#284 – Is Your Smartphone Making You Dumber? With Neuroscientist Mark Williams

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service on the episode today, we have Dr. Mark Williams.

Mark. Welcome. Thanks for having me, Thomas. It is my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? So, I am a professor of cognitive Neuroscience. Um I’ve studied uh the human brain for about 25 years and then about four or five years ago, I started my own business. Um trying to create brain healthy world is my big, big, my um one organization at a time. So uh trying to bring what we now know about the human brain into organizations so that everyone can be a little healthier and things can be more productive and things can run a little bit more smoothly. Um And then I have a book that’s coming out next week called the Connected Species. How the Evolution of the brain can change the world, um which is all about our brains and how we’re connected and how we, we need to get back to spending more time with each other and, and loving each other a bit more than we currently are. Sounds like a very worthy topic. Um You said uh that you would like to create a brain healthy world at an individual level.

Um What are some of the ways that someone might do that? Um So number one is spending more time with people face to face. Uh We, we, we’re more lonely today than we ever have been. And that’s really sad and it, it’s um really, really harmful for us just having people in our lives that we spend time with regularly, that we trust can increase your life up to 10 to 15 years. And it decreases the likelihood that you’ll have Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and neuro degenerative diseases later on and also decreases the likelihood that you’ll have uh mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. So, you know, one of the easiest way is to get off the devices, get out to your bedroom and actually spend time with friends. Uh is, is one of the easiest and most positive things you can do for your, for your brain. Um And something that we’re doing less and less these days because of, you know, the way technology is currently being set up, that trick us into thinking that we, we wanna be on the screen rather than with each other. Uh This is more of a knowledge question on my part.

Um Loneliness. How does a neuroscientist measure? Uh loneliness? Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s actually quite difficult to measure. Um because it’s, it’s a state of mind rather than an actual situation. Um But what we normally do is we use the situation. So we look at people who are isolated for some reason. Um So we know that they are actually lonely and isolated rather than just being lonely by itself. Um But we do know these days that a lot of people, even though they’ve got people around them are lonely or at least state that they’re lonely. But that’s usually a subjective report. So normally when we’re looking at it from a scientific point of view, we’ll look at people who are isolated and which is a very easy method to use for loneliness. But, but we also know that people can be lonely even though they have people around them just because they don’t feel a connection to those people. Thank you for that. Um You did mention the, the screens, I wasn’t gonna get into it straight away, but it’s a, it’s a good segway.

So, um what are um extensive or excessive uses of screens doing to our brain? Yeah, great question. So sorry for jumping into that straight away. It’s topical. It’s fine, just always comes out. Um Yeah, a whole bunch of the negative effects that we’re seeing um because of the way we use these grains and, and look, it’s, it’s not, the technology is great. I mean, if we were using it in a positive way, we could, you know, be very beneficial for us, but unfortunately, we’re using it in a negative way which isn’t beneficial. Um And so we, we’ve seen, you know, an increase in mental health issues and so associated with longer times on screens, we know people who have more friends on social media, have less friends in real life and less people that they feel like they can actually trust. Uh kids who are, are put on screens or are given screens earlier, have, are more likely to have a DH D or be diagnosed with autism. We know that kids who spend a long time or a normal, actually normal for these days, normal amount of time on screens um have abnormal or lower ability to recognize facial expressions and empathy.

So they don’t actually aren’t unable to uh respond to other people and how they’re actually feeling and therefore responding positively to them. We know that uh our intelligence stacks are going down for the first time in history. Their overall intelligence across Western countries is decreasing rather than increasing. So, up until the 2010 I um our IQ was going up every year, it’s been going down ever since then. Uh which is a little scary as well from an evolutionary point of view. Um So yeah, there’s a whole gamut of, of issues associated with spending too much time on, on devices because we’re not using our brains in our brains. Um And just like any other other muscle, you use it or you lose it. Um And because we’re on these devices and we’re not actually socializing, we’re not actually spending time with people. We’re not actually thinking for ourselves, we’re just mindlessly scrolling. Uh means that we are exercising our brain in positive ways and that means that, that, that it is slowly atrophying. Um And that’s, you know, detrimental. So we’re playing a pretty nasty experiment on each other.

