Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Interpersonal Neurobiology and the Power of Mindsight. Podcast with Dan Siegel

What is the mind? This is a question that has sparked intense debate between scientists and philosophers for thousands of years.

For most of us, it is our internal world – or more specifically our central nervous system, and the manifestations of our brain activity (thoughts, feelings, and other cognitive faculties). The mind, in effect, is confined to what is happening inside our head. For those of us who see the world from a biological perspective, this makes good sense.

But an anthropologist or sociologist might argue that this is a relatively narrow view, in light of our long history as social organisms. Our brain evolved, at least in part, as a processing system for social information. 

One of the developmental milestones in child psychology is theory of mind. Theory of mind refers to the ability to attribute mental states (thoughts, desires, emotions, etc.) both to oneself and to other people, and to understand that others may have mental states that are different from your own.

This attribute sets us apart from most (if not all) other animals, and is part of what has made humans so successful as a species. Deficits in theory of mind, as you might imagine, are found in a fairly wide range of psychological and neurological disorders. 

The mind does not just encompass what is within us – it is also between us. And that brings me to our guest for this episode.



On this episode of humanOS Radio, Dan talks with Dan Siegel. Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and is the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He is a pioneer in a field known as interpersonal neurobiology (sometimes referred to as relational neuroscience). Interpersonal neurobiology characterizes human development and function as a product of interactions between the body, the mind, and relationships with one another.

Dan is also the executive director of the Mindsight Institute, a unique educational organization that provides online learning and in-person lectures that examines the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes, with the goal of cultivating mindsight in individuals, families, and communities.

'We've tried out an experiment of living with the mental construction of a separate self. And it's failed. It's absolutely failed...Now what we need to do is realize we could be an integrated self.'
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So what exactly is mindsight? Mindsight is a theoretical construct that is related to theory of mind. However, mindsight goes beyond merely being able to conceive of one’s own mind and that of others. Mindsight refers to the capacity to sense patterns of shared communication of energy and information change within relationships.

It also captures the ability to look inside ourselves, recognizing our own emotions, without being consumed by them. An illustration of this concept, commonly cited by Dr. Siegel, is the subtle difference between “I am sad,” as opposed to “I feel sad.” The latter implies recognition of a feeling you are experiencing in the moment – a state that isn’t permanent, and to which you can control your response. Of course, this example is to some extent a semantic distinction, but I think you get the idea.

You can see how crucial mindsight is not just for healthy social interactions, but also for harmonious relationships between groups of people. The world as a whole would be a better place if more of us relied upon mindsight.

Of course, in an ideal world, we would learn and hone the skill of mindsight in childhood, when the brain is still developing and we are forming our earliest relationships, but that’s clearly not always the case. Fortunately, Dr. Siegel believes that mindsight can be cultivated even in adulthood, which is one of the objectives of the Mindsight institute. 

As you might imagine, mindsight and the intricacies of interpersonal neurobiology are very challenging concepts to understand and research, at least using the tools currently available to biologists and scientists, which is why Dr. Siegel’s work in this area is so valuable. To learn more, check out the interview!



