really hard to do, if not impossible to do, but it's not easy I mean even just deep breathing unless you're very practiced at it. Deep breathing isn't going to immediately calm you down, and it sometimes will, but it's really you have to do it for a long time for that effect to a be able to occur, but you can definitely make the sensations those two, feelings, give them a different meaning. If you try to do it in the moment as its occurring, it's gonna be really hard for you, because you have to give a lot of effort to it. It costs something metabolic me to do and you might not have those resources available. But if you practice doing it when you're not in those moments and you practice, it's like any skill- practice it and you get automatic at it like driving. You know at first when you learn to drive.
Really hard, and you have to give it all your attention in its metabolic expensive, because you're doing something new and its metabolic costly. But eventually we practice enough. The pre automatic skill, and then you need to really think about it and it doesnt become very costly knock as your brain is, getting really really fluidly and really really easily you now, and so kind of like that, it becomes easier to do because it becomes automatic, and that means your brain is predicting easier, constructing the narrative its Regulating the body just much more easily. It just takes in practice so them from Toronto, and you know it snows and Verona, not as much now as I did when I was growing up, but it does snow there and I lived in when a peg for a year so is really a lot there. And so every year I would have to remind myself how to drive on icy roads, and so what would I do I would deliberately
first the snow of every year. I would go into parking lot or on a street out deliberately put myself into a spin in my car I could remember how to get out of it, and I would just do it a couple of times just to remind myself how to do it right. What was I doing there was practising. I was get like reminding my brain. How to do this and real mining my brain and do it so my brain could just keyword automatically when it was necessary, and so it's kind of like that. How do we book? As you know, it sounds like a madman. Imagine you have no small amount of practice here and you talked to before about how occasionally your asked, how you're doing uncovered ties, and instead of telling you of a big story about. or even repeating the story allowed about sadness angle, eighty, whatever you refrain it as a the body running of the deficit. How is that a scale that we could develop well, there's really really nice research to show that
the more flax ability you have to make, meaning of you're sensations and multiple ways the more resilient you are and so the waving you develop. This skill is that you practice making meaning of your sensations in different ways. So, for example, I have there are things I do in the morning. Every morning you know I wake up. I tell myself, I'm knocking Go to my computer and read my email and go to my computer and I read my email and then I tell myself I'm, go downstairs and have a protein shaking get ready for my work out, which do every morning, and so I gotta stairs, and I have my protein shake. I tell myself, I'm caged you just only going to look at the front page. I tell myself I'm not going to get engrossed in reading and am just going to scan. You know the front page while I drink my drink and, of course that never happened by everyday. You know and as I'm reading the newspaper this is being before the election region.
I would remind myself in, I would say, you're drinking something and if you are stressed within two hours of eating a meal. It's like adding a hundred four calories tier MIA, because now your brain, more direct, your body to metabolize that food in a less efficient way. So it's like an equivalent of adding hundred four formalities, which I think I talk this in seven and a half lessons about the brain, but does why these things? I find like really interesting as a scientist and saw a horrifying as a person right and so I'd be telling myself read the newspaper while you're drinking like this is just gonna infuriate. You don't you know, and so those moments thorough and I have increase arousal and my brain is constructing anger, usually fury often that's a great opportunity to practice deconstruction right. There.
