February 11, 2016
James Doty —
The Magic Shop of the Brain

Brain surgeon James Doty is on the cutting edge of our knowledge of the brain and the heart: how they talk to each other; what compassion means in the body and in action; and how we can reshape our lives and perhaps our species through the scientific and human understanding we are now gaining. The backstory of James Doty’s passions is told in his memoir, Into the Magic Shop. In the summer of 1968, in the throes of a hardscrabble, perilous childhood, he wandered into a magic shop and met a woman named Ruth who taught him what she called “another kind of magic” that freed him from being a victim of the circumstances of his life, and that he now investigates through science.

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is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and founding director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. He is the author of Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart.

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The creators of "Kepler’s Dream," Ann-Katrin Krenz and Michael Burk, observe their exhibit at the Ars Electronica Center's Elements of Art and Science exhibition.

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Going through a tough time now and this podcast helps me to remember self care and compassion for myself is important. Great to hear how wonderfully we are made and how what we think impacts our bodies.

As always Krista and her guest create an interesting conversation. I take a different position on one goal of compassion being the eradicating of the "tribal" mentality. Our distinctiveness and particularity as families - or even individuals - create a beauty of diversity that reveals facets of our humanity unable to be known without our differences. That we are both one and separate is a sacred paradox that reflects the tension between the illimitable and the particular. I believe compassion's character calls us to respect the differences in conjunction with our relatedness. Don't become me; be you so that I can witness the myriad possibilities in the world and even in myself. Our differences also challenge us to see and do in ways our similarities do not. It is a larger mind and heart that can stand in the middle of "both/and." I do understand there is a broad spectrum that our "tribal" mentality can lie on and that either extreme is not be the answer. Ruth's compassion and vision for one not of her tribe, saved a boy's understanding of himself and the world. I hope to do such a noble thing in my own way. Thank you again for every thoughtful conversation.

James Doty, I LOVE YOU! Finally, someone who can sensibly talk about the Brain.

I am hopeful that in working with an 8 year old who knows trauma, failure and violence, that possibilities of a useful and happylife is possible.

I am a special education assistant at a inner city high school and work with a majority of students who suffer from mental illness and poverty. I see daily the miracles my colleagues create by listening to and encouraging some really tough kids through the power of their hearts. This show is powerful and I will share it with my colleagues.

I am so touched and inspired by this interview, and I have recommended it to all my colleagues, teachers and administrators, as well as my friends. When he spoke of the young prisoners he has worked with, I heard his heart move to this throat. This man is a scientist and a shaman, and what this man has shared has so many valuable implications for my work as a teacher and a citizen. Truly an inspirational and heartening message. Thank you!

Yes, I was touched and inspired by this interview as well. I recently found Krista Tippett's podcast and I have been touched by several of her interviews. I will continue to travel through her podcasts, as I have found answers and hope I need.
I really liked her interview with Seane Corn as well. Thankfully, I work for myself and am able to put my earbuds in and listen while working.

Sometimes I ask myself, listening to these mostly wonderful interviews, "How can people talk about these things --- which are most profound aspects of our being --- without getting overwhelmed. It was good to hear this happen with Dr Dozy lest these things come across as merely academic discussions. Those broken people are also who we are.

Just an interesting observation about the interview. I'm wondering if James Doty realizes how often during the interview he will answer a question with no and then continue to answer in the positive? "No, you're exactly right?" I loved hearing this conversation and actually the way he used "no" was endearing. I will enjoy reading his book "Into the Magic Shop". What a wonderful goal to so live your life with love and compassion that you encourage others to live likewise! May that be my own goal as well.

This interview with James Doty is the best gift I could ever dream of on a Valentine’s Day morning. What a wonderful human being that interview revealed. I was so touched that, as soon as the broadcast program ended, I went to my computer to listen to the unedited episode which I found even richer.

As Krista Tippett put it, several of James Doty’s statements would indeed deserve figuring on the front page of the New-York Times! Among them the recognition that « What people often do not realize is the power of their intention », a proven observation that constitutes an extension of the Pavlovian reflex in which the inner physiological mechanisms of the very act we are contemplating are already in action before the act itself. Our cognitive prejudices, positive or negative, have power and we respond positively or negatively to the events that reflect them.

I was surprised when Krista Tippett, seemingly taking for universal the alienation found in most modern scientific minds, said: « You constantly walk the line between the human and the scientist… ». And I was equally surprised that James Doty did not directly address that assumption. In practice he did, later on, show that that tragic line does not exist for him, for instance when he told the story of how he shaved the hair of a 4 year old before an operation and gave that hair to the anxious parents, or when he choked-up at the evocation of someone recognizing the humanity in a disaffected 18 year old, and again when he told the story of the young man he had hesitantly given some money to, in San Jose, and who came back later to introduce his mother to him.

At a time when fear is being used right an left by politicians and corporations as a lever to control our lives, I found James Doty’s statement that fear is the emotion that triggers instinctive tribalism most relevant. I wish the current and widespread islamophobia could be understood and healed on the basis of that understanding. « Each of us has the ability to change the way we emotionally respond to circumstances… ». Using that capacity is another facet of the freedom we so vehemently invoke.

When he said « You cannot have the experience of transcendence until you take that journey and connect with others », he summed up in one sentence the essence and complementarity of self-help and mutual-aid.

Truly, the contagion of random acts of kindness and the convergence of little ripples of compassion into a tsunami are the most desirable pandemic and the most fertile flooding one can wish for our troubled times in order to shift from the darkness of the age of greed to the light of the age of compassion.

Thank you, Mr. Doty, your promise to teach Ruth’s Magic to someone else has been fulfilled at least once (speaking only for myself) but, I dare to guess, a thousand times, thanks to On-Being.

