Regardless of what you might think of Elon Musk, and there are no shortage of opinions, particularly given his eccentricities, it probably makes sense to pay attention, at least tangentially, to some of the things he is saying and doing. He is trying to colonize Mars after all.

In a past interview with Joe Rogan, Musk said something that we would do well to take note of:

The cortex is mostly in service to the limbic system. People may think that the thinking part of themselves is in charge, but it’s mostly their limbic system that’s in charge. And the cortex is trying to make the limbic system happy. That’s what most of that computing power is. It’s launched towards, ‘How can I make the limbic system happy?’ That is what it’s trying to do.

He made this comment in the context of Artificial Intelligence. For him, enhancing our cognitive abilities depends on having enough bandwidth to eliminate any separation between our cortex and the AI extension of ourselves. Once we solve the data rate problem, enabling super human cognition becomes an inevitability. In other words, it will be like connecting our smart phones directly to our brains. We become, in a very literal sense, a kind of cyborg (his words, not mine).

Look, I have no idea how to qualify his remarks regarding the future of cyborgs. However, he is absolutely right: the limbic system is generally in charge.

This is counter to most peoples’ understanding of what drives human behavior, particularly in high-stress environments. Most people believe that we are primarily thinking creatures. We are not. It is our feelings that drive most of what we do, which is why we often do things we know we shouldn’t or don’t do things we know we should. As much as we like to believe otherwise, we are not the rational, reasonable people we tend to think we are. It takes a tremendous amount of training and discipline to subject our feelings to our thoughts. Given the opportunity, therefore, if our thoughts and feelings are in conflict—if we think we should do one thing but feel like doing another—most people will rationalize why they should do what they feel like doing.

Again, as Musk said, the natural instinct of our cortex is to make our limbic system happy; which means that it’s a relatively cheap date—i.e., it is easily manipulated. You’ve been warned.

For this reason, it is imperative that we learn to tell compelling stories. Stories have the power to activate the limbic system and release dopamine, prompting positive, even persuasive, feelings. The objective, therefore, is not just to elicit an intellectual response, but an emotional one as well. Unfortunately, most of us haven’t been taught this.

Facts are important—critically important. So, too, is the testimony of others, of course. However, to inspire human behavior—to include our own—it can’t just be about the facts or the testimonies. It must also be about the narrative. In our attempts to persuade, we want people to want whatever we’re ‘selling’. Otherwise, we might be trying to convince them to make a decision that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to make. If you’ve ever been married or have children, you should be acutely aware that appealing only to the intellect is generally a losing strategy. It’s the difference between a bullet list of statistics and a true story written by your favorite author.

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