And so I would go so what does it look like when you're doing deconstruction? I might try to cultivate curiosity instead, so I might attempt to Take the sensations and conjure curiosity and instead of being infuriated by the thing that happened or somebody you did something or didn't do something I might be curious and, like honestly, like authentically, try to be curious were sometimes, I might conjure determination to see what I can do to change things, and sometimes you know, The only thing I could come up with was to beg my neighbour a loaf of bread, but one small act of kindness does a little. to change the world and make it a little bit better rights times? It was only that that was all I could muster that day, INA
one thing I often tell people is here's a practice that I still do. I still do this every day, but now I'm inherently a sceptical person. That's just me. So there was this emerging literature you now on gratitude, an awe and how important it is in your psychological life, how benefit that is, in fact one of my colleagues actually is very well, not mere he's one of the people whose done this very excellent research on gratitude. But I am article- and so I'm like, there's no way that all and ground you can have that kind of an effect in your life and stories just like. No, I just don't believe it. I just don't believe it, and so I don't you don't, but I'm reading the research and I'm like as a researcher- who asked me in general, I would say I will we believe the data in. Well designed experiment over my own experience, because experience of one person is not really diagnostic. So you know
so I'm reading this like incredibly well design research funding. I don't believe you were once totally doesn't match my experience like occupied. So alright, I'm gonna try I'm going to try every day ground, curious. Easy though hard these are for me anyway, so either every day for five minutes I am going to practise feeling. Are I mean a practice feeling like us back for five minutes, because if Europe's back then Europe, problems are speck and then the burden on your body budget just goes right down right. So I'm gonna practice this and I did- and I still practice it. There are some easy ones right, like when I would drive to work every day along the mass pike. There was a billboard. I talk about this in my other, a cow motions are made. There is a billboard of this orderly adorable rang it
And baby, like you, just want to eat this baby out, this baby is adorable. Actually the name for that emotion from the Philippines is called giggle, which is that you know you just want to squeeze something so cute. So it was like that I was just as a durable, durable infant, so there it was easy to make are at every day what I didn't know this debate was that my moments of all would expand into the yunkers. I could start simulating or predicting what is really like visualizing in your head. The image of that infant for I even got to it because I knew it was coming up because I could put my brain could predict because I drive on this road all the time and so my moment of r word unites, be starting to smile. Well, advance of reaching this. So that's easy but the ones like you're walking on the street we want on the sidewalk, and you don't have we haven't you, but the Tipp of your shoe kind of care,
she's on the sidewalk, and then you kind of look forward a little bit and new serve you don't exactly trip. Is you know you, like kind of lose your smooth gate and trial of cool and try to look like this big deal, the almost like tripped over your own feet right and look down, and then what do you see? You see this? we learn gnarly little we'd popping out of the car. in the sidewalk that you just tripped on and you make a moment of, ah you can look, that we'd and you can see it is a thing of beauty of grandeur, of the breathtaking power of nature that will not be constrained by human attempts to constrain it, to control it, and even now, when I talk but it's a game like little shivers. I know this might sound like psychological mumbo jumbo, but it's not an. I think. Now When I need it, when things are really stressful, I can show
into a moment of, are really really easily like my relationships have been almost exclusively other than my little pod. On zoom for a year, and you know sometimes zoom, fails and ought not just zoom, I mean sometimes it's Microsoft, whatever whenever it like all these different platforms, but they're all over the internet? Does a satellite moves and Who's, your internet connection, or you know it's delayed or whatever is really frustrating and when you're, connecting with a family member who sick or when you're trying to talk to your doctor and you're worried when you're trying to talk to your students and try to keep them on track or whatever, it's really really frustrating, and so those are moments where shifting and I'm really useful lake, where you down are you in Washington or New York outside Europe sitting here? so in your city, I'm in Boston. So what are we a couple hundred miles away with each other? But look here we are just talking to each other, like we were having coffee together and.
I can talk to people halfway around the world and see their faces. That's miraculous. So in those moments when in the internet fails, as does about once a day. At least we know I said Well, you know. I know this is really frustrating, but let's just take a minute and realise that we are actually seeing each other and we're halfway around the world from each other, and that's pretty amazing. So this sacks, but it only sex, because we also have this autumn thing that we're doing an eel. It works. It's just. You have to really practice it. You have to take it seriously. More my conversation with Doktor LISA Feldman Barrett, wherever this in twenty twenty one, it's finally, okay to talk about our mental health. But what is there appear its whatever you wanted to be, maybe you're feeling and secure in relationships or at work, or not very motivated right. Now whatever you need it's time to stop being ashamed of normal human struggles and start feeling better, because you deserve to be happy better help is customized online therapy that offers video
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Twenty minutes. Every week day, smart speaker or you figure, podcast tat. Is there any danger that in the process of reconstruction you could I fall or stuff or complete. mental lies in a way that would be deleterious your psychological help out for sure I mean there is a whole diagnostic section of diagnostic and statistical manual, their dear them that we used to diagnose mental disorders well, I say we, but I mean I don't do that anymore, but you know the people used to diagnose mental disorders. That's called so modernization which mean not acknowledging, may ask factor, will there they would call it emotional, but that's cause they're, mistaking emotion and aspect which people always do that acknowledging the effective significance.