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Dan Siegel, MD 00:02 Maybe, this fourth facet of mine is defined this way: the emergent, self-organizing … so that’s a math property … where is it? Embodied and relational. What is it? A process that’s regulating energy and information [inaudible 00:00:18]
Dan Pardi, PhD Welcome back, everybody. Today, I have with me Dr. Dan Siegel. Dr Siegel is the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and is the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
00:17 Dan, welcome to humanOS Radio.
Dan Siegel, MD And Dan, thank you for having me!
Dan Pardi, PhD Your body of work on the mind is expansive. How would you encapsulate, from a thirty thousand foot view, the nature and goals of your work?
Dan Siegel, MD 00:38 The nature and goals of my work, I suppose, from thirty thousand feet would be trying to see, number one, if we can actually use the word “mind” … M-I-N-D … and say what we think it is , not just describe its features but actually get to the heart of what it is; and two, I suppose it would be to see if there’s a way of finding common ground across, usually, independent ways that we come to understand reality and being human.
For example, can be we bring all the different fields of science into one framework? And the field we try to do that in is called “interpersonal neurobiology,” and that’s different from a field called “social neuroscience,” and in interpersonal neurobiology what we try to say is, Wilson points out there’s something called “consilience,” which is when independent pursuits come up with similar findings but they did it in their own particular way. You know, we look for the “consilience” across different fields and then see if we can construct, if you will, a picture of the whole elephant, so we draw on the different blind man’s study of the toes, and the knees, the ears, and the trunk, and the tail, et cetera and then we say, “Gosh! These are all wonderful, wonderful insights. What does the whole elephant look like?”
00:40 That would be the second thing: bringing not just the sciences together, but the arts and poetry, and literature, and music, and now even contemplative practices: spiritual traditions, wisdom traditions, religion, and seeing if we can build bridges so that we can move humanity and life on Earth forward in a positive direction, which I guess the third thing I would say, from thirty thousand feet is, it’s all for the goal of finding the mind, bringing different fields together.
For the third goal is, can we actually move cultural evolution and evolution on earth toward a healthier direction?
Dan Pardi, PhD 00:49 Beautiful. Interdisciplinary analysis is where you yield the most interesting insights. When different points of view or magisterium that define the same thing from a different angle, and then those two disciplines speak, it’s really interesting to me.
Dan Siegel, MD Yeah, exactly.
Dan Pardi, PhD How did you get into the field that you’re in? What drew you to the field of psychiatry in the first place?
Dan Siegel, MD That’s kind of a long story; I wrote an entire book about that one question called Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human. The short version is, I was always fascinated with life and was really curious about, like who are we, and what are our relationships, and what does it mean to be a person, how do we connect with nature, and what’s well-being, and you know, I was always literally interested in those things when I was a kid. So when I became an adolescent and started college, I wanted to get to kind of the deepest study that related to biology so I studied biochemistry and was looking at enzymatic reactions that allowed fish to produce a substance that would be able to explain why salmon could be hatched in freshwater and survive the transition to salt water, and I guess I was interested in how things developed into healthy beings.
At night, while I was working as a biochemistry research undergraduate I volunteered for a suicide prevention service where we taught that the emotional attunement you have as a listener to what the caller in distress was experiencing could make the difference between whether that person chose to end their life, or stay living. When I went, after all that, to medical school, I thought that medicine would be a place to bring those two passions together; passion of understanding, the mechanisms of life, and also the mechanisms of health and our relationships. But I was really, really shocked, actually, and disappointed at how not focused on the internal world of patients my teachers were, and so I dropped out for a while and did different things.
02:32 But when I came back, it was the first time I ever thought about going into psychiatry and I made up this word mindsight, for the human capacity to sense the subjective experience of what goes on inside of you, or what goes on inside of people in other bodies. I try to avoid the word [inaudible 00:04:33], because I think they’re problematic. But anyway, that led me to start pediatrics and then move into psychiatry, and ultimately child psychiatry, and then research psychiatry, and I became and educator in the field. That’s basically how it all unfolded.
Dan Pardi, PhD A realization that I had: we will not correctly infer the cause of certain behaviors by looking specifically at biochemistry, yet it can be incredibly insightful, too. You need to juxtapose the two together, behaviors and biochemistry, to understand at all.
Dan Siegel, MD 02:45 And that just invites a lot of humility, and also supporting one another, saying, I don’t know, but it’s fascinating, and can I look linear mechanisms, like an enzyme helping a chemical interaction unfold, and also look at a larger system like that salmon in a larger ocean that’s being polluted by human beings who think they’re separate from nature-
Dan Pardi, PhD Right-
Dan Siegel, MD 02:46 [crosstalk 00:05:18] … separate issues of how the mind starts influencing things that go on, or even the amazing thing about how what you do with your mind can change an enzyme telomerase that repairs and maintains the ends of your chromosomes. This bridge between, you know, our relationships with nature or our relationships with ourselves in terms of consciousness, directly affect the molecules of well-being.
Dan Pardi, PhD How would you define the mind? What are all of the components that make it up?
