’Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just as grooves in a record, and they never get out of them.’’ Apple PR
“I do not want to discuss evolution in such depth, however, only touch on it from my own perspective: from the moment when I stood on the Serengeti plains holding the fossilised bones of ancient creatures in my hands to the moment when, staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, I saw thinking, reasoning personality looking back. You may not believe in evolution, and that is all right. How we humans came to be the way we are is far less important than how we should act now to get out of the mess we have made for ourselves.” Dame Joan Goodall – anthropologist famed for her work with chimps
The Chimp Paradox Dr Steve Peters (2011 Ebury publishing, Random House Group)
Dr Steve Peters is a Consultant Psychiatrist who specialises in optimising the functioning of the mind. He is Undergraduate Dean at Sheffield University Medical School and the resident psychiatrist with the British Cycling and Sky Pro-cycling. He is credited for much of the success of our current British cycling team.
“The mind program that helped me win my Olympic golds” Sir Chris Hoy. What about that last sprint from 4th to first ! “Badly boxed in with less than 80 metres to go, Hoy sensed the vaguest hint of a gap opening up on his inside and seized it with relish. In a flash he swooped down the banking and lasered through the gap, miraculously avoiding contact with an opponent. “it’s just a reminder that you never say die….you never stop riding because strange things happen”
Sir Chris Hoy Daily Telegraph 9/4/12
This book draws upon his knowledge of the way our brains work and the study of his fellow humans beings, whether ordinary folk or Olympic athletes. He takes apart the most mysterious organ in the body and gives us glimpses inside. What are we to make of this?
‘The Chimp Paradox’ is so named as he has split the brain into three distinct portions. The ‘Chimp’ brain, the ‘Adult’ brain and the ‘Computer’ brain. There are many books written about the physical, philosophical and psychiatric nature of our brains and thinking process. The chimp is our nearest living relative. We, Homo sapiens, have evolved over the last 48,000 years also to be ‘I’m only human after all’. We’re fascinated by such films as Planet of the Apes and Avatar. It is as if we, subconsciously, dig into our pre-primeval brain and use these films as a mirror. Our experience of chimps is mainly gained from watching television documentaries or Typhoo tea adverts. The lightning pace of development, from a cup of tea to apple at Cupertino, is both exciting and frightening.
What does Peters mean by this and why is this book a manual for how modern man needs to be thinking in a fast moving ‘Knowledge World’? How do you use these techniques to come from fourth to first and astound all?
He describes this book as one which has ‘helped many people understand themselves and learn how to work with their emotions’. He starts with an oxymoron – ‘the human brain simplified’. He first describes the Chimp brain: an emotional response. The chimp is your emotional side, given to you at birth, and it lives in your limbic system. The human ‘Adult’ brain is how you live, and is in your frontal lobe. Thirdly, the psychological mind is described as a storage area for thoughts and behaviours called the ‘Computer’ which is spread throughout the brain. This is the storage area or memory for reference. We have trouble with our simple lap tops and tv’s, so, that’s easy to deal with then! He describes the two methods of thinking. The ‘human’ brain takes a factual truth,applies logical thinking, and derives a plan of action. The ‘chimp’ brain starts with feelings and impressions, immerses it emotional thinking which results in a plan of action. Each has consequences.
Peters now analyses each of these in turn. The chimp, or emotional thinking brain, includes the following traits: jumps to an opinion, thinks in black-and-white, is paranoid, catastrophic, is irrational, and results in ‘omitted judgements’. Most easily, it jumps to an opinion. Hence, that well-known instruction ‘engage brain before opening mouth’. Like all truisms they are often quoted but seldom acted upon.
The logical,thinking Adult brain is different. It is evidence-based, rational thinking. It is constantly putting life in context with perspective, and understands the different shades of grey to form a balanced judgement.
This book is easy to understand and Peters next leads us to the way our two brains naturally progress following an event. Interpretation is common to both but then the paths diverge. The chimp will analyse the situation based upon feelings and impressions,resulting in emotional thinking and a plan of action.
The Adult interprets and analyses the facts and the ‘truth’. The application of logical thinking results in a plan of action.
