Friday 21 September 2018

mBraining: Neurobollocks, Ponzi Scheme or Profound Insight?...

The Cumbria Coaching Network meeting today was about mBraining.  What's that, you ask? 

Here's some of the blurb:
Recent neuroscience findings have uncovered that we have complex, functional neural networks or brains in our heart and gut. Called the cardiac and enteric nervous systems respectively, these adaptive neural networks display amazing levels of memory and ‘intelligence’ and there’s a growing array of evidence that these brains are deeply involved in the control and processing of numerous functions and core behavioural competencies. 
Well, call me sceptical, but I was somewhat... sceptical.

The three brains we have are the one you know about, and one in the heart, and one in the gut (we were told).

These are smaller (Gut: 100 million neurons; Heart 40,000 neurons, compared to 100 billion or so in the head brain) and in our Western culture badly neglected. But the idea seems to be that neurons = brain cells, so networks of neurons that interact are brains.

So we did an exercise identifying phrases that indicate that we already know this (gutless and having guts, hard hearted and follow your heart etc).  The thesis being that ancient wisdoms, both esoteric and religious, have all known this, and neuroscience is now catching up. (Though being me, I was irritated that on one of the slides, Shakespeare was misquoted to make a point: To thine own heart be true is not what Polonius said...)

And of course, there is something here; as Pascal said: Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. (The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.)  

We were told that language is important, but the presenter said we could think of them as three brains, or three intelligences, or three neural networks (though this last he wouldn't use himself).  But it strikes me that these are three very different things.  I am happy to accept that there are three neural networks with some common characteristics: but to get from that to three brains seems a bit of a leap.

And then we were told that there is an optimal sequence of engaging with these different brains to get the best result - but we weren't allowed to know what that was without coming on the qualifying course: and guess what, there's one coming up...

So various alarm bells were ringing for me: when people appeal to neuroscience without references, I am always sceptical. When definitions are sliding around like hockey pucks on ice, I am more so. And when the actual usable knowledge is only available at a fee, that raises a whole other set of questions.

After the event, I did a little searching, and found this article, from the gurus themselves. One thing that struck me, reading this, was the move from 'brain'  at the start of the article, to brain by the end. (Also, they reveal the sequence we weren't allowed to be told, but that's another issue...)

So I think it is pretty dodgy as science (and I consulted Professor Chris Chambers, an academic researcher in the field, who confirmed my suspicions) and yet another example of the term 'neuroscience' being used to lend credibility to a set of ideas (for a full academic take on this, see Neuroscience in the Public Sphere)

However, I don't want to rubbish it totally: if one strips away all the neuroscience talk, and treats it as a metaphor, I think it may qualify as a Parable (a useful fiction). Considering how our heart (as the seat of emotions) and our gut (as the seat of courage and identity) view a potential decision, as well as the rational logic of the situation is clearly of value.

But why the need to create a whole new 'science' around this simple metaphor (which as our language game made clear, has been known for centuries...)?  That's where my suspicions of the Ponzi scheme come in - a bit similar to the NLP phenomenon about which I have blogged previously. And blow me down, today's presenter is also an NLP practitioner...

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