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The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

‘The Science of Fate’ and how to grow your brain

Why did I do that? Will my child avoid drugs? How can I stop eating too much? Can I avoid Alzheimer’s? Angela J. Phillip discusses the latest findings presented by neuroscientist Hannah Critchlow in her recently released book.

Fate and Environment intertwined – can we escape our past?
Our basic brain architecture with its neural pathways and trillions of connections is already in place when we are born. Most of our behaviour patterns, including addictive ones, are hereditary but our environment and we ourselves can either promote or try to prevent these behaviours. So Hannah Critchlow’s answer to this question is – yes, but not entirely. We can change, but it’s not easy and we’ve got to work with what we’ve got – that is, our own self (body and mind) the person we are now, the product of our past (and our deep past from before we were born).

Coffee and cake at Kassa

Coffee and cake at Kassa

Eating too much and other addictive behaviours

70% of our food behaviour is determined by our genes so that leaves 30% due to environmental factors. Underlying that are two powerful facts:

  1. We all eat because our inbuilt reward system of the pleasure hit makes sure we keep looking for food.
  2. Our inbuilt braking system telling us when to stop is too slow so we keep on eating after we’re full. This didn’t matter in the earlier stages of our evolution but it does matter now because most of us have access to virtually unlimited chocolate, pizzas and chips – all of which are yummy. (My grandma used to tell me that I should always stop eating when I thought I could manage a little bit more. Turns out she was right so I should have listened.)

Studies show that a mother’s diet can influence both the appetite and the kinds of food her baby likes.  This applies, too, to foods given early in the child’s life. These effects can last a lifetime.

Eating habits are harder to change as you get older – but it is possible. Hannah  Critchlow suggests that anything like Weight Watchers works well. It works because it’s easier to make changes together with others in the same situation. The social aspect makes a big difference.

It’s the same story with other addictive behaviours like alcohol, heroin, tobacco etc. Our predispositions are set before we’re born but the addictions need a trigger. Unfortunately, the triggers are readily available. Fighting these addictions is hard but possible. One of the best ways is through social groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous), especially if these include people who have succeeded in kicking the addiction themselves. The brain waves of others (more of that in a minute) make a difference. It is the inter-connectedness of us all and particularly the chance to be with those who are similar and sympathetic and who can act as role models that can make a huge difference.

Extinction Rebellion in Hastings

Extinction Rebellion in Hastings

Changing our Minds is hard – but not impossible!

One of the hardest things to do, and it gets harder as we get older is to change our minds. Our opinions and belief systems rest first of all on the predispositions of our brain’s architecture set before we were born and then on top of that we choose (or think we choose) information from facts and life experience to build up a complex set of opinions with which we feel comfortable.

The brain’s default preference is to fit anything new into the existing structure. Making significant changes is not attractive because a) it costs a lot of energy to change some of the neural pathways, and b) our social network is usually of a similar mindset so making changes means readjusting relationships.

But change can happen. There can be positive social change where people lead by example and eventually the new behaviour becomes the norm. Look at what Extinction Rebellion has already achieved. And there is the dark side where far-right groups have manipulated Facebook feeds to stir up fear of immigrants and push people into feelings of hatred so that they change how they vote. We are all susceptible but we can all think and act and knowledge is power.

Our brains with their 100 trillion connections (!!!) always take the path of least resistance because change and growth is hard work, especially as we get older. But the brain is plastic and there are ways to make it grow. This sounds a bit like growing a cabbage and I thought of writing something like ‘making the mind expand’ but that is not quite correct. This book tells you how to make the brain grow as in – how to increase the number of neurons you have.

How to make the brain feel good, stay healthy and grow

Synchronise brain waves
A baby learns language more quickly and effectively if her mother or carer looks into her eyes while talking to her. It works for adults who are learning a new language, too. Studies have shown that if the learner looks into the eyes of the native speaker, language learning is expedited. Interestingly, this effect will not occur if the learner looks at someone on the tv or on a computer screen, for example.

Sing, laugh and hug
The best predictor of recovery from a heart attack is not how many cigarettes you smoke or what your diet is, it is the strength of your support network and friendships. These have a positive effect on your immune system and lead to a faster recovery.

When a person experiences social rejection, the effect on the brain is similar to being physically punched.

You need to laugh, hug and sing. When you laugh with others, your brain lights up with B-endorphin and also when you hug, sing or tell stories. It’s the same when you dance or do synchronous movements such as aerobic exercises with others.

Vocal Explosion - choir

Vocal Explosion – choir

Singing together is best of all. It seems to synchronise our brain waves and make us comfortable with each other. Storytelling or a community singalong is an excellent way of fighting loneliness and boosting immune systems. It’s also great for keeping our brains healthy.

If you feel like singing in Hastings, there are many possibilities. You could join a choir or go to a singalong in a pub. The Stag Inn, for example, has folk sessions every Tuesday night where people just stand up and sing and everybody joins in. On Thursdays, they frequently have song nights. It is free, friendly and everyone is welcome. Please check the website below for details.

Singalong in the Stag Inn

Move, move, move! It’s the new mantra to stay healthy and it’s based on solid research findings. Every step you take, every move you make…..  increases heart and brain health. It will help new neurons to start growing in your brain. It will help ward off Alzheimer’s and slow down brain ageing.

Walks around Hastings
Saturday Walkers Club

Surprisingly, meditation which is the opposite of movement has been shown to promote brain growth, too. (Read the book to find out more.)

Aro Meditation – free internet course
Meditation Groups in and near Hastings
HuManifestation Meditation – Sat Jun 15th (a meditation organised by Extinction Rebellion)

These are just a few of the findings that Hannah Critchlow has gathered together and presented in her book. She raises important questions about what society will do with the new information. Should we edit genes? Should people be told about their health predictions? How can we prevent this knowledge being abused?

The message that we have less free will than we thought needs to be absorbed. It is not a comforting message. What this seems to mean is that we have to work harder at forging new pathways so that we can move forward. The Science of Fate presents an important collection of findings. I find that I’m currently doing what it says in the book: I’m putting together this new information and trying to fit it together with my current belief systems. This book is fascinating, readable and highly recommended.

For further information, please see:
The Science of Fate: why your future is more predictable than you think by Hannah Critchlow
Changing the way that you think is cognitively costly – Interview with Hannah Critchlow in The Observer
Review of The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow in The Herald, Scotland

If you’re looking for the Forthcoming events and info plus chatty bits, I’ve moved them into a separate post because people couldn’t find them. Here it is.
Have a good week and see you next Tuesday.
Angela J. Phillip







Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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