Um, and it’s not, not good results so far. Well, you mentioned, uh in the opening of your answer that there is a, um, a positive way to go about using screens. What’s an example of what that might look like? Yeah. So I if, if you don’t have the notifications on, for example, if you take all the notifications off all of your apps and everything else that you’ve got on your devices, um including your phone, then you’re not being triggered by uh those beeps and buzzers and little bouncing icons and it’s on uh constantly and, and that actually it will increase um your mental health ability. So you, you actually by just turning off all those notifications, um both um depressive symptoms and anxiety actually goes down very, very quickly over about 2 to 3 weeks. So that’s a really easy way to use a device in po positive way just to turn off all the notifications and then schedule into your day, you decide when you’re actually gonna check your email and when you’re gonna check your Facebook and when you’re gonna check these things and just by doing something that simple, um we actually uh improve your mental health.

Um And, and is a much better way to actually use the devices. And uh do you use your devices in this way? I do, I have all my notifications turned off. Uh All my loved ones know, um, and my close friends that if they want to speak to me, they’ve gotta call me. So I use my phone in the old fashioned way. I actually answer the phone if it rings and someone wants to chat to me. Um, and any other notification, including text, I, I have scheduled in three times a day, then I’ll actually check those. Um, and, and that’s when I check them and, and find out, you know, if somebody needs me or whatever. But yeah, if somebody needs me urgently, then they’ll just call me. Thank you for that. Um uh In your, in your previous answer as well you mentioned about um the question is around whether or not devices are causing the um decrease in, well, the, the negative effects or it is the lack of the positive uses of our brain. Um Do you, what’s your opinion on that or what does the data suggest? Yeah. So it’s a combination of the two.

one is that we’re not using our brains in the same way. And so therefore we’re getting atrophic, but we also know just by having your phone next year, there’s a beautiful study called Brain Drone, which has been replicated since then. But it just shows that if you have a smartphone next to you and it’s turned down so that it can’t buzz or ding or do anything like that, it’s turned upside down and it’s on your desk. Um You actually have a significant decrease in your working memory capacity, which is your ability to think basically, and your fluid intelligence is significantly affected. So just having a phone next to you, compared to having it in another room affects both your intelligence and your staff working memory. So it seems as though it’s actually there’s a direct effect of having the phones or, or the devices close to you. Um and then there’s a more long-term effect which we’re seeing um things like uh you know, a DH D and autism associated with using devices and also uh an increase in early onset Alzheimer’s disease associated with having the use of, of, of devices.

Um and um other neurogen diseases are more prevalent and, and that’s again associated with the use of devices. So these posts um the the impact of us not using our brains uh which is, you know, gonna have a negative effect, but also just the fact of having a device close to you is also going to affect your brain itself. Is it, would it be a um a truthful statement for me to say that uh excessive use of a phone or a device is literally making you dumber? Yeah, absolutely. 100%. Well, um as someone who is uh values intelligence, which I do um you drop in truth bomb. So thank you. Thank you for that for those people. And I think there are a fair number of them who are, should we say addicted to the phone? Whether they, whether they consciously know it or not? What do you recommend to them in terms of what to do next? Yeah. It’s, it’s like any addiction you’ve got, uh, you’ve got to be honest about it.

You’ve got to say yes, I, I don’t like actually being beholden to this device or beholden to these, you know, tech companies that are capturing my attention constantly. Um education. I think it’s really important as well. Um Especially being an educator, I think plants, people have knowledge that’s power and so understanding uh what, what’s happening, the research that’s coming out and then how it’s happening, how, how these manipulations are causing these effects. Um is also, yeah, it makes it a lot easier then to take the next step. But then the next step is the hard bit, which is actually just a good decrease the amount of time you’re using the device. So, and one easy way to do that, of course, I mean, addiction um is, is due to a feedback loop where you have a queue which causes a behavior or, or, or, or a thought. Um and then there’s a reinforcement for that which then reinforces the queue. And then the next time you get that cue with the devices, one of the main cues is the the notification.

So if you turn all those off, then it’s no longer going to queue you. So you won’t have that behavior as bad. Um, if you’re really addicted, of course, you’re still gonna probably check it, you know, uh, um, um, randomly during the day as well. And so you need to have some control over that as well. And there’s lots of different tools out there. I know there’s, there’s somebody I was doing a presentation, um, at a school recently and one of the parents came up to me and they had this crazy crap contraption which held their phone. Um, and it, it, you could only open it and use the phone every two hours or something. He’d said two hours on it. And so he couldn’t actually open the phone and use it, he could answer phone calls, but he couldn’t do anything else every two hours. And that was his way of getting around this addiction. So there’s some cool, you know, technology out there that are actually helping us with, with those addictions. Um, but also, um putting on turning on the health apps on the phone and then monitoring how much you’re actually using the phone. Cos I think a lot of us don’t realize how much time we’re spending on these devices.