Dan Siegel, MD 02:51 Well, Dan, that’s a great question and I’m obsessed because it’s what’s been preoccupying me for the last quarter of a century. The first thing to say that’s so curious is that when I was trained as a physician, no one talked about what the mind was, or really health or anything like that. You know, we talked about disease, of course, and symptoms and diagnoses and treatments and things.
Then when I entered psychiatry and the broader field of mental health, I was kind of really surprised to find no one said what the mental of mental health was. No one said what the mind was, you know besides your feelings and your thoughts and things like that, but that actually is just a description; it doesn’t say what they are, and no one was saying what health was. It was really kind of disorienting, I’ve got to say, to get board-certified as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, as an adult psychiatrist, be asked to be the training director in an educational program at UCLA, and to feel like no one taught me anything that was actually starting with what the field names itself as, the field of mental health.
So, that’s what happened to me in the early 90s, the beginning of the decade of the brain, where I brought like forty colleagues- they had been my teachers and now I was on the faculty, so I brought them all together; forty, literally forty academics, and I said, “This is the beginning of the decade of the brain. Hippocrates said the mind, your feelings and thoughts and stuff like that, is all just basically what happens in your head.
William James in 1890 said, long after twenty five hundred years ago Hippocrates said it, you know that, yes, we know that the mind is simply brain activity, and William James made incredibly powerful contributions but that beginning as the Grandfather of Modern Psychology, and Hippocrates as the Grandfather of Modern Medicine, set the stage for people to assume that the word mind was a synonym for brain activity. Even to this day, many people say that, actually; they’ll transpose mind for brain, as if you’re looking at brain scanner and you’re seeing the mind.
04:46 This was very confusing to me, so in the early 90s I brought all these academics together and I said, what is the mind, and how does it relate, in fact, to the brain in your head? What do you want to start with? And everyone said, let’s start with the brain. And these were, you know, anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, psychologists, including people studying the brain, psychiatrists, chemists, physicists, there was a mathematician in the room, I mean, it was quite an eclectic group of mainstream academics.
Dan Pardi, PhD Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dan Siegel, MD 04:58 Well, people agreed on what the brain was, no problem. A hundred billion neurons, you know, with trillions of connections, a mysterious, fantastic organ of the body. It connects with everything going on in the body, it controls things; that’s fine. Then we got to the mind and there was no definition, short of neuroscientists in the room saying it’s brain activity.
Dan Pardi, PhD Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dan Siegel, MD 05:17 And that got the anthropologists very agitated, and said, man, what are you saying? Mind happens in culture, not just in your head. Oh, no, it’s only in your head; all these things. So the group was going to disband and since I invited all these people to the party and they agreed to come one more time, during the intervening week I had to think about, like, what might be a common thing? There was no use of the world consilience; this is now 1992 we’re talking about. Consilience was published in 1998. You know, what would be the common ground; what we would now call consilience, that could allow all these different forty academics to come to some shared view?
So it’s a long story that I’ll just shorten in just a summary form, but basically it seemed to be that what an anthropologist studied, or a sociologist studied, or what I’m trained as an attachment researcher I study parent-child relationships; what we study is relational communication, and the common ground of relational communication to what a brain scientist studies is actually energy flows.
05:18 So, my teacher of neuroscience from medical school, David Hubel; when I was in school in 1981, he won the Nobel Prize, and David won the Nobel Prize because he showed that the energy patterns you send into a kitten’s brain, depending on the pattern, will alter the way that brain develops. So maybe it was just natural for me, being trained this way, but for me the common ground of the brain in your head was that it was that energy flow, and what we study in relational communication is energy flow. You know, it’s a different form, in a different location, if you will. So I thought, well, what’s the system that could be this energy flow that happens both within your body, and that would include the brain in your head, of course, and that happens between your relationships? The between-ness?
The mathematics of that is that it’s what you would call a complex system, and that complex system is defined by a number of features, but the three main ones to think about are: that you’re open to influences from outside yourself, so open; you’re capable of being chaotic, so chaos-capable; and the third, and for some mathematicians the most important one, is you’re what’s called non-linear, and that means like a small input at one initial time leads to a large, relatively large, and difficult to predict outcome.
05:41 So that’s non-linear. And you know, when you think about humans, we are non-linear, chaos-capable, open systems. Anyway, so I did some reading and thought, well if the mind has something to do with energy flow, maybe it’s what complex systems theory says; that you have emergent properties, that the flowing of the elements of the complex system give rise to something, like the shape of a cloud for example, for water molecules and air molecules. So I thought, what if the mind were an emergent property? Yes, of energy flow in your head, but maybe it was fully embodied, not just in skull, then maybe the mind itself could be an emergent property of relational energy flow, which is certainly what happens in psychotherapy or in attachment relationships; that’s what we study.
Then I thought, okay, well it could be that, you know, subjective experience in consciousness and information processing, the classic things people use as descriptions, they don’t usually use the word energy, but maybe those are all emerging properties of energy flow. But then a fourth facet of mind came up, and this is what came up, fortunately, in time for the next group; was when you look at the mathematics of complex systems there’s not only emergent properties, but there’s also one, particular emergent property, which is the self-organizing emergent property of complex systems.
