The Changing Brain

Changing  brain 300x241 The Changing Brain

I have been read­ing Deepak Chopra’s book Super Brain lately (writ­ten by Deepak Chopra M.D. and Rudy Tanzi Ph.D; It has some great infor­ma­tion, as I have come to expect from Deepak. Of course this topic goes way beyond the brain, mov­ing from med­i­cine, anatomy, quan­tum physics to the eso­teric side of spir­i­tu­al­ity – right up my ally.

Super Brain The Changing Brain

One of the first things the book does is to bust five impor­tant myths about the brain:

1. The injured brain can­not heal itself. Now we know that the brain has amaz­ing pow­ers of heal­ing, unsus­pected in the past.

2. The brain’s hard­wiring can­not be changed. In fact, the line between hard– and soft-wiring is shift­ing all the time, and our abil­ity to rewire our brains remains intact from birth to the end of life.

3. Aging in the brain is inevitable and irre­versible. To counter this out­moded belief, new tech­niques for keep­ing the brain youth­ful and retain­ing men­tal acu­ity are aris­ing every day.

4. The brain loses mil­lions of cells a day, and lost brain cells can­not be replaced. In fact, the brain con­tains stem cells that are capa­ble of matur­ing into new brain cells through­out life. How we lose or gain brain cells is a com­plex issue. Most of the find­ings are good news for every­one who is afraid of los­ing men­tal capac­ity as they age.

5. Prim­i­tive reac­tions (fear, anger, jeal­ousy, aggres­sion) over­rule the higher brain. Because our brains have been imprinted with genetic mem­ory over thou­sands of gen­er­a­tions, the lower brain is still with us, gen­er­at­ing prim­i­tive and often neg­a­tive dri­ves such as fear and anger. But the brain is con­stantly evolv­ing, and we have gained the abil­ity to mas­ter the lower brain through choice and free will. The new field of pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy is teach­ing us how best to use free will to pro­mote hap­pi­ness and over­come negativity.

The book shows that as we expe­ri­ence and inter­act with the world, our brains are record­ing, inter­pret­ing, and cre­at­ing the world around us. With every new expe­ri­ence the con­nec­tions of our brain’s neural net­work are rewiring them­selves! The way we choose to expe­ri­ence our world deter­mines how we rewire our own brains!

The brain is quite com­plex, con­sist­ing of hun­dreds of bil­lions of nerve cells, which make hun­dreds of tril­lions of con­nec­tions (synapses) cre­at­ing the neural net­work. If you placed these nerve cells end to end, it would extend over 100,000 miles, enough to wrap around the Earth over four times!

Our brain cre­ates the real­ity of our entire world. This means that each species has its own real­ity, ‘wired’ by its species ver­sion of a brain (i.e. dog, insect, human). The book pro­poses that you can change your real­ity by relat­ing to your brain in a new way. This is a very impor­tant state­ment and changes a lot of the opin­ions that many of us grew up with.

The book Super Brain bridges two worlds, biol­ogy and expe­ri­ence. Biol­ogy is great at explain­ing phys­i­cal processes, but it is totally inad­e­quate at telling us about the mean­ing and pur­pose of our sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence. The more neu­ro­sci­en­tists learn, the more it seems the brain has hid­den pow­ers. We now know that the brain takes in the raw expe­ri­ence of life, act­ing through a fil­ter of any desire or emo­tion you have. This means we colour real­ity by our per­cep­tions via emo­tions. Change your per­cep­tion, or beliefs, and you change your real­ity. Your brain can­not do what it thinks it can­not do. But, your mind can tell your brain what you want it to do. Notice here we have a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence between the brain and the mind. The brain (an incred­i­bly pow­er­ful three-pound mass of gelati­nous mate­r­ial — hard­ware) is no more than a radio receiver that receives its sig­nals from the mind (more of an elec­tro­mag­netic wave — soft­ware). We can upgrade the hard­ware of our brain, by upgrad­ing the soft­ware of the mind. Your mind can only send infor­ma­tion that your brain can con­ceive of.