And that can be quite a shock for a lot of people to actually just turn on a monitoring device and have a look, you know, every week at how long you’re actually spending on the phone and all those sorts of things. I have a, I have two teenage kids. Um So you can imagine it, it can be difficult here. Um But what we do is we all have those monitoring devices on all of our, all the devices that we use. And then once a week we all sit down and have a chat about what our results are like. And um you know, because of my business, I’m on the phone more than my daughter is. Um and so she has phone chastising me over what I’m using my phone for and I can then talk to her about why I’m using it for that and justifications for that and we go back and forth. Um But yeah, she there now to be competition as to who can have least amount of time on the phone, which is great cos she’s always trying to beat me and my son. He’s not quite as competitive as her. But um yeah, they’re both both keen to, to beat me and to beat each other each week. Um So that’s another thing you can do if you’ve got kids or, you know, family um to actually set up a bit of a bit of a competition there.

Yeah, a bit of a positive um reinforcement and a good incentive there to, to do it better. Uh I’m interested to know what you make of the um because you’re a, you study the brain. Um So what do you make of the human being based on what is essentially an experiment, you know, introducing these devices and seeing what happens rather than knowing that in advance and making the decision. What, what conclusions do you make about the human brain? Yeah, I think it’s really interesting because back when we first had TV, um for those who can remember when we first had TV, um A a and the advertisers realized that they could use subliminal advertising to manipulate behavior. And so, and this was just flashing things up um really briefly. So we weren’t aware that they were being flashed up, but they were actually changing our behavior slightly and governments realized that was happening very quickly and, and stopped it, you know, and made it illegal um in most countries very, very quickly within a few months of that actually happening.

Um And I, I find it really interesting that back then uh governments were willing to step in really quickly because they saw that this was a negative behavioral response and this was that they were manipulating our behavior without our awareness. Yet, the techniques that the tech companies are using today are far worse, far, far, far worse and far more manipulative than what that was. And yet governments are doing very little, if not anything at all to actually stop that. And I, I find that really disturbing that our governments today aren’t working um for the betterment of us, you know, all of us um as their constituents, but rather allowing these extremely wealthy multinational companies to continue with this manipulation, um, because it is having significant health issues across society. Um, and we’ve seen productivity going down and so on. So that concerns me a lot. I think that’s, that’s something that we all need to think about and I think governments really need to step up and explain why they were willing to do something, er, back in the sixties and they’re not willing to do something today.

Um, what’s changed? Um, I think a few things have changed but, um, yeah, that, that does concern me but, you know, we, we need to realize that we’ve known that, that our brains are social. Um, and that we’re easily manipulated by the perception that we’re part of a group. Um, and that’s all these things are doing, right, these social media apps and all the rest of these apps are, are simply making us feel as though we’re part of a group. And so therefore, we need to respond to that group as quickly as we possibly can because we need to remain part of that group. And that’s why we have this drive to answer these notifications and answer these texts and answer these, you know, um, lot of Facebook noted things and all the rest of it. Um, it really is just playing off our drive to be part of a group. Um, and so I think it tells us a lot about our evolution. Um, and it tells us a lot about how easily we can be manipulated. Which is a little sad. Are you saying that, um, the responding to notifications, uh, and things similar to that are because at some level we don’t want to be kicked out of the tribe and die.

Is that your position? Exactly. Yeah. I mean, the only reason we feel, um, as though we need to respond, right is because we think that there’s someone at the other end who is going to get annoyed by us if we don’t respond quickly. Um, and, and that’s the drive to actually respond to check these things and, you know, Facebook and everything works off the fact that we are part of groups. Um, they would, that they have groups in there that you’re part of and how many connections you have, how many friends you have, how many likes you have that shows how much you’re part of these groups and how, how important you are within those groups. And so, you know, the fear of missing out on all these things which we’ve never had before is all associated with that drive to actually connect and you’re part of that tribe. Um, and not get kicked out of that tribe because we miss a text or I miss something. Um, in that, yeah. Which is crazy. Right. It’s because the most of these people we don’t know. Yeah, I would certainly say it’s irrational. I mean, I was gonna ask you about an, an ex, you, you gave the old fashioned example of um subliminal messaging in, in old advertising and said that the um the current way to do it is far more manipulative.