05:45 Which is very counterintuitive, because it’s arising from the stuff of the system, and then it turns and it regulates the very stuff from which it continues to emerge, so it’s really weird, and intuitively so; yeah, it’s self-organization, but it’s a proven property of complex systems in this universe. So, I thought, well, if we’re in this universe and there is energy flow, and it’s happening both in a human body and brain and, of course, animals have minds also but let’s just stay with humans, you could say, wow, maybe this fourth facet of mind is defined this way: the emergent, self-organizing, so that’s a math property; where is it? Embodied and relational. What is it? A process that’s regulating energy and information flow.
So I wrote down that definition when I was doing this reading of the math, came back to the next meeting, said, okay, before we get started, I want to share a possible place that we might consider beginning as a working definition; we could throw it out next week if we chose to keep on meeting. I recited the definition; I just said, the self-organizing, emergent, embodied, and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information. We went around voting around the table; I’ll never forget this, my whole life; forty out of forty people agreed that, though it’s not a definition they’d ever heard of, or ever used, or anything like that, it fit with what they were doing with their life’s work, and the group went on to meet for four and a half years.
Dan Pardi, PhD Wow.
Dan Siegel, MD And it taught me the power of trying to find common ground so that we can move forward, and it was an incredibly educational, collaborative group that was the birth of interpersonal neurobiology back in 1992.
Dan Pardi, PhD Your story reminds me of a favorite quote of mine: the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms, by Socrates.
Dan Siegel, MD Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah-
Dan Pardi, PhD 07:59 You have to define what you are working on in order to use that as a basis for development, and if there’s a loose foundation then, I think, you probably would’ve led to a fracturing of that group, and people going their own ways. So congratulations for you to coming up with that. That was a defining moment, I would say.
Dan Siegel, MD Literally. Was that a pun, a defining moment?
Dan Pardi, PhD 08:00 Right, yes.
Dan Siegel, MD It’s so funny you say that because some cognitive scientists have a beautiful way of thinking of the mind as going from categories, it presumes, are divisions in the world, to concepts, as a way of, you know organizing information, to symbols, these linguistic packets, like words, that we’re defining.
08:17 So what you’re saying, Dan, or one way of interpreting it, is, if we are using linguistic symbols, words; that don’t really have a solid foundation in concepts, and infer certain presumed categories, the whole thing could be built on, you know, a faulty structure. This definition of the mind from 1992 led to the writing of a book called The Developing Mind and, you know, I thought it was going to be shot down and ripped apart, whatever, because it was making just hypotheses.
But then when the second edition came out, you know, twelve years later, I brought a group of about a dozen interns together and I said, you know, I want you to demonstrate, with just one research paper, that what was said in the first edition is wrong. And they go, you mean right; you misspoke; you mean right.
08:18 I said, No, no, no, no. Just find one paper, just one, that goes against these different statements in that first book. Well, they could basically find nothing but support and that was a long time ago. Now, I’ve had eighteen interns with me on the revision into the third edition with the same assignment. They again could not find even one paper to go against, even though people still don’t talk like this, and this third edition is so fun because now there’s a ton of empirical support.
For example, one of the implications of saying the mind is this self-organizing, emergent process, is that you can say, well, how do you optimize self-organization? The way you do that can be seen as kind of like a river of harmony that has these certain qualities of, it spells the word FACES: it’s flexible, adaptive, coherent is the math term for resilient over time, energize, and stable, so it’s like a flow of a river. And when you’re out of that flow, you go to either a bank of chaos on the one hand, or bank of rigidity on the other. That’s just math I’m talking about. So that explains the whole field of psychiatry; every symptom, of every syndrome, can be reinterpreted as chaos, rigidity, or both.
So then the question came up back in ’92 when this was all first emerging, was, gosh, how do you optimize self-organization to achieve that basic flow of harmony? And the answer is, you link differentiated parts, Now, math doesn’t have a name for that so I just called it integration, defined very clearly a complex system as differentiated or made different, or allowed to be special or unique. Different parts to it that become linked in the crucial thing for integration defined this way, is you don’t lose the differentiated qualities as you link.
So it’s more like a fruit salad than a smoothie and as you look at integration this way, this was the hypothesis in the ’90s, now we’re like twenty-seven years later; what you see is every study, of every psychiatric disorder, amazingly, my interns couldn’t find an exception to this, shows apparent integration in the brain. Every form of regulation, like regulating attention, emotion, mood, thought, behavior, morality, depends on integration in the brain.
When you look at what, let’s say developmental trauma, like abuse and neglect, cause, they cause impairments to integration in the brain. These are all published in peer-reviewed journals of the highest caliber.And then you find that, if you look at the 2015 Smith, et al. paper on the connectome and its interconnections, as a way to say it, the connectome is a word for the subtly differentiated areas, and how they’re linked, so it’s basically study of integration, both functional and structural.
When you look at every measure of well-being in that study, Smith et al. 2015, every measure of well-being they could find was predicted by just one brain state, and it was the state of integration. Basically, how connected the connectome was, and then if you look at what mindfulness practices do, or what are called three pillar practices, you know developing focused attention, open awareness, and kind intention or compassion, those all integrate the brain.
