How Your Brain Creates Your Sense of Self

Our powerful brains allow us to imagine and evaluate different scenarios in the past and future. But when we shift our attention to the present, our minds can quiet down.

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Some years ago one of my neighbors worked in the film industry doing special effects. He showed me a brief clip for one of his projects, of a whale swimming underwater, and he mentioned that the powerful computers at his company had worked overnight to render that single beautiful scene. It seemed remarkable to me that it had taken many hours for their equipment to create a few seconds of imagery that the brain could produce at any time in the theater of imagination.

The circuitry of this inner theater has been one of the major evolutions of the brain over the past several million years. It’s an extraordinary capability that helped our ancestors survive, and it aids and enriches our lives today. But it has some drawbacks, and it’s important to learn how to use it wisely and not let it use you.

Watching Your Inner Movie

Our powerful brains allow us to mental time travel and have a strong sense of self. We draw on our neural networks for what’s called affective forecasting; affective is a psychological term that means “relating to moods, feelings, and attitudes.” This…