And I was going to ask you what’s a, what’s an example of a current way which is manipulative? But is that uh one of them? Yeah. So, well, one of them is, is the, the, the likes that we have on, on Facebook, for example, Facebook has admitted that when, when someone gets a, like, they don’t give that like to the person who received the, like, straight away, they actually hold off on that, like, and give it to a, to give it to them based on, uh, intermittent reinforcement schedules to increase the, like, the amount of dopamine they’ll receive, which increases the likelihood of them getting addicted to looking for those likes. Um, it, the intermittent reinforcement schedules have been something that’s been studied for many years in psychology. Um, and they were, they’re used by, uh, casinos and so on in their gambling machines and, and so on to make sure that people stay gambling and continue to gamble and get the biggest high when they actually get, um, AAA win or any sort of, you know, reward from those things.

Um, they’re also, of course, using gaming, um, to, to get people to stay on the games when they’re actually playing the games and, and Facebook and social media platforms use the same algorithms to, to get people to become addicted to looking at their Facebook and wanting those likes and putting up more, more things. So they’ll get more likes and so on. So that’s one of the ways that they’re manipulating us. Um Just the likes themselves, of course, are very manipulated because, you know, it’s, it’s giving you this head of dopamine but then they, they add that extra component to it. Um And then of course, they show us stuff that, that we know that they know uh where we’re, we’re into. So with Facebook, um many of the other social media platforms, uh they use our friends to decide what they’ll actually feed us and then they also use what we’ve been searching for. They have algorithm to work out what we’ve been searching for and everything else that we’ve been doing on the internet to work out what we’re gonna like the most and then they’ll feed us that information and they have some very sophisticated algorithms in the background to work out what that’ll be tiktok do it slightly differently.

Tiktok. Um Actually don’t do it based on our friends tiktok does it purely based on our uh viewing time. So how much we view any particular video and then they feed us more of those types of videos um so that we’ll actually stay on it. So they do it in slightly different ways. But both, you know, are, are very sophisticated algorithms that we, we, you know, have a lot of difficult fighting against. Um, and they really do make sure that we’re, what we’re being fed, keeps our attention and keeps us on the devices. I wanted to ask you about, um, the fact that the, the government stepped in, in the sixties and created a law uh against it, uh, subliminal advertising and, um, I’ve heard some, I don’t know what you would call. It, perhaps murmurs around um making smartphones illegal for younger people. Um Would you be in favor of that? And uh what age would you suggest? Someone is able to use a smartphone? I prefer if they would actually make the algorithms illegal, I think that would be a much more effective um treatment, I think.

Um I think there are p po possibly are times when a younger person needs a mobile phone. You know, if, if they’re going places at night or if they’re doing things and so on and it would be safer for them to have a mobile phone. And I think parents, I think we need more education around the fact that the mobile phones are painful. Um But if we got rid of the algorithms that ran in the background, um if we got rid of the likes and got rid of the comments, um then they wouldn’t be anywhere near as addictive as they are now and that that would make it um less harmful for everybody. Uh, and so therefore people would be less likely, um, to, to become addicted to them. So I think the first step I think would be to do that and then perhaps have restrictions on using the phones. But, uh, yeah, so at what age, I mean, I don’t see any reason why someone in primary school would need one unless they go, they need it for safety reasons unless, you know, they have a, you know, a single parent family, for example, and they have to get home from school on the bus and, you know, they’re living in a big city or whatever, you know, perhaps then they might need the phone.

Um, but, but otherwise I, I think, yeah, I wouldn’t give a child a mobile phone until at least in high school. Um, if not later. Ok. Well, someone with young kids, I’m gonna, uh, I’m gonna follow your advice. So, thank you for that. That’s all right. But if, if the government steps in, I would prefer, they step in and get rid of all the algorithms. Um, and the likes I think that’d be, and it’d be a much easier thing for them to do. Well, I’m going to um, take a side step and talk to a highly educated person about my knowledge of the brain. So, um, if this goes wrong, you know, I apologize in advance. Uh I have a, what little I know about the brain was to do. With the fight or flight response and how there’s uh an area of your brain called the Amygdala. And uh that kicks in when you feel fight off light and it sort of takes over. So what I wanted to ask you about is is there, there probably are. But what are the other examples within the brain where that happens?