What a beautiful and spot-on summary of an extraordinary interview and it's implications for a troubled world moving forward. Thank you for your words.

I must listen every Sunday morning. I find the candidates you choose to educate us are truly special, kind, compassionate, and caring about our universe. It is uplifting and I feel fortunate to have found this "spiritual program". Thank you!!

“The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger and the bear. The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly. It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep.”
― Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature

Encouraging to hear a scientist focusing on the natural emergence of our altruistic tendencies and their relevance to human health and learning. However, it is discouraging to hear how connectivity and positive thinking are solely cast in a good light and disconnection and negative thought are framed as pathology, to be eradicated with regulatory implants instead of appreciated in their own right. It is a betrayal of arts and sciences which evolved as much from the ecological pressures of restrictions & negation as from the inspirational or angelic aspects of our being.

Humanity need not be improved upon, simply understood. This is the threat of AI research, and it is also its hope...in recreating our human experience we might learn to appreciate those aspects we've been taught to avoid and reject...recognize their value, there is no need of redemption...or we may find that since we haven't made peace with ourselves, we cannot make peace with any intellect--we might not give AI the full scope of human experience, the instinct, the self-preservation, b/c we see it as a liability...we might cheat ourselves from the grace of self-acceptance and impose a false peace, limiting our comprehension of intelligence.

I've also written a lengthy comment already but I can't help responding briefly to the point you're making about the bane of positive thinking. I too see problems with that oversimplification and my hackles go up whenever I encounter such pop psychology nonsense (which is all too often the socially acceptable cover for victim-blaming and self-privileging). That nonsense has been with us for some time, certainly long before MRI-assisted brain research, so we can't blame the former on the latter. Nor can cognitive behavioural therapy simply undo neurological disease processes like those seen in Lyme, Lupus, Fibromyalgia and MS—though such has actually been suggested to me, with a smile no less.
I don't think Dr Doty is oversimplifying the complexities of brain and mind, or of positive and negative, but is pausing to appreciate the wonder of it, to savour the new insights even as the new doubts and questions emerge en route to further research.

Thank you for another great conversation. I was so touched to hear the emotion in James Doty's voice. It is something that I have been thinking a lot about. I find that the older I get the more easily I am moved to tears either by joy or sadness and everything in between! And I am always particularly touched by men who allow this softness and sensitivity to find expression in public. I very much look forward to reading his book. And can't wait for the next conversation.

What a beautiful powerful conversation. I'm so glad I heard it and though I kept replaying parts to to get details clear or just to savour, I know I'llneed to be playing it over for my husband too. Thank you for this. It really validates what I've believed and known. I listened with great interest both as someone suffering with more than one autoimmune disease that has raised many neurological mysteries and miseries of chronic pain, fatigue and memory problems, and also as someone heartbroken to be no longer able to continue working. As a high school English teacher, I felt such joy that I could put into practice the principle of compassion, directly in my dealings with each student as well as indirectly through the literature we studied, their writing etc. I'm struggling to discover ways of being in some way of only incidentally in the role of teacher as I meet people like your magic store minder (I love her!). I know it's not about quantity but it was over too soon. Anyhow I cherish the insights and experiences you shared here and hope to get your book.

Went to bed early last night (2/15/16) and automatically turned on NPR...knew that Krista Tippet would be on at 11:00...I actually wept listening to her conversation with James Doty. Am in a process of learning how to live truly...FROM THE THE INSIDE OUT--experiencing how my mental/emotional states determine the health and balance of my body. Like Dr. Doty, I have committed to a "heart-led" life...a life of surrender and "at-one-ment" with That Which Caused Me Into Being...by whatever name.

Thank you, Krista. I can always depend upon you and whoever your guest may be, to bring me exactly what I need, when I need it along this mysterious journey called human life on planet earth.

I was blown away and inspired by this interview. I raced home after listening to it so I could make notes. James Doty, you're my hero and I can't wait to read your memoir.

Thank you for this episode. I will listen one more time, I really enjoyed the conversation.

I loved the conversation between Krista and Dr. Doty, and these reflections from other listeners. The circumstances in the world today bring me so much heartache and worry. Dr. Doty reminded me that even a smile can help the world become more peaceful. When the suffering of others feels so overwhelming it is helpful to know that all I can really do is to keep practicing compassion. To know that Dr. Doty and most of the listeners see circumstances, and feel their thoughts the same as me is helpful, too. I don't feel so alone and hopeless. The world and is so lucky to have Dr. Doty and the work he provides to patients, students and the community.

terrible. terrible episode not good ast all. KT, you do so much better, this was just so so bad and negstive.

I was especially touched by Dr. Doty's creation of sacred spaces during surgeries -- especially those involving children. I was moved to try and cultivate more sacred spaces in my own work/life, and to practice compassion more fully. Thank you for your open heartedness and inspiration.

Picking up around the house, or going for long hikes while listening to On Being has become part of my routine. Thank you for your thoughtful interviews, Krista Tippett. I particularly enjoy conversations that integrate mindfulness, humanism, mental health and neuroscience. This particular piece felt very anchoring to me, perhaps because it brought all of these pieces together, but also because it sounded very sincere. Sharing how he honors the child he'll operate on by doing the haircut prep was such a beautiful thing to hear! I thought, if "I ever need a neurosurgeon for my children...." I recommend your podcast to clients and friends, and I find this interview to be a great start. Namaste!

Thank You
As a retired physician I was drawn so deeply into reflection I actually had to listen to this a few times the unedited version as well.
I teared up many times about his journey. I have truly felt fortunate to serve the thousands of people who I cared for over the years.
I remember years ago my dad asking me why to people talk about you the way they do they don't talk about other doctors that way.
I said well I haven't forgotten that I am serving people who are suffering a misfortune, and they therefor deserve a higher level of care.