Earlier this week I was reminded of the power of minds meeting.
I believe very strongly, that there is something enormously powerful about people sitting together in a room. Much of my week tends to be spent, sitting with one or more other people, talking, and hopefully thinking together. There is something magical that can happen when minds meet other minds. Regardless of the number, the sum is somehow greater than its parts.
I had prepared for the agenda, but could not have anticipated what the meeting would bring. The energy and dynamism had little to do with the caffeine and sugar which were available on the boardroom table between us. A group of individuals, brought together by a common purpose, and a shared aspiration, breathes potential.
And that's what happened. Abstract concepts may be suddenly brought alive and into reality. Individual ideas can become shared perceptions. Differing opinions can be worked through, and explored. Different conclusions may be drawn, but the process is itself useful.
I get a lot from working around other people. At times, it's one of the things I miss most about working in an office, as part of a team. At other times that very thing is something I don't miss at all. But on Tuesday I was reminded of the power of what can happen when people 'show up' and engage in this profoundly and uniquely human manner. No other species uses its reason to allow our present judgments to be informed by past experience, and nothing else has the power to communicate in the ways we do.
Sometimes it's what doesn't go in the PowerPoint that makes the difference. The things that can't be measured.
Social engagement and functioning have interested and excited me for some time. This interest led me to study classical civilisations, and consider how political and philosophical ideas informed societal interaction.
Aristotle described humans as political animals, from which I infer that we are social beings. We can thrive when we are around others, and are pursuing goals alongside our kin. In this way, social interaction is a cornerstone of human life, yet how this happens remains somewhat mysterious. The neural mechanisms underlying social cognition are still poorly understood.
Recently, research that integrates approaches from neuroscience and social psychology has begun to shed light on these processes, and converging evidence from neuroimaging studies suggests a unique role for
the medial frontal cortex which is capable of meta-cognitive representations which allow us to have 'thoughts about thoughts'.
It is quite possible that this 'thinking about thinking' is what facilitates much social cognition: allowing us to reflect values that other people attach to actions and outcomes, and also to reflect on what other people think about us.