And how would you know when that happens? Because I find it quite difficult to be able to establish which part of your brain is actually taking over at what time. So what do you think of that question? And how’s my neuroscience knowledge? Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. The Amy when, when the Amygdala activates part of the Amygdala, the Amygdala is actually made up of, of um several nodes. Um And one of those nodes is, is associated with the final flight response. And when that node activates it then activates your final flight response and your flight response uh is just then your heart rate speeds up. More blood is to your muscles and away from your stomach, which is why you get that funny feeling in your stomach and feel a little bit sick when it happens. Um And you, you start sweating because more blood’s been pumped to your muscles. So they actually heat up a bit, but that’s so that you can actually either run or fight. Um And then, you know, you get changes in your eyes and so on as well. So you can tell that it’s happening because your heart starts racing.

Um And that’s how you feel it. And a lot of people who well, anxiety is really due to uh overstimulation of the Amygdala. So the Amygdala keeps firing even though there’s no reason for that fight or flight response and therefore their heart starts racing a lot and they feel really anxious about it. Um So that’s, you know, associated with anxiety. But I think the thing that we get a bit wrong about the brain is this idea that, you know, it’s the Amygdala is taken over or the orbitofrontal area, which is your emotions taken over or somewhere else is taken over when we know that your whole brain is working all the time and it’s always all working and no particular reason region ever ever takes over. There’s just more of an emphasis on one region because it becomes hyperactive compared to other regions. So everything’s always running at the same time and, and everything is always happening. Um It’s just that we have um we notice some things more than we notice other things.

So there’s lots of areas of your brain um which are involved in storage of your, of your long term memory, but we don’t have any access to our long-term memory. So we’re not aware of that at all because it’s, it’s uh it’s parts of our brain that we’re unaware of and consciousness that we’re aware of. So, what you, you know, you’re aware of now when I’m talking, which is what you’re actually listening to, uh, is your working memory, but that’s really limited. So most of what our brain is doing when we’re not aware of, most of it happens without our awareness, which is why about somewhere between 50 60% of what we do every day, we do automatically without any awareness at all. Um, and they’re all the habits that we do constantly. And so most of what we’re doing and most of what our brains do, we don’t know anything about. And then there’s a few things that come to our consciousness or come to our working memory such as when our fight or flight response goes off because we get that anxious feeling, we get, get that heart rate um going really quickly and, and it’s basically the, is really just trying to capture your attention so that you’ll notice what could be potentially a, a um threatening situation or a fearful situation, we’ve actually got to do something about.

Um And that’s why we sort of, we notice it and we think that it’s taken over, but it’s not really taken over because there’s all this other stuff already going on as well. Um So, yeah, I think, I think one of the, the biggest um misunderstandings about the brain is is that, that the whole brain is working all the time. It, it’s just that we’ve only got this little tiny bit of it, our working memory, which is really, really capacity limited, which we’re actually aware of and everything else is going on without our awareness. But it’s all doing stuff for us, which is what most of what we do we do without, without being aware of it. So, is, um, one of those misconceptions, uh we only use 10% of our brain or something along those lines is that, is that one that you hear all the time and think that’s just not true. Yeah, that’s absolute nonsense. And it’s a silly one because where it came from, um, is the idea that, you know, we’ve had people in the past like Einstein or like Da Vinci who are extremely intelligent and if you compare what they are able to do to the average person, the average person only did about 10% of what they did.

And so therefore the average person only uses 10% of their brain compared to those people. But then that’s it. Yeah, absolute nonsense out. Uh, we’re using our whole brain all the time and we’re using everything that we’ve got all the time and, and the more you use it, the better it gets and the stronger it gets. So, you know, those people really did just a lot of them. Well, in the case of Da Einstein, right? He just, all he did was focus on physics. Um, and, and, and theoretical physics and he he had, um, all his suits, exactly the same color and exactly the same style and all of his shirts were, were the same color and the same style and he only had two pairs of shoes that were exactly the same and all his socks were the same color. So they didn’t have it to make any decisions in the morning. Cos, all he wanted to do was think about physics and all he did was think about physics. Now, if you or I spent all their time doing nothing but thinking about physics, then we would probably do just as amazing at physics as he was. But then a lot of other things when we’re not good at and there was a lot of other things that he probably wasn’t good at as well.

