Making Sense with Sam Harris #168 — Mind, Space, & Motion

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Barbara Tversky about how our senses of space and motion underlie our capacity for thought.

They discuss the evolution of mind prior to language, the importance of imitation and gesture, the sensory and motor homunculi, the information communicated by motion, the role of “mirror neurons,” sense of direction, natural and unnatural categories, cognitive trade-offs, and other topics.

“Spacial thinking is the foundation of thought.”

“Hand and lips have larger mapped real estate (neurons in brain) than other parts of our body like back or legs.”

“If you sit on your hands while reading your memory recall rate drops by 70%.”

“Evolutionary terms: if you can’t move, sense the environment around you, and respond with any action in that space, there is no basis to evolve intelligence or anything else. Intelligence only matters because you can do something with it that affects your survival. A sense of world, the capacity to move within it had to have came online very very early long before language does.”

Real-World Application

This is fascinating since it backs so many of the common topics we hear in our society like:

  • Learn by using all your senses eg. highlight what you read, take notes into your favorite app (even if you won’t read it again), share your notes/learnings with a friend or family and be animated when explaining what you learnt etc..
  • Kids at schools should not sit quietly while learning and instead need PE/constant spatial motion to develop their intelligence. Yes California I’m looking at you and your “PE not required for Kinder nonsense!”
  • Using hands/gestures when presenting publicly or privately helps memory recall since movement is the foundation of brain development. Next time you are stuck on something, get animated!

Listening vs Reading

You probably read the doom and gloom articles on how listening is not as effective as reading. What they fail to address is the different behavior people take when being engaged with each type of medium. Reading is engaging: turning pages, highlighting text using a pen and even scribbling in the margins.


Get one of those screen pens from a tech conference or your local store and start engaging with the digital medium by taking notes of podcasts using that pen. When done share what you’ve learnt with friends and family and/or even write a blog post. I think you will find that your ability to retain will be identical if not better than reading a book.

Real life application to Child Development

The practical side of the theory in this podcast is spot on with the great work is doing for newborns and toddlers. Sensory Lifestyle is dedicated to sharing evidence based play ideas & parenting resources that will help you feel confident in your parenting and boost your child’s development.

~ Ernest
Onwards and upwards!