Things and only experiencing them is physical symptoms and that's on healthy. So if I was, let's say hypothetically having difficulty with my boss and I'm constantly experiencing this as a stomach ache and nothing else, that's not useful either. because, while it is true that you are experiencing a stomach ache, that stomach ache. Isn't telling you what to do differently? If not helping you solve the problem and it might be actually exacerbating the problem that you're not making a fuller, psychological meaning of it. So. I dont think that there is a right or wrong answer here. I dont think that you should always make a mental meaning out of your physical sensations, and I don't think that you should always not. I think it really depends on you have to. Understand that your brain
is using knowledge from the past to pray dick your immediate future, which becomes your present when it's doing that? It's not just constructing your experience. It's also guiding your actions, its plan your actions and learning how to use that knowledge is a skill. It's a skill like any other skill that you can build And you want to build that scale so that your brain does it pretty automatically, but that new brain of lots of options to choose from cause that gives you flags quality and that allows you to be resilient and sometimes it's better to have your actions,
and by the physical sensation of a stomach ache, and sometimes it's better to the meeting more productive for you for your body budget to make sense of those sensations as anger or as fear or as guilt or hunger sounds like art and science. You know it's like there's a lot of science here, but the application of the skill involve some. You know it's not black or white. You gotta figure out for herself went to a plan, went to listen to your feelings, Yeah I mean I, I would still see the science. I guess I would say it's like personalized medicine, really isn't like there, One anger! There is a population of angers like, for example. If I, if I step, we published a study like those recently, if I instrument you out Dan like I measured all kinds of physical signals on you, your heart ray you're blood pressure you're respiratory
in depth and maybe you're the electrical with Cowskin conducted, which is just like how much It's really measure how much you're sweating, which is a measure of your sympathetic, nervous system activity in the same measure, your facial movements, I'm just measuring all kinds of things about you and I, measuring them, you're out about your day and k if you're, ray changes in Europe moving. That means something psychological has just happened. Something in your brain has just shifted what it's predicting, and at that moment you hear a little signal. You know. You're cute and you're asked to write your a fact and then label your experience. What do you feeling right now? Unless I just did this across like two weeks ethically cause, that's what we did. We did for two weeks with people, and sometimes those labels would be anger and sometimes they be fear, and sometimes they be sadness and sometimes they be gratitude and sometimes they be having essence anticipate whatever away. And if you just look at one person, you just look at their fears, ology, you can see that the physiology
either a reliable patterns there. Your brain is returning your body to particular patterns of physiology for over again throughout all of these weeks days weeks. Whatever and the labels that you give. Have a many too many correspondence with the patterns, meaning. Sometimes when you angry you're in one pattern, and sometimes when you're angry you bodies and another pattern, and sometimes when you're angry bodies and a third pattern, pattern can be a court so, it with more than one label. So what does that mean? What that means is that what's happening is that your brain is making sense of that pattern. As a particular, motion and sometimes that that pattern can have, Ben and your brain will make sense of it as a different emotion and that sense making. When it you know in airports, what does it mean to make sense of? It means its preparing your actions,
particular way that your brain is learned in the past occurred in the past last and that learning can be that you yourself experienced it or you watch the movie, or you heard someone tell you about it or you learned about it in a book you may, thinking yourself. Well, it's not. My brain does abandoned me, doesn't always do it really productively, and that's because well your brain is usually juggling multiple goals and so may not be productive for one thing, but its deaf, we're gonna be proactive for something else you bring in doesnt spend metabolic resources lake frivolously the things that we sometimes label as lake, not rational or unproductive what that means, that. There are some other set of prediction, some other goal- that your brain is attempting to optimize and you just have to figure out what that is. If the. If that's what you want to change, I want to make sure because when we started on this right at the beginning- and I don't feel like I ever