Um So, yeah, no, we, we use 100% of our brains all the time. Thank you for that. Um You mentioned about the uh the clarification on um the Amygdala and anxiety. Um Is there anything that you do differently from, let’s say what a therapist would encourage um as a result of your knowledge about the brain, if you were facing, for example, feelings of anxiety. Yeah, anxiety is a tough one because again, it’s the anxiety is a learned behavior. Um So it’s come about either because of a severe thing that’s happened. Something really shocking has happened to you and therefore you’ve all of a sudden got this anxiety towards it. Um or it’s come about due to a slow process where you’ve actually done the same thing over and over again and that’s built it up. And I think COVID is a great example of, of how anxieties can come about due to a slower process. Because during COVID, um we, a lot of us or most of us in most countries were told we had to socially isolate and we were locked away.

And so we spent time with less people, we spent time with very few people. And so over that period that we were by ourselves, we our brains adapted to that new situation which was being with one or two or 34 maybe people, very few people all day, every day for long periods of time. So our brains adapted to that we got used to it. And then of course, when all those lockdowns and everything stopped and we were told, oh, you come out into the real world again. Um A lot of people that they then had social anxiety because then when they came out into the real world, their brain was used to being isolated, it was used to being by itself and that’s what they’d adapted to. And so all of a sudden they had to come out and be with people and they got, you know, the fight or flight response in response to that because of the fact that their brains, their brains had readjusted. Um and, and had now become this uh in this new state. And so they need to, to get over that. You need to, you need to challenge that you need to then spend time with people even though it is anxiety provoking so that you get over it and your brain readjusts to this new situation.

So, um yeah, realizing why these things happen and then adjusting to them by actually treating the bloke confronting it is, is, is the best way to do it. And, and this is the way most therapists would do it. I just think, yeah, I’ll leave it now. I won’t, I won’t ever go to therapist, but I do find some therapists um these days, especially there’s a lot of problems with triggering. Um And so therefore, they’re, they’re, they’re really, they’re, they’re enabling people to continue with the same situation rather than actually getting them to challenge that situation or challenge that belief. Um And I think we need to get back to challenging those beliefs and, and actually working on improving rather than enabling us to stay in the same situation because I don’t think that’s healthy. So, um your position would be in order to change the feelings. Um You should change your behaviors before you attempt to change the way you think. Yeah, it’s beautiful but much, much more succinct than my feet. Yeah, I’ll take credit for your answer.

Don’t worry, this is completely non related to what we’ve spoken about so far and is actually not on your list of things that you’ve covered. So, feel free to decline if you don’t have any, uh, strong position. But as a topic in, uh, philosophy, which is heavily talked about, but as you’re a neuroscientist, I’d like to know what your opinion is or your thoughts. Uh, and it’s free will. So, to what degree does a human have free will, um, or is there some, shall we say degrees of free will? Um Just, what are your thoughts on that topic? Oh, beautiful. Um, yeah, I, I used to teach philosophy actually. Um philosophy of science. So I’m a huge fan of philosophy and all scientists should be because philosophy is one major component of all sciences. Um But yeah, no, I don’t think we have any free will at all. Um So everything’s predetermined and it’s all predetermined because of the fact that we never make decisions in isolation. So every time we make a decision, it’s based on our prior experiences.

And so therefore it can’t be based on free will. It has to be based on something that’s already been predetermined by our own experience that we’ve had previously. So, uh if I asked you if you want to have a vegemite sandwich or a jam sandwich, let’s go that jam sandwich or a peanut sandwich. Uh The, your decision then will be determined by your previous experiences with vegemite sandwiches or, and with jam sandwiches. Um, it, it wouldn’t be random, um, and notice we don’t make any decisions randomly, it makes them more based on our prior experiences and what we’ve, what we’ve done previously, which means that it’s predetermined. And have you got a, um, a working definition in relation to free will, free will or, uh, is there, I suppose the issue, the issue of, uh, of this topic is, um, I find, um, the definition of terms. So what it is that you, that people think of as free will versus do you think we have any agency at all or do you think that there is just, it’s just significantly less than what people think that they do?

Yeah. No, I think that it’s, it’s significantly less than what I think there is. Um, uh, because of the fact that we never actually make a decision completely randomly and the only time you do, my, my, my, my, um, brother-in-law is actually, um, a psychologist has been for a long time now. Um, and one of the, with the things he says with his clients, he works with a lot of clients, um, who have major issues with making decisions and he always says to them, well, if, if you’re having an issue making a decision then just flip a coin and say, hey, it’s this, uh, it’s this and tails to that. Um, and then when you do that you’ll come up with, uh, the answer. And if you feel sad or, or, or, um emotional about the answer then take the other thing because that’s actually what you wanted. Um And again, it’s not random, right? Because you still are doing it based on how you feel. Um, a and, and that’s the way we make all decisions.