So, amazingly, well-being is associated with integration, in fact we say integration is the source of well-being, and that can be either in your brain in your head, or your brain communicates with your heart, your brain with your whole body. You can look at relational integration of romance, in parent-child relationships, in a family, in a school classroom, in a school as a whole, in an organization, in a nation. You can look at a whole planet.
So, in climate change issues we would see the chaos and rigidity that is arising now as related to the excessive differentiation of the human mind by thinking there’s a separate self and that humans are not a fundamental, interconnected part of nature. That excessive differentiation impairs the integration of humanity with life on earth. And what results is not the flowing of harmony but the emergence of chaos and rigidity that we’re, sadly, just beginning to see unfold and if we don’t do something about it, it will get more chaotic and more rigid.
Dan Pardi, PhD in your definition of a complex system you mentioned open to influences from the outside, chaos-capable, non-linear, small inputs can lead to large changes. If you wouldn’t mind, for a moment, digging into chaos-capable.What does that mean?
Dan Siegel, MD 13:03 Well, have you ever had a day where you just couldn’t get yourself organized and things were scattered all over the place and hard to deal, that random things were just happening?
Dan Pardi, PhD You mean Monday? Mondays, yeah.
Dan Siegel, MD 13:04 Like my morning this morning, exactly. Like I got up at 6:30, great, I might go to the gym, I’ve got to give a lecture at nine and I’ll do this and this and this. Next thing I know it’s, like, ten to nine and I go, whoa, that was a chaotic morning. Like, nothing; yeah like that.
Dan Pardi, PhD Right, okay.
Dan Siegel, MD 13:18 And rigid would be where you feel depleted, depressed, and stagnant; things aren’t moving, and like that. We could go through the whole diagnostic bible, you know, the psychiatric DSM even though it’s got lots of problems to it. Or the ICD. You know, however you describe stuff.
Human suffering, just to talk about the human condition, can be seen as chaos or rigidity. It emerges with impaired integration. And, you know, my interns, these eighteen wonderful, wonderful young people who are working with me, what they find kind of confusing, and I find it confusing, too; is this has been something I’ve been writing about for a quarter of a century and basically no one takes it up. It’s so interesting.
13:23 Even though when you do the consilience approach of looking at all these different fields and you can see it emerge. So it’s exciting because it may be the untapped perspective, let’s say, of bringing environmental scientists together with people working the mental health field, together with people working the education field, I do this with two of my MIT colleagues, Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge; we work with something called generative social fields; you know, really trying to teach systems thinking to kids. Oh, and to adults. Because part of the problem, and this is just a fascinating issue, part of the problem is, and E. O. Wilson, in the middle of page 51 or 52 or something, in this beautiful book The Meaning of Human Existence; I give you the page because you might want to find the quote and I just give you the page not because I’m like a page memorizer but because I just used this in something I was writing and so I know the page number; I may as well share it with you.
He basically says, look, he goes, the thing about the meaning of human existence is that we rely primarily on the auditory channel and the visual channel. Unlike other animals, who are kind of immersed in this soup of chemicals that they can sense, and that influence them in a very profound way, we’re more of a visual and auditory channel. Now those two channels can give you the perceptual illusion that we’re separate, like, and you’re over there, I’m over here, because we’re talking to each other with sound. Well if we’re in the room together you use your eyes and say, oh Dan is there and the other Dan’s over here.
13:25 So it’s interesting, and it goes on in a very profound way, to say, look, this sensory limitation of being human, when we were few in number wasn’t that big a deal. You know, we can make fires here and there and then move to another place, whatever, around the campfire kind of thing. But now that we’re seven billion and growing larger, this perceptual illusion of being separate from nature is not going to fly, he says, basically. It’s going to kill us all. So when you combine that with some of the amazing findings in physics, and we’re looking for consilience, where, you know, we have two realms that I’ve now asked a ton of different groups and it’s usually about one percent are aware that their physics has revealed their two realms.
In one realm, things are like nouns. They’re like entities that are separate from one another and they can interact, of course, but they move along a timeline and this is what’s called an arrow of change and that’s called the Newtonian realm because Isaac Newton kind of figured this all out. And that classical physics, or Newtonian realm, because it’s about large objects it’s called the Macrostate realm, well, we also know that there are another set of equations for small things. Microstates. That, in the last hundred years, unlike Newtonian which is 350 years old, in the Microstate world of quantam- quanta is a unit of energy, which is a probability field; in this world there are no entities per se, there are events.
13:39 And these events are like verbs that are deeply interconnected. So in one realm, the microstate quantam realm, we have established in science, the verb-like interconnected nature of things. Whereas at the same time, macrostates, consolidation, remember E=mc^2, masses of consolidation of energy; so these consolidations of energy called macrostates, they have this noun-like appearance of being separate entities, you know, that are not really interconnected. They interact, but they’re not interconnected. So whether it’s the biological vulnerability of our sensory limitations that E. O. Wilson beautifully and powerfully reminds us of, and it could, doesn’t have to be, it’s also this fact that we live in large bodies.