got it straight, at least in my own head, the difference between feelings and emotion, because I think they are often did your changeable. But if I'm here you correctly feelings are physical, sensations. Emotions are this story. We tell our set the sense we make of this sensations. Yes out, Let me just say that scientists don't agree on how to define emotion, okay, so one signed it will tell you and emotion is an action like when a scientist tells you well, there is a circuit in your brain for fear. The translation is there's a circle. In your brain for freezing behaviour and the scientists has determined, as stipulated, basically that freezing behind you're is fear. They have defined emotion as a specific action K. There are other people who define motions as feelings: the feeling of terror, the feed,
killing of delay, the feeling of the feeling of anguish. That's that's the emotions, but you ve said her feelings were physical sensation started up in well, Talking about affect I'm talking about simple feelings of feeling, pleasant, feeling unpleasant feeling worked up. Feeling: com like tranquil quiet, your body feels quiet your boy, He feels worked up your mind feels jangling your mind feels like you, can focus and pay attention I'm saying those simple feelings and nothing every feeling. I'm saying those feelings are very closely connected to your. Brains, modeling the sensory state of your body. Your brain is making actions about. What's going on in your body, your body is sending sense data back to your brain. It does a calculus that creates those feelings that these simple feelings, ass factor mood
in the same way that your brain does a simple calculus, or maybe not so simple calculus to create flavour or to create a feeling of wetness. right, it's creating a feeling that it doesn't have a sensor for you, don't have a sensor for food, the unpleasant or feeling uncomfortable. There's! No, sir! sir, for that anywhere there so circuit for that anywhere either your brains, constructing it out of a common. asian of neurons firing in a particular pattern. So that's what I'm saying you know when you see read your experiencing red, that's a feeling of redness. It's not like, when you hear allowed sound you're experiencing the loudness of it, you're feeling it I mean so experience and feeling in general are words that are used interchangeably and what I mean by a feeling is these simple feelings, feeling pleasant, unpleasant or feeling
durable, uncomfortable feeling. We worked up and jangling feeling he tranquil quiet, they are simple feelings that come from brains, modeling, the state of your body. The conditions of your body there's a whole drama going on inside your body that you hopefully are unaware of. If you're aware that I feel really bad for you, cousin something's, wrong and you're really uncomfortable, but most The time were not really aware of all the Michigan going on here. on bodies. What evolution has provided us with his brain? That will make a feeling of feeling pleasanter unpleasant or yours a barometer for your body budget, like how is your body by doing ok in the red? You know, that's what I'm telling you basically and not much more! So then what our emotions, felon, actions are when your brain
attempting to make sense of that? What is it doing its using past experience to predict what to do next and predict what you'll see next and what you will hear next and what you will smell next and all of that and that whole show. Bang is an emotion, the whole narrative The whole thing is the emotion, so is it a preparation for acting in a particular way? Yes, it is. That doesn't mean that fear is always preparing you. IRAN or freeze, because sometimes fear leads you to for you. It prepares you to approach. Something sometimes fear leads you to laugh, but what I'm trying to say is that work, calling it an emotion, calling it an emotion, goes. The information, the brain is using the past experiences using our past experiences of emotion, there's, nothing, that's different!
the construction of an emotional event in your life than there is about an event of belief or an event of thought or an event of rationality or an event of perception is something cut me off on the highway and I'm in my car. I dont driver even turn on the high wait a year, but let you know, let's imagine, I'm in my car I'm driving a work. I haven't passenger inside me an out of peripheral vision, I'm unaware, but motivational vision. I can see a car about to drive into my late in coming off. Just as initially. My brain is basically detecting the most the simplest slight change in my purple and it's making a set of predictions about, what's going to happen next, what's going to happen next and its predicting predicting predicting so by the time I actually see that car consciously
I already have a flush of adrenalin already, because my brain sent it in preparation and actually prepared me too see that car cutting into my lane, and I respond with what that person has doing that right and as if it is in the person prizes like up, property like so my negative Thirdly, there is like a property that persons now you would say What are you experiencing? Can I be like I'm experiencing? That person is at an end onlooker might say: no, no you're angry the right there. That's anger, well, who's right is that of perception of a person, or is that anger and
