Robert Bacal en Directors and Executives, Social Work, Human Resources Professionals Book author • McGraw Hill, Complete Idiot's Guides 15/10/2016 · 3 min de lectura · 1,6K

The Prime Directive - The Brain As An Information Reduction Machine

The Prime Directive - The Brain As An Information Reduction MachineYour brain has a limited capacity to process and store information, and to pay attention. Its prime directive, then, is to filter out information it doesn't "think" it needs.

If you want to increase your understanding of why and how people behave, without spending twenty years in University, you MUST understand what is the most profound, yet simple principle about the brain. Surprisingly, it's quite simple, at least on the surface, although quite complex when you get to the details of what goes on in the brain.

Brain Has A Limited Capacity To Process Information.

Brains don't have infinite capacity. They have finite limits on a) how much input they can process effectively in any given time span, b) how much "attention" can be paid to multiple things at the same time, and c) how much can be input and stored in any given time.

None of these are that surprising, although the myth of multitasking is still going strong, even while there is research that shows that humans don't do it and can't do it. It just feels like it.

Given that our brains make the difference between surviving and dying out as individuals and as a species(we are quite puny in almost every other way compared to animals, and even insects in terms of strength, versatility, adaptiveness, etc), how did our brains evolve?

Filtering Out of Input

It's really fairly simple. Our brains work to reduce load. Information is load since it all needs to be "processed", but since the "machine" can only do so much, it filters out "stuff" in a number of ways.

The process of "habituation" (getting used to things that are often around us) is an example of a way the brain reduces load.

Ever notice that if, let's say, you walk into a hotel room and the air conditioner is making a constant noise, eventually, you won't "hear it" any more? That's the brain getting used to the constant sound, and the process is wired in, unless you mess with it by emotional thinking. The evolutionary reason is clear. Given an animal can only pay attention to one thing, and given the millions and trillions of "things" in an even simple environment that "could be" processed, the animal (or human) needs to learn to allocate "attention" to some things (predators, food sources) and not to spend attention on other things (the lovely smell of the leaves, the color of the sky).

If the filtering doesn't happen, the chances are another creature will end up with a tasty lunch, because the survival related stimuli won't get tracked early enough to take action. And, as they say, there goes the species.

Humans operate similarly, although our abilities to "think" (intentionally manipulate incoming data) is far more advanced (or different).

What Are The Implications?

The Rational Brain?

Contrary to what we might like to believe, we simply are not logical or "rational". We never make decisions based on knowing EVERYTHING we need to know to make decisions, because it's not possible to know or process EVERYTHING that we might take into account. We use shortcuts, so we don't get lost in thought. Heuristics, they are called.

We Operate On Faith, NOT Data

Related is that all of us have FAITH in some ways of looking at things. Faith is interesting because it doesn't require any kind of data to induce faith, or maintain it. Faith is a fundamental basis for thought and by which the the "faithful" reduce information load. Why?

Because once you have "faith" (or believe something), you now longer have to check and recheck data coming in from the environment. In effect, you STOP learning about much of the "thing" that you believe.

Faith isn't just for religion. Scientists also operate using faith. They believe certain methods are good, and some are not, as an example. Faith always exists and makes it possible for us to survive.

If you had to constantly answer the question: "Will the building I'm in stand up for the next hour or fall down", you could do nothing else, because answering that question is impossible, and endless. You'd always be thinking about it, and as a side note, because you can't solve the question, you'd experience anxiety.

You "believe" it will stand, or have faith in it, and the designers, inspectors, architects, etc. So your brain (at least if it's working properly "moves on". Or, if you are in the small minority who actually spend time thinking about thinking, you might make a conscious decision to "let it go".

But sometimes you can't. If you are in a locked room with a wild tiger staring at you, your attention will automatically focus on the tiger, and that will be that. Until it eats you, or you escape. That's a mechanism the brain also has for allocating resources on what's important.

Getting Back To YOUR Brain, and What You Believe

Why is it I say so much of what you believe about people is wrong? Because in many ways, most of what you believe you know is wrong. Me too.

The brain simplifies. It loses things, or it doesn't pay attention to things. It drops out details. Since you can only process so much, everything you know is over-simplified. Wrong. But right, too. If you are still alive, then you're right enough, enough of the time, to ensure you are...well, still alive.

But it also means that when it comes to what you think you know, you're also going to be wrong, too, and that's one reason why we get lots of wacky ideas (fads). Of course the other is we aren't so rational. We do our best.


There are tons of implications for the basic principle here. It explains huge amounts of our behavior, why we get things wrong, why we believe what we believe, etc. And that's the point of the material in this section.