It is based on the way we feel on, on how, and, and our feelings of course, are based on our experiences. Um And so therefore, we’re never making a decision completely randomly. It’s always based on, on our prior experiences, which means that it’s got to be predetermined. Well, thank you for the answer. Um I think probably we could spend the whole episode talking about it. So I don’t want to go too far and philosophers that have been talking about for years, yeah, and maybe never, never come to a full conclusion on it. Um But uh yeah, I appreciate the answer. Anyway, you mentioned uh the misconceptions around uh you know, the, the brain, what are the most interesting, would you say discoveries that we’ve made around the brain uh in your view? Um The neuroplasticity, I think the, the recently neuroplasticity. So, the fact that our brains are constantly changing. So uh we used to 25 no, 30 years ago, um based on work at the other day and people like that, we thought that the brain went through these stages um during our early life and they, they were critical and if you didn’t get through each of these stages, then you’d never be able to develop certain abilities.

Um, and then once we got to late teens, early twenties and that was the brain that we had. And then after that, once we hit adulthood, it just slowly atrophied and we didn’t get any better, we couldn’t get any better and we basically got worse over time. But I, in the early two thousands, we realized that that’s actually not true. And our brains are plastic throughout our lives and there aren’t any critical periods. Uh, the whole period of P RJ is these critical periods in childhood actually isn’t true. Um, and you can change your brain at any stage. And the IQ idea actually is flawed because when you, uh, test someone’s IQ, all it gives you is a measure of their IQ on that day, but then their IQ is gonna change the next day and the next day and the next day and, and our IQ can actually increase or decrease quite dramatically even during our teenage years, but also all through our adult life. Um, so I think that’s the, the coolest and the most recent study, especially as someone who’s a little bit older.

Um, knowing that I can still get more intelligent and I can still learn and I can still get better. Um, is really, really cool and I think it’s something that if everybody knew that, but I think it would change um, a lot of people’s outlooks on life and get us all. Uh, um, yeah, working harder to keep our brains healthy. And is there any age at which, uh, that becomes, uh, not true anymore or is it just, you can continue to get more and more, uh, intelligent as you, as you age? No, there, there, there doesn’t seem to be, um, there is, there seems to be a limit based on, um, the individuals, um, uh, uh, overall health. So, um, if an individual doesn’t keep, you know, their whole body healthy, um, then you know, the cardiovascular and all the rest. But if you are healthy and you stay healthy, there’s no reason why you can’t, you know, they, they’ve done a recent study where, um, retirees learnt a completely new language to the level that a native speaker couldn’t tell that they weren’t a native speaker.

So, which is something that we believe just wasn’t possible 30 years ago. Um, so, yeah. No, it doesn’t seem to be any, there doesn’t seem to be any limit up to it. And they’ve now found, you know, people in their eighties and nineties who are just as sharp as they would have been in their twenties. It’s great. And, uh what would you say the implications of, uh, that if, if everyone knew what the implications of that piece of information? Well, we know that things like Alzheimer’s disease, neurodegenerative diseases that we get later on in life, which seem to be on the increase and are all due to our capacity. So, if your brain same as your muscles, right, if, if your brain is really, really healthy, then you’re far less likely to get those new degenerative diseases. And so if everybody kept their brains really healthy and kept exercising and kept using their brains throughout their lives and into their after retirement and so on, then they, they’d be far less likely to get any of those neurodegenerative diseases, which, you know, are really causing issues in nursing homes and in hospitals and healthcare systems and all these things.

Um Plus your, your own um, quality of life, of course, decreases when you get those diseases as well. So everyone would live a long their lives. Um, and we’d have less impact on healthcare systems as well if we all looked after our brains and actually kept them healthy. And I think it’s really important for people to realize that we not only need to exercise our bodies, we need to exercise our brains and keep our brains healthy so that they will continue to work well, you know, well into our seventies, eighties, nineties. And have you got any thoughts on um, the examples of what that might be like, um, reading or chess or uh activities that people can do? Yeah. So the, the one thing that actually a activates more of your brain than anything else you can do and that that is socializing. So actually spending time with people face to face, um it has to be face to face cos diff there’s a big difference in how a brain responds when we’re on a device compared to face to face. But if you are meeting up with people regularly and having conversations with them and discussions, people, you trust and people, you’re willing to have deep and meaningful conversations and talk about, you know, things like whether or not we have free will and all those sorts of things then, um, that’s, that can increase your lifespan by up to 15 years, just by doing that because our brains have actually evolved because we’re a social animal.