YouTube is full of clips of chimps in Attenborough style nature programmes normally set in their natural environment –the jungle. We civilised educated and highly evolved Homo sapiens, of course, do not live in a jungle! We have our own agenda, we respect societies agendas, and hopefully work to carefully thought through plans. The chimp, in his clearing, acts on instincts, drives, typically takes a vulnerable stance. Male and female chimps have different roles and think differently – they are all acutely aware of body language. One program is set in a jungle clearing. The chimps are chattering happily to each other grooming and going about their normal business. The skin of a leopard on a bamboo frame is introduced into the clearing through the bushes. The reaction is predictable – fight, flight, and freeze! As with us ‘only humans’ these instincts are deeply wired into our DNA.
A recent Spectator article describes the plethora of books at an airport or railway station written by our fellow humans to share their experiences of fight,flight,and freeze – fear and greed. ‘How to’ build a business, run a family, or achieve success. The airport is a very good environment in which to study the behaviour of our fellow humans. Just like the chimp in the clearing, the environment is strange, it’s threatening, it causes anxiety and you can watch people fighting, fleeing, or freezing. Once on the plane there are plenty of examples of, evolved, ‘up-to-date’ chimp thinking and behaviour! As Peters says ‘nature throws in anxiety as a means of forcing the chimp to make a decision’. Chimps normally live in troops and their drives include ‘food ,power, sex, parenting,industry ,security,inquisitiveness,territory acquisition and dominance. Traits management courses described by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Interestingly, Peters believes that male and female humans think the same way. Moving swiftly forward from that contentious statement we can be satisfied that he states ‘male and female chimps are very different emotional machines’. A paradox indeed.
The human ‘operational features’ include honesty and compassion, a conscious law-abiding nature, self-control, a sense of purpose, the need for achievement and satisfaction.
Peters then examines the really useful part of our brain – the computer. ‘We can think of the computers running at a speed around four times that of the ‘chimp brain’ and 20 times that of the ‘human’. Therefore, if the computer is operating as programmed, it can execute commands at amazing speed with complete accuracy before the chimp or human has a chance to finish ‘thinking’. See Hoys amazing sprint to victory! A way of understanding this section or nature of the brain is to examine your daily travel to work. Humans like to ‘get used to’ things. We get used to each other, our behaviours, our work; we get used to our environment, used to what we eat and drink, and any change causes anxiety. The computer removes the day-to-day boring functions that we don’t really want to think about. We don’t think about breathing until we go on holiday and try and dive to the bottom of the pool to see how long we can stay under. The strain of holding one’s breath is not so much the self-imposed inhibiting of the muscles, but the fight with our brains message ‘start breathing again or you’ll die!’ Your morning drive or commute to work involves a complex number of interactions and journey planning. Yet, quite easily, we forget what it was like when we first undertook our daily journey. Now the computer brain does it for us, leaving our highly evolved ‘only human brain’ to listen to our iPod or whatever else is hissing in the ears of your fellow passengers. We use this time daydreaming, thinking,planning and evaluating,(or sleeping!) and we are to great extent oblivious to what is going on around us until something unusual happens. Then the computer is instantly taken over by the chimp and the human brain and you go into corrective action, for good or ill.
The computer is receiving information from two different worlds: The fast moving human world, where we live, in a society with society rules and we look for ‘quality-of-life’ and ‘respect for humanity’. The other input comes from the chimp world, your jungle, where jungle rules (Homs?) and it’s survival of the fittest combined with the satisfaction of our primitive drives. The recent headline ‘final disgrace of the rutting chimpanzee’ was an interesting way for us ‘only humans’ to describe the behaviour of the former head of the IMF.
The book shows how by understanding the different portions of our brain and controlling our reactions we will, with practice and development, turn our moments of stress and anxiety from the primeval to the computer so that ‘the autopilot is the way to manage sudden stress’. That would apply as much as to the closing microseconds of an Olympic cycle race to the excitements generated by ‘office politics’ and ‘happy families’.
The chimp paradox extends these different sections and behaviour’s of the brain and applies it to a number of areas only too familiar to every ‘only human’ . The book ends on the difference between the human and chimp headed ‘the human misleads the chimp!’ The human brain thinks ‘everyone is a friend’ whilst the chimp thinks ‘there are enemies everywhere’. A constant challenge both politically and Politically.
It would be impossible to summarise the gamut of human relationships and experiences in a small book but you will end up with a much more finely tuned ‘biological laptop’ in your head. You may choose to apply these techniques to win an Olympic gold medal, or, just enjoy achieving your goals with contentment. You will also find yourself a compulsive chimp spotter and have hours of endless enjoyment! Come on the seminar……….