How can we predict success in humans?
Michio Kaku explains the three main sections of the human brain and the trait that he believes to be a key indicator of success in life.
MICHIO KAKU: Well, if you look at the history of the evolution of the brain itself, you realize that the brain is basically in three parts. The back of the brain is the so-called reptilian brain, the oldest brain, the brain of space, the brain of a reptile, that has to locate its prey, its mate, and understand its position in space; that's the back of the brain. As we evolved to the front, we evolved the monkey brain, the brain of society, hierarchy, emotions; the brain that tells you about manners, about etiquette, how to respect your elders. That's the central part of the brain, the monkey brain.
Then the front part of the brain is the most important part for us, that distinguishes us from the animals. You see, the animals have a back of the brain, the spatial brain. The animals have a social brain, like wolves. They have a pecking order in the center of the brain.
So what do we have? What do we have that the animals don't necessarily have? The front part of the brain governs time. It constantly thinks about the future. It constantly reruns alternate scenarios of what could be the future, plans, dreams, strategizes. Animals don't do that.
When animals hibernate, it's not that they say, 'Oh, I've got to hibernate. Time for me to get ready to hibernate.' Nope. Animals simply say: Instinct tells me I've got to get ready, and I've got to hibernate.
So what is it that makes humans different from animals? And how is it related to success as a human? It's the ability to see the future, to see the future in all its messiness, to be able to re-create scenarios of the future which are realistic.
Now, let's go to a psychologist and ask him a simple question: Is there a test that correlates children with success in life? That's a big question. Success in life and childhood—is there a test that you can perform? It's not perfect, of course. But yeah, there is a test that's been done around the world. You test kids, and a few decades later, you try to find out if they're successful or not.
And you find that, yes, there's one characteristic that does seem to correlate with success in life, lower divorce rate, higher income, higher social status. What is that one characteristic? It's measured by the marshmallow test. The marshmallow test—you give children the option of eating a marshmallow now or two marshmallows a few hours later. And then you follow these kids for decades in different countries. Now, it's not perfect, of course. But you'll find that there is a measurable correlation.
Now, what's the lesson here? The lesson is the kids who wanted two marshmallows later saw the future. They are the ones who want to plan, the ones who want to go to college, the ones who want to make something of themselves, that hold out. Now, who are the ones who simply get that first marshmallow? It's not perfect, but a lot of them want shortcuts, shortcuts in life, the easy way out.
Now, let's do a science experiment that all of us can perform. If you've graduated from school, and you meet your friends years later, like at a reunion, mentally, you ask yourself a simple question. Where are my friends now? After so many years, I haven't seen them. I think maybe they're successful. Or I know this guy. This guy's a loser. He's not going to go anywhere in the world.
And you meet them. And yeah, you make some mistakes. But I found that, when I go to my reunions, yeah, the people I thought would be successful became successful. And the ones I thought took shortcuts, yeah, they took shortcuts in life. And so that's why I think the measure of success is seeing the future, that is, running simulations of the future over and over again, day-dreaming: Should I go to college? Should I get a PhD? Should I become this? Should I do that? Working out all the different scenarios, versus the shortcut: I can cut corners. I can steal here. I can fudge this. I could lie about that. That, I think, is the criterion for success in life.
- The brain evolved in three parts, from back to front: First, the so-called reptilian brain or spatial brain; then the monkey or social brain; and the most recently evolved section is the frontal lobe, which understands time.
- What's so special about this temporal ability? It allows humans to forecast into the future—to consciously plan, dream and strategize. That's a unique trait in the animal kingdom.
- Physicist Michio Kaku believes this trait may also define success among our species, as evidenced by the global correlation in the marshmallow test: Those who wait for the second marshmallow tend to be more successful in life. Listen to Kaku explain why that ability to look ahead and not take shortcuts may be an important predictor of success.
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While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
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