I have this practice called The Wheel of Awareness where people can swim between the two realms. You can go between the noun-like world of entities and the verb-like world of events that are deeply interconnected in this practice, and we just did a week doing this and what’s fascinating about it is, you can learn, just like if you swam in the pool, you can learn to raise your head above the water and breathe in air and then go beneath the surface of the water and be submerged in the water realm and sometimes in the air realm, no one freaks out.
13:43 Here’s what my concern is. I think the separate self, that word self and the concept beneath it, oh there’s a self that lives in this body; or a self as humans, and the category, oh there’s us and them, or you know, the other everything. All those categories, concepts, and linguistic symbols are creating an impairment integration on the planet that is building on, whether it’s the biological reality of it, or the physics reality of it, or both; it’s building on this noun-like separate self entity that’s profoundly disconnected so we’re no longer linked.
We’re so differentiated in the way the mind and culture reinforcing that mind propensity, the mind is creating what Einstein called the optical delusion of consciousness of a separate self, and he urged us to widen our circles of compassion. Well those circles need to also dissolve this notion of a separate self because we’re not just in a body. Yes, the body’s important but we’re also relational so one thing, a group I’m working with is the linguistic symbol that integrates identity with me plus we, so you have an inner mind, if you will, that’s me or I.
13:45 And you have a relational mind, an inter-mind that’s us or we and to integrate them you won’t want to lose the features of either one, you want to link them together. So for our first go, we’re using the word mwe, M-W-E. And what’s been so fascinating about is that one little three letter word, in English at least, we’re getting it in different languages; you’re able to encapsulate how you need to take care of your individual body but that your identity is much broader than the brain and bigger than your bigger. And that identity is also, not instead, but also a we, and you integrate that as a mwe.
Dan Pardi, PhD Many questions have risen from what you’ve just said. One comment in my recent conversation with Dr. Sheila Patel from the Chopra Center, she had a saying: I am that, that is me. It’s a practice people go through to try to identify the connectedness versus the division between our physical selves and that around us.
Dan Siegel, MD Beautiful.
Dan Pardi, PhD What grade would you give our schooling system for developing this critical skill that helps us traverse the world?
Dan Siegel, MD Well Dan, these are great questions. It’s so interesting, this morning I just came from a school that’s asked me to kind of work with them to shape these things, and it’s a Pre-K through 12th grade. So to start with the first thing, I would say that young children know this on a deep level. They know it. And whether it’s culture or the curriculum of most schools, it’s taught out of us, you know? And so bringing that systems view we realized, I am a fundamental part of a system, I do have a body of me, and I do have a systems identity that’s a we, and I am a mwe, you know, that kind of thing.
You know, you can start in preschool and just talk about it. And that’s all, it’s not a big deal, you know? You are both your body and you are your relationships with other people on the planet. So I think [inaudible 00:26:49] early on, you know, in the books I write for parents; I do a number of parenting books with Tina Payne Bryson and others; we’re always emphasizing how parents are the first teachers. And their opportunity to teach this relational integrated identity begins early on, you know, with how you approach the way we view nature and the impact of what we do on other species, and you know, are we taking care to be very aware and mindful of that?
So it can start very early on and the cultural piece of it; this conference called Wisdom 2.0 I talk about this and you can watch those videos, but the point is I think you can do this with very young people, with people in high school, you can do this with people at work. It’s a win-win-win thing, and what are all those wins about? Number one, it’s just the truth of who we are. As Einstein called it, the optical delusion of consciousness, he didn’t even use the word illusion, he used the word delusion which means a psychotic belief, a belief that’s not consistent with reality.
So we have to wake up from this psychotic belief that we’re separate. And I don’t think it’s going to take that long to do it. And I think it’s actually one of the most crucial, transformative things we have to do for humanity to change what we’ve done. We’ve tried out an experiment of living with the mental construction of a separate self. And it’s failed. It’s absolutely failed. We still have time to bounce back from the failure of this attempt to live as a separate self. And now what we need to do is realize we could be an integrated self.
It doesn’t mean getting rid of, you know, your internal world or taking care of the sleep well, or feed your body well, or exercise. It just means that relationships become equally important to our identity. Relationships with other people, people who are not like you as well as people who are like you, and species that are not your species. You’re a part of a larger, living system called life on earth. So I think we can do this, and that’s one win. I think it’s going to help because people will dissolve the delusion, that’s one win.
The second win is, every research study shows that your health is actually going to be improved, the length of time you live will be improved, your happiness will be improved, you know. Your- and the health business, by the way, is medical and mental health. So those well-being factors will be improved when we just identify relationships as an equal part of your identity as your individual life. So that’s the second win.
The third win is that when you look at what we are capable of, as collaborative creative, connecting human beings, when we see the good that’s in people we can realize, I think, a different way of relating to one another and a different way of relating to earth. And the win there, this third win, is that earth, I really believe on some deep level, life on earth is waiting for humans to come to the next phase in our cultural evolution and say, yes, you know, we have fifty million years most likely of tribalism and in-group/out-group things and people might say, how can you say fifty million when humans were only around a few hundred thousand years?
