Tapestry

Why it's not just your brain that makes you smart

Science journalist Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Extended Mind, wants to dispel us of our brain fixation. Meanwhile assistant professor Julia Kam, who runs Internal Attention Lab at the University of Calgary, emphasizes how important it is to let the mind wander.
Science writer Annie Murphy Paul says we need to think outside the brain to solve the mysteries of the mind. (Stephanie Anestis Photography/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Intelligence is the domain of the mind, that much is obvious. What isn't obvious is what makes up the mind. Most people will say the brain, and there are hundreds of books that will endorse this.

Science journalist Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Extended Mind, wants to dispel us of our brain fixation. It's not that the brain isn't important, or even critical, but it isn't acting alone. Paul explores how intelligence is tied to the rest of our bodies, to our circumstances and the company we keep. 

"Instead of thinking of the brain as a workhorse we just keep flogging to get the job done, think of the brain as an orchestra conductor," said Paul. 

"The brain is still central to thinking, but it's not doing all the work on its own. It's bringing in the strings, you know, and bringing up percussion over here, you know, and kind of managing the process."

Sometimes making a good decision isn't about weighing pros and cons, but being able to feel your way towards a solution — a path that may not always be obvious. 

Julia Kam emphasizes how important it is to let the mind wander. She runs the Internal Attention Lab at the University of Calgary. She believes that just letting your mind openly speculate can be a huge boon to solving problems and having your own mini-revelations. 

"I went into this research thinking I would have a cure or a solution for my wandering mind and then I'll be able to focus for the rest of my life," said Kam. 

"Now I realize that there are so many benefits that come with a wandering mind."

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