Amir is a brain researcher from the pioneers of multisensory research, he developed technological tools, based on his profound understanding of the human brain and published over 100 papers and book chapters, with over 10,000 citations featured in New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic and more. Amir was elected among 100 visionaries as part of the Einstein Genius100 Organization.
He has a PhD in Computational Neuroscience and Brain Imaging, visiting research fellow at NIH and Instructor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and on top of that, a Professor at the Department of Medical Neurobiology & Cognitive Sciences at the Hebrew University and since 2019 at the Reichman University.
He is the founding director of The Baruch Ivcher Institute For Brain, Cognition & Technology & The Ruth and Meir Rosental Brain Imaging Center (MRI), both in Reichman University.
In our conversation, we tried to understand how our brain works, it’s connection to our senses, Default System, emotions, and how it all revolves around entrepreneurship – if it's in the context of developing technologies for brain studies, or if it's in the use of knowledge of how brain activity works to create new technologies in a variety of domains.
This is exactly the deep cross-disciplines connection which this podcast lies on – how entrepreneurship, technology, Psychology, NeuroScience and businesses are mixed together, and how it all begins and ends inside the brain.
A reminder - The brain relies on electrical activity. The brain is built from neurons, which their amount is close to the number of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The question that we face today is – how the brain is organized.
Aristotle and Plato – spoke about their belief that emotions are in the heart. Alcmaeon of Croton spoke of the eyes as rails leading the input to the back of the brain, which is responsible for the vision, and Hippocrates – spoke of the brain as the source of emotions.
The classic theory refers to the brain as divided to regions that support different senses – the Occipital lobes (in the back of the head) which are responsible for sight; temporal lobes (in the side of the head) – for hearing; The Parietal lobe (vertex) – touch, heat, pain; and the Frontal lobe (front of the head) – is the CEO, responsible for high-level functions. This is the theory that was presented for many years about the structure and functioning of the brain.
The second approach talks of the brain not as divided by senses – but by tasks, and the need for solution to a certain problem. Studies show that in a brain that has never heard or seen – a certain detour can be done, and the brain adapts within hours. The big break stems from the fact that through technological tools – there are new ways to explore questions that would be hard to study otherwise.
In an analogy to the world of entrepreneurship – in the beginning, entrepreneurs must work through the system of the second theory; there is a mission or a problem that stands in their path – and then the question is which skills and tools each member of the team could bring to the table to work through the challenge and move on. In more advanced stages, when the company and the expertise grows – there is a division into departments, and each area is responsible for solving problems within their own region.
What we learn from that, is the cross vertical ability of the brain, to switch between different sensing systems; the different disciplines and how they affect the research and the mental elasticity.
Startups often try to “imitate” their technology models from nature, and here as well, this is a testimony to how much we can learn from the functioning of the brain on the way we run companies.
Our brain is incapable of perceiving more than one thing at a time. This is how the system is built. The question is – how do pilots take in so much information at the same time? And the answer is – the brain does a “trick", it hops quickly between different parts of awareness in the brain (chunking) in every millisecond. People that are effective in multitasking – are the ones that can switch quickly through different parts of awareness. When we are disturbed (notifications/ phone/ other task/ someone distracting us) – the brain loses efficiency over time.
Emotions, Default System and the Art of Attention
There are 3 stages of processing information:
*The perception is done through the five senses.
*The processing – the experience, emotions, feelings, inner dialog, representations.
*The output – the motoric actions.
It is important to remember that when we feel happiness/ depression/ anger/ stress – it is in fact electrical activity that occurs in the brain. In 99% of the brain there is no growth of new neurons. In the Hippocampus – there are studies showing growth of new neurons and connectivity between them. The connectivity is the exact processing that occurs in the brain that creates the connections, representations, emotions. Many studies related to audio and vision, proves how people that never had sight before - through using technology that makes rapid evolution and turns sound waves into a three-dimensional image - can make the region react to the sound and allow sight. Hence the understanding of the plasticity of the brain and the connection between the systems, also the basis for the indication of changing habits after about 21 days of consistency of new behavior. One of the significant discoveries is that there are 2 networks within the brain; the first – deals with the outside world. The second - Default System – the system that deals with our inner dialogue and thinking about the past and the future. When we are occupied with the outside world – the electrical activity of the system drops down, and at night, when we go to sleep – the system goes into action. And then, comes all the thoughts that make it difficult for us to end the day and relax, and that comes with a high price.
How many of you, entrepreneurs, feel stuck in a storm of thoughts that disturb you with restlessness? Here, the importance of training our attention comes into the picture – meditation and mindfulness influence this system. We want to train our attention so that it affects us for our own good, which means, reprogram the senses and bring attention to the right place. Mindfulness and meditation are very effective tools to calm the Default System for entrepreneurs and help create focus for the required challenges.