 In short, the brain is a verb, not a noun.

 The mind reshapes the brain with thoughts, mem­o­ries, desire and experience.

The brain changes every minute you expe­ri­ence life, and you are in charge of it.

Because it is dynamic, fluid and ever renew­ing, the brain is much more mal­leable than any­one ever imagined.

Even though the old view of the brain was seen to be fixed, mechan­i­cal, and steadily dete­ri­o­rat­ing, we now know this is far from the case. We are cre­at­ing real­ity at this very minute, and if that process remains alive and dynamic, your brain will be able to keep up with it, year after year. Think about it: your entire world, all that you see, hear, taste, touch, and feel is con­jured up for you by your brain. And this world is, of course, sim­i­lar to that of oth­ers with sim­i­lar brains. Every species expe­ri­ences a world cre­ated for them within the lim­its of their brain and ner­vous sys­tem, from human to dog to mos­quito to bac­te­ria. We are rein­vent­ing our brain as we go along, day by day. It hap­pens in this life­time; it’s not a mat­ter of eons.

The book Super Brain looks at one of my favorite groups of stud­ies by British neu­rol­o­gist John Lor­ber, who had been work­ing with vic­tims of a brain dis­or­der known as hydro­cephalus (“water on the brain”), in which exces­sive fluid builds up in the skull. The result­ing pres­sure squeezes the life out of brain cells. Hydro­cephalus leads to retar­da­tion as well as other severe dam­age and even death.

In the 1980’s Lor­ber had a young patient who had an enlarged head. He had grad­u­ated from col­lege with a first-class hon­ors degree in math­e­mat­ics and had an IQ of 126. There were no symp­toms of hydro­cephalus; the young man was lead­ing a nor­mal life. Yet a CAT scan revealed, in Lorber’s words, that he had “vir­tu­ally no brain.” The skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells about a mil­lime­ter thick (less than 1/10 of an inch), while the rest of the space in the skull was filled with cere­bral fluid.

hydrocephalus 1980 lewin  300x144 The Changing Brain

Hydro­cephalus Brain 1980

This is an appalling dis­or­der to con­tem­plate, but Lor­ber pushed on, record­ing more than 600 cases. He divided his sub­jects into four cat­e­gories depend­ing on how much fluid was in the brain. The most severe cat­e­gory, which accounted for only 10% of the sam­ple, con­sisted of peo­ple whose brain cav­ity was 95% filled with fluid. Of these, half were severely retarded; the other half, how­ever, had IQs over 100.

It seems unde­ni­able that rein­vent­ing the brain is viable. Stroke vic­tims are reha­bil­i­tated on that basis, train­ing undam­aged areas of the brain to take up func­tions lost dur­ing the stroke. Efforts in autism and schiz­o­phre­nia are also pro­ceed­ing on the pos­si­bil­ity that brain dys­func­tion is set­ting in months or years before the appear­ance of symp­toms. If these pre-symptomatic changes can be addressed soon enough, the full-blown dis­ease could be averted or greatly lessened.

A sim­i­lar approach to Alzheimer’s dis­ease exam­ines brain changes in young adults who may be genet­i­cally sus­cep­ti­ble to the dis­ease, could reverse that sus­cep­ti­bil­ity through therapy.

Once med­ical sci­ence accepts that the brain can be rein­vented, there is no limit. The book shows even Alzheimer’s can be reversed if we relate to the brain in a new way.

The book Super Brain shows that the most direct way to improve brain func­tion is through the mind. The mind-body con­nec­tion is pow­er­ful because it can use our habits to lead the brain to change. What you pay atten­tion to, what your pas­sion is, your approach to diet, exer­cise, stress and even basic emo­tions like anger and fear, all reg­is­ter in your brain and dras­ti­cally shape and reshape its structure.

In the sim­plest terms, every expe­ri­ence is either pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive when seen as input for the brain. A brain that is pro­cess­ing pos­i­tive input will grow and evolve dif­fer­ently from a brain that processes neg­a­tive input. In our next blog we will look deeper into how this happens.


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