answer. Is it's a completely scientifically meaningless question because its both, because that event has a bunch of features? One of the features is this: seeing a car cut me off. That feature is also constructed by my brain, but its close to the sense data that are coming in from my retina, so we call it a property of the world, but really my brain constructed it. You see in your brain. You don't see in your eyes I brain is also constructing the experience of mice. where the armpits in that moment, because I don't have any sensors it for wetness online audience like anybody else right. So my brain is constructing that feature, so my brains, constructing the feature of unpleasant feeling and my my brains constructing all of these features, and so
sudden anger up instance sure yeah. You could say that the word anger might come to mind in mere in you, and so anger could be a feature of that event, and is it a perception of a person absolutely at present? There is also those features been basically it's like a signal ground problem like a signal foreground background problem or its basically your brain is creating a set of features in that instance, and people who study emotion The call, an emotion and people who study memory works, memory and people who study perception. They weren't called perception, but it's all those things and It is for you, as whichever feature is the focus of your attention, so levels, the country, when you're trying to apply them to dynamic, multivariate, processing you know- an engineer could not have said it better than you just did. I was looking for a better great, that's all I'm doing No, I would say you're totally up that actually gets. You, like, I would say in a actually that wasn't a yeah, but then you can
change, the meaning. You can ask yourself consciously deliberately if you must, but maybe if you ve done it you might automatically ask yourself in my automatically happen, that your brain is predicting something different now because you practised you might say, maybe that person has to get there sit kid too, hospital or maybe that person has to be some were really importantly to help somebody else or maybe that person just didn't have enough coffee this morning and just didn't see you any of those things could be true. If your brain is prepared itself, with enough variation in experience, you have options to feel different and eventually it will affect Europe fact. First, it might just effect the story that you, and whether the effect is pro
wronged by the actions that you take, but eventually it might actually affect the ethic, because you are always cultivating your past As a means of predicting who- you will be in the future, and I am saying that not as somebody who believes in mystical things. I'm saying this to you as a scientist who studies how the brain works. and, as I understand it, while you're not a practising Buddhist, you ve done quite a lot of work with Buddhists. and there seems to be quite a lot of overlap between your research findings and twenty six hundred years of Contemplatives practice practicing thought Yes, I will say that I am I'm a very big fan of
ass. If he had in general, I think about philosophy as whether its western philosophy or contemplative philosophy, I think, a philosophy as tools for living and to some extent I also think of science. This weighs well, and I've been very fortunate to have. relations with people who are very learned, scholars and contemplative traditions. winning John done, who actually works with Rich Davidson at the university Wisconsin, and one of my former post docs actually works with them. As well- and I mention this because you know previously to this table- you know, damn you and I had a conversation about riches work, and so what I ve learned through talking varies people Including John, is that There is an obvious karmic tradition, the Abbe DARPA tradition in Buddhism. That is very consistent with much of what my scientific work aligns with this
health, is a fiction and that these fictions can interfere with your ability to experience the world authentic. We and I am that the world is made of dogmas. That experience, I should say, is made of darkness, but this is where things a little turkey, because in the army doormat tradition, there are dogmas, fur pleasantness, unpleasantness fur around aw, like surveillance and arousal, these Nina properties of simple feeling that about, but there are also dogmas, fur anger and fear and so on, and so that's where we diverge. I think, because I also think of these things is constructed their constructed with the knowledge that you have from your past and we haven't talked at all concepts. But what I understand the brain to be doing when it's making a prediction is to generating an ad hoc concept basically of the past, and I can unpack that if we had more time. But what I will say is that interesting Lee in Buddhist philosophy,
There is also a revisionist version of that philosophy, which I think the key figure is Don Quixote, who, I think lived in there. I think its second censure yourself and century sometime the Buddha who came along is now these dogmas are not actual essences of true experience there just constructed by the human mind. You know with human concepts, and I was like you That's totally consistent, mutware driving out with the science that we do so in every western science, in physics and chemistry in biology and hopefully in Sunday in psychology, see science moving from this very essential list. View of the world to this more construction is a relational view. Writer, that's what Quantum Mechanics says. It's not saying that electrons don't exist.