Because Steven Tuomey and I were talking about this the other day, our primate evolution, from probably about fifty million years ago, we were doing this in-group/out-group stuff. It’s not just humans that do it. We need to be aware of that, rise above that, we also do this with other species. We act like, oh they’re not worth anything because they’re not human or something. So all these ways that we other, and John Powell writes powerfully about othering, all these ways that we other, we need to rise above that.
18:41 I think earth is waiting for the human mind, now that we’ve defined what it is, to enter a different phase of self-organization, to realize oh, I see, it’s not just about this body or this brain in this head. It’s about really being an integrated part of a whole system of life on earth. And thank goodness humans have done that. And then there is a path to help humanity do that, and I think we can do it- not in over many, many generations- we actually don’t have time to do it that slowly.
We can do this more rapidly and you know, that’s a whole other talk we can have, about how to do it. But it’s kind of what you’re saying, raising children this way, teaching kids in school this way, reminding people who run corporations, you know, that this is actually a win-win-win thing and that when consumers know this and people who are in the production business know this, everyone’s going to benefit and it’s going to turn into- I think we can make this a big, big turning of what humanity can see as its role in this journey and what this transformative way of seeing the self could be when we realize we could be an integrated self.
Dan Pardi, PhD 18:53 I have a tattoo that has a saying: if Pikaia survived the Burgess decimation, and it’s from a book, Wonderful Life from Stephen Jay Gould. He writes about this Cambrian fossil from hundreds of millions of years ago and in this one quarry there was all this life. There was one called Hallucigenia, it had eight eyeballs down its back, I mean, it seemed like life was just playing with forms. Pikaia was very simple. It had dorsal rigidity and he thought it might have had the first backbone, so the idea is romantic but if it had survived the Burgess decimation it might have given rise to vertebrates. And to me, it’s a reminder of the connectedness with all life forms, as simple as they might be. Even with the little flat worm that you could accidentally step on in a creek, that, I am that, that is me. So the-
Dan Siegel, MD No, no, I am that and you know, we are that, you know? Absolutely. It’s beautiful.
Dan Pardi, PhD 19:00 I love your nine domains of integration. Consciousness, bilateral, vertical, memory, narrative, state, interpersonal, temporal, identity.
Dan Siegel, MD And this last one is identity integration. I was once asked to speak at an environmental policy conference and I said, I think you have the wrong Dan here. They said, no, no, we want you. And I said, well what have you tried? And they said, oh we’ve tried to inform people but it hasn’t helped, and I said, what else have you done? They said, I think we tried to scare people, it hasn’t helped. I said, well what else can you do? And they go, we don’t know, that’s why you’re here. And I go, oh my god, you know, you scared them, it didn’t help; you did inform, it didn’t help; I said, I guess you- well, I guess you’ve just got to try to help them transform.
19:02 And this simple idea to go from me to mwe, M-W-E, I know it sounds simple but it may be actually a simple thing that’s needed. And it may not be easy; that’s the thing. Because there’s a lot pushing everyone to separation. There’s a lot of evolutionary history; there’s a whole century of reliance on audio and visual channels that Wilson talks about; there’s a physics issue, that we live in these macro-state bodies that give us the view that it’s just about separate nouns.
But you know, yes, we have a noun that is a body and you want to walk the body carefully across the street at a green light, but you also are a verb, so learning to also live like a verb; not favoring verbs over nouns but these verbs are unfolding events and then you realize, wow, I am that flatworm. I am the sunset, you know? This is all this incredible privilege of being alive and honoring life is all we’re asking that we do.
Dan Pardi, PhD 19:15 It sounds like a lot of this knowledge that you’ve been working on, writing about, creating terms for, models for; it sounds like we need to develop skills that help us implement that. Mwe is a good one. What are some other skills that humans can develop that help us continue to take care of the individual body, so it doesn’t get hit by the car but is constantly relating to that around us, so that we are making better decisions?
Dan Siegel, MD The first domain you mentioned, the integration of consciousness, has, in that area a practice called the Wheel of Awareness and I’ve just done this now with 47,000 people in person. The first 10,000 I would have people pass the microphone around or write notes and say what they experienced and that survey reveals that when you put awareness of consciousness, knowing like if I say, good afternoon Dan. You know, you have both the good afternoon Dan as something on the rim of this wheel, in this case sound and you know it through hearing, but the experience of knowing, called awareness, we put in a hub.
19:17 I talk about this in a book called Aware and we have this Wheel of Awareness practice on our website. We’ve had a lot of people, you know, stream this and do it, so we get a lot of feedback about it, in addition to the ones I do in person. And that hub of knowing that I said good afternoon, that metaphoric hub, it looks like there’s a possible scientific explanation for the origin of consciousness. I say possible because it could be completely wrong. But you’ll see it described in great detail in Aware in a hundred pages, so here again I can’t really talk about it. I could, but it would go on for a few hours.
But the bottom line is, if the proposal is true, and again it could be completely wrong, but if it’s true, then here’s the simple thing I’ll say in terms of what tools can be used. When people do this kind of practice- there are other ways of doing it but here we’re talking about the wheel- when people distinguish the knowing of awareness from the knowings from things that you’re aware of, like sounds or sights or whatever, you start to, I think, move from this realm of separate noun-like things, even a thought or a memory or an emotion comes and goes like an entity.