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The Prime Directive - The Brain As An Information Reduction Machine

Harvey Lloyd Oct 23, 2016 · #21

"Heuristics" is where choice lies and success begins from a practical lifestyle of learning. I agree with the many points that are made here @Robert Bacal. The question for us to consider is whether the brain controls us or we the brain. I myself believe we have some level of the latter. Twenty years of inputs into a brain in a unique walk known as "you" creates a huge data set. Managing the data set based on the inputs is one set of issues and the need for "Heuristics" and once self aware (an area of self that is a challenge to achieve) we can develop intake filters we create to better parse the data stream.

Intake filters consist of values that we aspire to maintain within the social/professional envelope. When confronted with another human do i seek to understand "first" then be understood would be such a value or filter. When participating with a team am i focused on the outcome or the individual speaking. Developing habits that screen data a certain way is a our best chance to not pick up the bitter aspects of personal emotional challenges.

The faith part comes from the need to believe that if my filters are honorable, my interactions follow these filters then, the right outcome will be achieved. This belief has to come in spite of others actions where their filters may be more of a personal agenda.

From this personal perspective i would state that the earlier we become self aware of the need for these values/filters of interaction the less damaging data we imprint on our brain. Ultimately meaning that the imprints don't go away permanently but rather must be managed after we become self aware of our parsing values go in place.

Javier 🐝 beBee Oct 23, 2016 · #20

Faith and determination is what beBee have to go on growing a lot ! Faith without determination don't take you to your goals. Good article that made me think. Thanks

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Aurorasa Sima Oct 16, 2016 · #19

#18 The filter can work the other way too and enhance a certain noise. When it bothers you, you give your brain a marching order to focus on it.

Once the chirping birds outside start to annoy you, you might hear them louder or it might be the only thing you hear.

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Robert Bacal Oct 16, 2016 · #18

#15 @Lisa Gallagher We definitely had that conversation about the inability to filter out noise. Normally, people "habituate", (get used to noise, particularly constant noise), but it seems you are less able to do that (sometimes?) We're also wired to "orient" or pay attention to change in our environments, again a clear advantage and necessity evolutionarily speaking. I'm guessing it's an anxiety issue but I'm not a clinician.

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Robert Bacal Oct 16, 2016 · #17

#14 Thank you Ian. If my recollection is accurate isn't Miller's law relevant to short term memory, and that stm and working memory (m-space) was considered a seperate "space/process" I'm a wee bit rusty here. My background (one of them is cognitive science, and I'm admitedly out of date.

In terms of neuro-science, my sense is that it's really in its toddler state, and that the application of what is being learned about the brain is still a ways away from being applicable to things like learning and memory enhancement -- ie. real world behavior. OOP. just noticed your links in the other post. I'll check those.

Ian Weinberg Oct 16, 2016 · #16

@Robert Bacal The subjects of EQ, IQ, AI , neuro-data processing etc are at the core of intense investigation and research. It is very difficult to draw simple conclusions from this enormous area of study. My personal interest and expertise extends from the neurosciences and neurosurgery, pioneering and incorporating the science and applications of Psycheoneuro-immunology (PNI) to the development and application of corporate wellness, performance and leadership programs. To boot, I have also managed comprehensive neuro-rehabilitation teams. I offer you the following 2 links. The first is our corporate application and the second is the reference text used in the training of neuro-coaches. This latter text is pretty heavy reading. Part 2 however can be read as a standalone text. See therefore and for some light bed-time reading

Lisa 🐝 Gallagher Oct 16, 2016 · #15

I thought I read this before, and I still enjoyed reading it again @Robert Bacal. I remember telling you I'm unable to filter out noise, like that from an A/C unit in a hotel room if it's rattling. It will drive my brain nuts all night. I've always had a hard time filtering out background noise unless it noise I've truly grown used to. My IQ is just a tad above average but my EQ is high. Personally, I can attest that I don't always think rationally because my EQ can over ride the rational part of my brain. However, it depends on the circumstances- there are issues that arise that require your EQ to kick in which allows one to be more rational and see the larger picture, if that makes sense? I would make a good mediator or coach because I'm able to see, think and feel outside of the box.

Ian Weinberg Oct 16, 2016 · #14

The amount of information which can be handled at the pre-frontal cortex level (working memory) at any one time is limited in accordance with Miller's 7+2 Rule. Further limitations reflect the pro-survival processes of deletion, distortion and generalization. And yes, habituation too (at the sensory level). But the comprehensiveness of perception and the processing of extrinsic sensory and intrinsic stored information is a function of the degree of integration of the individual. Islands of unintegrated networks have limitations within reality contexts. The more integrated configurations engage in a more comprehensive way with the environment and can therefore handle much more data (the integrated networks are greater that the sum of the individual unintegrated networks). Therefore subjective belief reflects configurations of integration which determine limits of data that can be processed. References available if so desired.

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