asked it saying well that what we measure this energy change that we measure in the way that we measure it you know we can discuss, is an electron. What exists as always in relation to whatever else is going on and that's very much a construction is to you. brain out of the mind, and it turns out that you don't you see this kind of directory and all of these western sciences? And then you see the same trajectory in both his philosophy, which is, I think, really cool rights? Are you go from the army Dharuma, where yes, sure the self is constructed, but it still essentially soon assuming that the dogmas, asked incense and our real in nature and then you, from that to you no dynamic here to use as now? Even these things that we think of his essence is now there actually constructed to you got. Really much more completely relational view of meaning and relational view of meaning, doesn't mean like what postmodern you know like a series of Postmodernism views right, it's not like
Nothing is real and there's no meaning in anything. It's that everything meaningful in relation to something else and alive. that meaning which is real comes from humans, who impose that meaning together You know we impose meaning. We impose functions on things that, by virtue of their physical nature, don't have that function, but we impose that function collectively and then proof they have that function like little pieces. or serve as value as keen carrying value for money, because we all agree that those little pieces of paper traded for material goods and then, when someone defies the cantons, more than they dont have value anymore. You know so I like best what caused the mortgage crash rate in two thousand eight, so much of what we do works, way for humans, and what I would say is there's no physical change in your body. That is uniquely were distinctly
meaningful as an emotion unless you make it that way and why would you make it that way? Because somebody taught you that that's the meaning that you should make and that other people make that meaning to So just in the same way that we impose a function on piece of paper and then prove this particular piece of paper have value. Is money we impose meaning on the rays of an eyebrow or the curl of a lamp or the you know beat of heart and and then if they haven't, they have real meaning, as that, maybe I close with one my favorite codes that comes to mind. Sometimes I'm having a discussion like this, I firmly set of affordable. Guess apologies guaranteeing, in other words real there is a great Buddhist master said to one of his students once, It's not that you're, not real you're, just not really real, and I mean so yeah, so things are coming monies real
really real, but still on some level paper and its causes somewhat angle, you're looking at it for sure pressure, So what is your name and always european russian and size yeah exactly sore my vote. May I wait yeah. I think the way I would say it is your brain constructs everything you experience. So when you experience redness, like you know apple is read. You know your brain is constructing that experience of redness. It's not in your retina, even the coins in your retina. I have two three different kinds of concept to work together in order to send us in all to the brain that will allow you to see red. It's not even a single code is like always a cooperation of things. It's always a powder, and so your brain is constructing the feature of redness its computing. That feature for you to experience now that, feature tends to be really close to what in the world which is away
length of light at six hundred nanometers. Then your brain also can construct features that are not so close to the world like wetness right in the sense that There is something wetness in the world, but your brain isn't sensing those sense data of what Your brains, using other sand, stated a color, hunger or put together a feature like wetness that you experience. So it's a little more distant from the actual whirl, and then there are some features that we just make up. We just make em but if we agree on them, then we can, in certain cases, make them real
So you and I can agree that we can walk through walls, but that actual doesn't mean that it can happen right. We can't just make that happen. We can agree with each other that we can eat glass as food, but that doesn't mean that we can write. I mean it doesn't change the physical, reality constrains the meaning making right. We could agree that covered is not incredibly contagious. virus, and that way have to wear masks, but a virus really doesn't care what we think all it cares about. If you can say, that cares about anything is that we have a nice wet set of lungs. But there are things we can did you say you know what this air space is air, this empty air between two buildings, we're gonna call that air rights and I'm gonna sell it to you, and then, if you give me money and then you can anything you want there and then put
if we all agree that we can use one made up thing called money to get another made up thing called air rights that we can build something on and make it real We can all agree that making a particular mark on a particular piece of paper is called a vote, and then those votes get counted to elect a person who has particular powers. They only have those powers. Could we all agreed? They have those powers, and if we took those powers away, if we stopped agreeing, they wouldn't have those powers anymore. They only have those pay where's because we all agree they have those powers and actually some people might come along and say well those little pieces of paper for certain people. They don't count as votes right. So all of this is what we our social reality. It is a kind of reality and it has a very direct relationship off into physical reality. There's so much more to say about this, and we really have to wrap up
social reality is constrained by physical reality, but it can also influence physical reality and it does so all the time and does so when you make a stomach ache into an emotion, because that dictates what you do, next and that will influence not only your own body budget and whether or not you are paying a little tax that will leave you to be vulnerable to America. like illness in ten or twenty years from now, but it all influences? How other people treat you? moment, which then could set you on a very different trajectory. So how do you make? Meaning of things is not just like. I said before: it's not well. If it isn't, maybe like a general I mind trick in the sense that it actually is real implications. It's not just a game. This has been delightful and so interesting, and I realise that with
no longer than we intended, so I'm gonna, let you go but not without saying. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you really appreciate your my pleasure, my pleasure. I love that conversation were already talking about bring her back because, as you probably, have concluded by now, she's pretty awesome. The show is made by some equally awesome people, Samuel, Johns, Dj Kashmir, came by Comma Maria, we're tell and Jan Point we call ploy. With audio engineering by ultra violet audio and, as always, a big shout out to Ryan Kessler. Josh co hand from ABC we'll see on Wednesday for fresh episode, gang estate won't know too much looking down, and I think it was a little kid. How do you feel about in other reports by the earth were from best case studios and ABC Audio, listened to in plain sight, Ladybird Johnson, a new path
about the power of a political partnership, one that somehow it doesn't show up. In the many many accounts of Lyndon Johnson presidency told through lady birds, own audio diary and available now on apple pie casts or your favorite podcast out
Transcript generated on 2021-04-07.