The conscious mind can only pay attention to about four things at once. If you've got these nagging voices in your head telling you to remember to pick up the laundry and call so-and-so, they're competing in your brain for neural resources with the stuff you're actually trying to do, like getting your work done.
We need to blinker ourselves, to better monitor our attentional focus. Enforced periods of no email or Internet to allow us to sustain concentration have been shown to be tremendously helpful. And breaks - even a 15-minute break every two or three hours - make us more productive in the long run.
The history of science and culture is filled with stories of how many of the greatest scientific and artistic discoveries occurred while the creator was not thinking about what he was working on, not consciously anyway - the daydreaming mode solved the problem for him, and the answer appeared suddenly as a stroke of insight.
I don't think we should have less information in the world. The information age has yielded great advances in medicine, agriculture, transportation and many other fields. But the problem is twofold. One, we are assaulted with more information than any one of us can handle. Two, beyond the overload, too much information often leads to bad decisions.
Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.
Having learned something, we tend to cling to that belief, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. New information comes in all time, and the thing we ought to be thinking about doing is changing our beliefs as that new information comes in.
I think of the brain as a computational device: It has a bunch of little components that perform calculations on some small aspect of the problem, and another part of the brain has to stitch it all together, like a tapestry or a quilt.
Music can be thought of as a type of perceptual illusion in which our brain imposes structure and order on a sequence of sounds. Just how this structure leads us to experience emotional reactions is part of the mystery of music.
Use the environment to remind you of what needs to be done. If you're afraid you'll forget to buy milk on the way home, put an empty milk carton on the seat next to you in the car or in the backpack you carry to work on the subway.
Yes, there were piano bands and great rock pianists, from Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Elton John. But something about the electric guitar speaks of more than music - it epitomizes and gives voice to the rebellion, power, and sexuality of rock.
One big promise of the Internet was that it would be a great democratizing force, allowing us to become exposed to new ideas that we might not otherwise encounter in our town, workplace or social circle.
Procrastination comes in two types. Some of us procrastinate in order to pursue restful activities - spending time in bed, watching TV - while others delay difficult or unpleasant tasks in favor of those that are more fun.
Approximating involves making a series of educated guesses systematically by partitioning the problem into manageable chunks, identifying assumptions, and then using your general knowledge of the world to fill in the blanks.
We need to support the media by subscribing to newspapers and magazines and supporting their advertisers to stay in business. And we need to be less greedy and allow journalists to take the time to pull the story together.
What it turns out is that we think we're multitasking, but we're not. The brain is sequential tasking: we flit from one thought to the next very, very rapidly, giving us the illusion that what we're doing is doing all these things at once.
Music and dance have also always been a communal activity, something that everyone participated in. The thought of a musical concert in which a class of professionals performed for a quiet audience was virtually unknown throughout our species' history.
If we are to appropriate money for roads, we need statistics on how bad our roads really are and, moreover, where more roads will be beneficial - it would be irresponsible to just build them where our gut tells us to.
Google is a company whose very existence depends on innovation - on inventing things that are new and didn't exist before - and on refining existing ideas and technologies to allow consumers to do things they couldn't do before.
Because our ancestors lived in social groups that changed slowly, because they encountered the same people throughout their lives, they could keep almost every social detail they needed to know in their heads.
The state-of-the-art techniques really allowed us to make maps of how Sting's brain organizes music. That's important because at the heart of great musicianship is the ability to manipulate in one's mind rich representation of the desired soundscape.
We're a social species, and we want to get along with the people we like and who are like us. That's just good adaptive behaviour. We're more likely to accept something if we hear it from a friend, whereas we're sceptical of people who are not like us - which is what leads to racism, nationalism, sexism and all forms of bigotry.
We've learned that musical ability is actually not one ability but a set of abilities, a dozen or more. Through brain damage, you can lose one component and not necessarily lose the others. You can lose rhythm and retain pitch, for example, that kind of thing.
Workers in government, the arts, and industry report that the sheer volume of email they receive is overwhelming, taking a huge bite out of their day. We feel obliged to answer our emails, but it seems impossible to do so and get anything else done.
Our brains are very, very good at self-delusion. What happens is, it releases the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which leads to foggy thinking, so you're not even able to judge well whether you're working well or not.