nid%3D3882%7Ctitle%3D%7Cdesc%3D%7Clink%3DnoneAuthor & neurologist Robert Burton visited IFTF today and treated us to a conversation building from the principles of his book, On Being Certain:  Believing You’re Right Even When You’re Not.

He’s currently working on a new book:  A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind; What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.

Together with our staff, Bob talked about the conundrum of how the mind is the tool we use to study the mind, the knowledge of E=MC² versus the feeling of knowing that 2+2 = 4, the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind, and even dipped our toe into the neuroscience of forecasting.

Lots of fodder to consider, but one thing I found particularly interesting was the topic of the self, and how we locate the self in our own understanding.

It made me think about discussions of the global brain in a new light.  I would love to see a mashup of Pierre Teilhard de ChardinPeter Russell, and Bob Burton when it comes to our understandings of the self & the brain, looking ahead to the coming decades.


Do you know of other experts at this nexus with whom it might be interesting to connect?  If so, please be in touch (@Rachelkeas or  Thanks!

PS–Friend of IFTF Mark Schar was also part of the conversation today–he just finished his PhD in an area akin to innovation intelligence at Stanford, so we were all proud to say “Congratulations Dr. Schar!”


Also posted at IFTF’s blog FutureNow


In the next decade, will neuroscience give us more of a glimpse into our spiritual brains?

In the Feb. 11, 2010 issue of Neuron, Italian researchers report on their experiments surrounding the personality trait of “self-transcendence” which is meant to be a measure of spiritual orientation.

Through analyzing self-transcendence scores of brain tumor patients both before & after their tumors were removed, they made another step towards drawing the link between brain activity and spirituality in a measurable way.


Here are the highlights of their work–full article downloadable here:

  • Self-transcendence is a stable personality trait measuring predisposition to spirituality
  • Brain damage induces specific and fast modulations of self-transcendence
  • Self-transcendence increases after damage to lt and rt inferior parietal cortex


  • The predisposition of human beings toward spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors is measured by a supposedly stable personality trait called self-transcendence. Although a few neuroimaging studies suggest that neural activation of a large fronto-parieto-temporal network may underpin a variety of spiritual experiences, information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking.
  • Combining pre- and post-neurosurgery personality assessment with advanced brain-lesion mapping techniques, we found that selective damage to left and right inferior posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase of self-transcendence.
  • Therefore, modifications of neural activity in temporoparietal areas may induce unusually fast modulations of a stable personality trait related to transcendental self-referential awareness.
  • These results hint at the active, crucial role of left and right parietal systems in determining self-transcendence and cast new light on the neurobiological bases of altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors in neurological and mental disorders.

For those interested in learning more, here is an accessible summary in Science Daily.  Thanks to Mark Schar for pointing me towards this fascinating research!

As my colleagues at Institute for the Future have forecasted, more & more people–particularly in North America–are beginning to track, quantify, and visualize data about themselves–from simple pedometers to track fitness, to complex genetic code to monitor chronic conditions and health probabilities.  One of the clearest expressions of this movement is the Quantified Self.

Some of the most exciting developments of this Quantified Self movement come when you consider a mashup of Quantified Self and neuroscience with tools like fMRI technology.  Are we on the way to beginning to quantify faith and its impact on our health?  The connection between physical health and spiritual practices has long been proven, and most recently featured in the popular PBS series, This Emotional Life.

Soon, we’ll be able to see the affect of meditation and faith community connections on our mental, emotional and physical health in a way that we never have before.  By 2020, quantifying faith will become increasingly possible, and this new potential has the potential to catalyze better health outcomes, as well as serve as a driver of growth and revitalization of faith communities.

Some questions immediately arise.  When you can quantify your faith…

  • How much more frequently will you perform your spiritual practices?
  • How likely are you to share about your faith with others, especially if you had discomfort with evangelism before?
  • What products, services, or tools will you use to measure your faith?
  • How will you monitor the feedback loops between your faith, health, emotions, and relationships?
  • With whom will you share your quantified faith data? What is that data worth to you?

Just another area where neuroscience is highlighting interesting resonances between previously disconnected domains of human experience:  immersing in a brand versus immersing in a religious experience.

Am intrigued to read Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology:

Verilliance shares a succinct write-up of Lindstrom’s work, with the strong brand example of Apple as the entry point for the comparison of neuroscientific stimulation by religion & brands.  The “pillars” Lindstrom identifies as fundamental to all religions are below:

  1. Sense of Belonging
  2. A Clear Vision
  3. Power over Enemies
  4. Sensory Appeal
  5. Storytelling
  6. Grandeur
  7. Evangelism
  8. Symbolism
  9. Mystery
  10. Rituals

Using these as the basis for the comparison seem off-base to me, but the list provides an interesting framework for the reason that it helps show the ethical quandaries around the potential of neuromarketing in the future.