That’s, that’s one of the most important things for us to do. And one of the things that, well, it is the thing that actually activates more of our brain and exercises, more of our brain than anything else we can do. So I would say, you know, do that as much as you can. Reading is also really, really good. Um, reading both fiction and non fiction. Um, for different reasons. Uh, non-fiction is really good because it gives you, uh, a lot of information and exercises areas of your brain as associated with knowledge and thinking and those sorts of things. So, because you’re laying down new memories and you’re understanding the world better. Um, a fiction. Um, on the other hand, it actually really exercises areas of your brain and associated, um, with imagination and also with empathy, um, and emotional intelligence and these things. So it’s really good for those. So, having a mixture when you’re reading, having a mixture of nonfiction and fiction, um, is actually really beneficial as well. So I, although I just wrote a non-fiction book so I should be saying just read fiction.

No non-fiction. Right. But, um, yeah, reading both is actually really good for your brain. Um And then anything that challenges you, so you things like chests and so on, but you’ve got to be careful not to do the same thing. So it’s a bit like, um, again, like exercise. If you, if you sat there and did, you know, 200 biceps curls every day that didn’t do anything else, then as soon as you went to pick up a box, you’re gonna hurt yourself because you’ll have big biceps and, and everything else will have atrophy and your brains the same. If you, if you’re just playing chess every day, then that’s not gonna be beneficial for all the other areas of your brain. Um And so therefore it isn’t good at extending that. So playing chess is good, but you don’t want to just be playing chess every day. You wanna play chess and you wanna read and you, you, you wanna go socialize. And so, yeah, a range of things is, is much more important than just doing one thing all the time on socializing and reading books is also a societal good as well as a uh a self-interest.

So I’d say those are, those are pretty good to, to get started. So, um you mentioned, uh you mentioned the book, uh what’s it called? And um what was it like to read it? Uh write it rather. Yeah, it’s called the connected species. How the evolution of the human brain can change the world. Um It’s, it’s based on, yeah, a lot of the research that I’ve done over the last 25 years. Um And then of course, a lot of other even more brilliant people out there that have done amazing work in this area. Um It’s I wrote it during COVID um because I, well, I’ve been meaning to, I’ve been asked to write it actually a couple of times um prior to that. But when I saw COVID and I saw uh the separation that was happening and, and a lot of the negative things that were happening to us, but also a lot of the positive things that were coming out of that as well. I realized that it was about time. I actually sat down and wrote it, but it, it’s on the fact that our brains have evolved and we’ve become the alpha species through connection, through actually being able to cooperate and being able to collaborate and to be able to empathize and all these things.

And so that’s what’s really enabled us to become the species in the world. Um But unfortunately, we’re being torn apart at the moment and we’re not using that in the same way as we used to in the last 10, 15 years has been very detrimental to our species. And we need to make some really positive changes now to, to evolve um to continue to evolve in a positive direction. Um And then, yeah, each chapter has tips as to how we can do that in a more positive way so that we can all become more connected and more collaborative and more productive and uh more loving. Sounds like AAA well worth um where you would spend your time. Sounds like um something that you should definitely do. So thank you for, for writing it and I wish you all the best with um with the sale of it and I hope you do well with it. Uh Is there anything that I should have asked you about today? You just stumped me there after you go. No, I think that I think we covered a lot, a lot of ground. Um Yeah. Yeah. No, II I think we did cover a lot of a lot of ground.

I think we covered the big, the big issues um that are probably on mine in my mind at the moment. Um Yeah, getting us all back to being connected and, and decreasing the reliance on, on multinational tech companies. I think the two are the, the big cracks at the moment. Um So yeah, I, I, yeah, no, I think, I think we covered most of it. Thank you, Thomas. Well, thank you for being a great guest and if people want to connect with you or buy the book, where do they go? Uh If you go to doctor Mark Williams dot com, that’s DrMarkWilliams.com. Um That’s my website. You can sign up to my newsletter, um which is free. Um And on there, there’s links to all the books head to where the books are on sale. Um The, I mean, told a publisher, I’m not allowed to name a particular books place bookshop, um but you can get it at any, any retailer. Um Yeah, the connected species dot com. Uh sorry, the connected species. Um Yeah. So if you go to doctor Mars dot com and it’ll send you to whichever bookshop you like um to get your bookshop.

Well, thank you for sharing your knowledge and being a great guest. Thank you, Thomas. Thanks for having me on.