You know, it has these qualities in the, if you will, the Newtonian macro-state world. But then when you get in the hub; this is what’s so rewarding about doing these workshops, is you see it right in front of you. Where it isn’t that someone heard a lecture and they go, oh yes I heard you [inaudible 00:35:58] you said. You have them do the Wheel as a practice. They bend this spoke of attention around, that they’ve been moving around the wheel, and around the rim, and you have them bend it into the hub or just retract it or leave it in the hub or have no spoke at all and just drop into the hub.
And, just to give you an example, you know, I did this once in a parliament in another country, and people started sharing, you know, after they did the practice and then we had a break for a snack. During the snack break one of the parliamentarians comes up and he goes, Dan, you know I didn’t share. And I said, I noticed that. He goes, do you want to know why I didn’t share? And I say yeah, I actually, I would love to know why you didn’t share.
He goes, and he gets really quiet, and he says it really slowly but I’ll say it more quickly just for time; he goes, you know the part where you bend the spoke around and you’re just in the hub? And I said yeah, I know that part. He says, I have never felt so much love before in my life. I felt connected to everyone and everything. And I said, so you didn’t want to share that? He goes, oh no no no, and he points over to his colleague and he goes, they would think I was weak if I talked about love and connection.
There’s silence and I looked at him and I said, so let me ask you a question. When you are forming federal law, when you are making national policy, do you leave love out of the reason? And he kind of stares at me, his eyes get really big and his finger starts wagging at me and he runs over to his parliamentarian colleagues and I don’t know what they said. But you would only hope he would say, you know, love is the strongest thing.
We are deeply interconnected and he told me later on, you know, that that shift in perspective, you could call it an insight, if you will, is much bigger than just someone telling you some words. And you know, this has happened everywhere I go, doing these workshops because someone will have this incredible feeling, someone who’s never meditated or done this kind of thing or thought about this kind of thing in their life, they will have this feeling that within the hub of awareness, there’s love and interconnection as if they’re three threads of the singular tapestry of life.
And whatever we can do- and the wheel is cool because it has all these other things that can help you and your medical health and all this stuff- because it has these three pillars built into it. But if people can just have the experience themselves of seeing the shift in identity to this mwe, I have great hope for us. For mwus, as a human family that, we get our act together, we’re going to be able to do this, you know? We can do this. I think it is a matter of, just like you’re saying, Dan, of giving people the tools so that they’re not stuck in this optical delusion of consciousness, of being separate. And we realize the deeply interconnected nature of who we are.
Dan Pardi, PhD For the audience to find different pieces of your work, you’ve got courses online, you do workshops, you do videos. Where would you direct them?
Dan Siegel, MD If the Wheel of Awareness is something you want to check into, for free you can go to our website Doctor Dan Siegel, D-R-D-A-N-S-I-E-G-E-L, dot com. And then just click through mindsight practices and then there’s the Wheel of Awareness and there’s a few different ones. If you’ve never meditated before start slow, the beginning one, and then move your way up. If you want an instruction, the Aware book- all my books are on audio, also- but the Aware book is a good place to start. It walks you step by step on the science and practice of presence.
There’s a ton of books. I mean, I’ve written a dozen books and so Aware would be good for that. Mind is good if you just want a set of unfolding stories of how all these ideas came together. If you’re interested in adolescence, Brainstorm is a cool book. If you’re a science-focused person and want just science, The Developing Mind, which will be out in its third edition next year, that would be a good book to dive into.
If you’re a Clinician, Mindsight is for actually the general public about clinical cases. The Mindful Therapist, those would be good books, and there’s a pocket guide. There’s all sorts of things that I’ve written and then there’s all these parenting books that I wrote with Tina Payne Bryson. We have a new one coming out in January, The Power of Showing Up, which is a summary of how to apply the attachment research literature to everyday parenting. And then other books like The Yes Brain, No Drama Discipline, Whole-Brain Child, that I wrote with Tina, and Parenting From the Inside Out with Mary Hartzell.
25:41 And then I’ve edited- I’m the series editor for over 75 textbooks written by other people, mostly, in the Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology. So if you’re a clinician, especially, it’s a clinician series. It’s a very large mental health series of interpersonal neurobiology. We literally have that many books so there’s wonderful, wonderful books about the process of psychotherapy and how to understand it through various aspects of science and- anyway, those are just some thoughts. And you know, we have online all sorts of things. Videos you can watch for free, immersive courses you can take, there’s all sorts of stuff. So if you want to learn more there’s a big, big range of resources that is available to you.
Dan Pardi, PhD That’s great. Drdansiegel.com has a list of the videos, the books, everything. So people can go there to dig in a little bit more or find, maybe a starting place for them.
Dan Siegel, MD 25:58 Absolutely. Yeah, and you know, it’s a community, basically. I mean interpersonal neurobiology is housed here at the Mindsight Institute and you’ll go from Dr. Dan Siegel to Mindsight Institute dot com and it’s basically interconnected websites but the point is, we have a community of people who are asking these questions. What is the mind and what can we do with our minds to help life on earth? That’s really what we’re all about. So come join us.
Dan Pardi, PhD Well, Dan, thank you so much for all the work that you’ve done, taking the time here.
Dan Siegel, MD 26:00 Beautiful. Thank you, Dan.

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