My Brain and I

Ethel Gonzales

The chief commander of our central nervous system is the Brain. It contains billions of neurons each connected to other neurons by synapses. They communicate via axons that carry the messages to our body cells. Our brain has unique capabilities to acquire, perceive, process and store information.

Brain researchers are quite familiar and knowledgeable about the operations of individual brain cells, however, they still do not understand the way brain cells cooperate in groups of millions of cells. Some would consider the brain to be as a biological computer, however this assumption and modelling is far from reality and cannot simulate the complexity of the brain.

The basic brain functions such as breathing, regulating heart beats, controlling movement and other basic skills were known to scientific researchers from fossil records first appeared in worms many million years ago. Since then our brain went through evolution processes of acquiring more and more sophisticated functions and unique abilities. These abilities include among others emotional, sexual and fighting behaviors located in newly evolved brain regions.

The brain needs continuous supply of oxygen and glucose for its function. These needs are supplied by the blood system. Our brain needs its nourishments like the rest of our body. That is why we feel at our best mental function after a healthy meal or slow and tired when we don’t eat sufficiently on time or eat unhealthy food.

Our brain’s primary energy source is carbo fuel. Our body has the capability to convert carbohydrates from food such as oatmeal or brown rice into glucose. Accordingly, we have to generate a daily supply of about 60% of our calories from carbohydrates.

To build neurotransmitters or chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate, our brain needs protein, such as: egg white, seafood or beans. Our body breaks down the protein into amino-acids which affect our cognition and mood, such as dopamine, which help us to be alert. In addition to protein, our brain needs fatty acids, which are generated from Omega-3&6 fatty acids, olive oil and whole grain. Our brain also needs a range of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B, E, magnesium, calcium and iron. To get those vitamins we have to eat fresh food in various colors.

Brain capacity is unknown. We know that our brain have a lot of storage capacity and processing power, but we don’t know how to estimate its actual capacity. A popular assumption is that our brain’s capacity is 10 times greater than anybody’s estimate.

Our brain consists of trillions of neurons, with a huge number of complex interconnections. What differ from brain-to-brain are the types of neurons and the specific neurochemical interaction among the neurons. It is interesting to note that the structure of clusters of neurons and their specific interconnections may have an effect on one’s ability to learn and an influence on speed of understanding and reaction time to intellectual stimulations.

At birth, our brain is very plastic, that is, its capability to process and store sensory information is very high. Neuronal connections are generated, broken and regenerated, which suggests that early educational and environmental stimulations are essential for the child’s evolution. This is the critical period of the development of the child’s linguistic, cognitive and social abilities. A classical question is whether the infant brain is empty, a tabula rasa, at birth. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (fourth century B.C.E.) was probably the first to introduce the tabula rasa (blank slate) idea. According to the tabula rasa theory, an infant’s brain is empty of mental content, which will be acquired later with experience and perception.

Although the ‘tools’ or the brain cells are already formed at birth, only after gaining experience will we see the generation of neurons’ inter-connections. As Aristotle and subsequent supporters of his theory were not privy to recent genetic discoveries, the tabula rasa theory may not be applicable or accepted as a deterministic valid concept. Today it is believed that a child’s cerebral cortex is pre-programmed to enable the processing of sensory input, emotions and environmental stimulations.

The author does not support the tabula-rasa theory and he believes that there are genetically transferred data or imprints. Those genetic imprints may have a clear impact and influence on the child’s behaviour and even on its brain’s ability to process and store information.

In future we could experience direct brain-to-brain transmission similar to telepathy. Telepathy derives from the Greek (‘distant experience’) and it is a kind of mental transfer from one brain to another. As it is not a clearly reproducible phenomenon, the scientific community has not reached consensus. Telepathy is well accepted, however, albeit largely used in science fiction. As many science fiction scenarios became reality in time, however, the author believes that some brain-to-brain communication will be possible in future. Neuro-imaging is one of the scientific areas where this type of communication is being researched and interesting results are anticipated.

The conclusion is that educational methods must correspond and comply with our brain function and its ability to store information and not on a dogmatic rigorous unified system as exemplified in most schools.

We use the word time directly and indirectly very often in our daily conversation and throughout our lifetime: time is money, time of life, time after time, between times, gain/lose time, good/bad time, slow/fast time, right/wrong time, before/after time, present time, past time, real time, on time, in no time, kill time, any time, every time, plenty of time, timeless, time limit, time cycle, time cures and time flies… Time is depicted by artists in various ways, among them the famous ‘melting clocks’ by Dali. We can distinguish between pure time, relative time and absolute time.

Time measurement is the unit of time to which all time measuring devices ultimate refer.

Time is a point at or a period in which things happen, a repeated instance of anything or a reference to repetition, the state of things at any period.

Space is that part of the boundless four-dimensional continuum in which matter is physically rather than temporally extended.

Relativity recognizes the impossibility of determining absolute motion and leads to the concept of a four-dimensional space-time continuum.

The special theory of relativity, which is limited to the description of events as they appear to observers in a state of uniform motion relative to one another, is developed from two axioms:

1. The law of natural phenomena is the same for all observers.

2. The velocity of light is the same for all observers irrespective of their own velocity.

Space and time in the modern view are welded together in a four-dimensional space-time continuum. There is no clear distinction between a three-dimensional space and an independent time.

Time means different things to different ‘observers’. This may not agree with the axioms (on which the special relativity theory is based) described earlier, at least not from a psycho-philosophical point of view. These ‘observers’ may include: people (humans), animals, plants, clocks and other beings outside our time universe. Time seems to be different for different people: age, education, origin, mental stage and religion may all have an effect.

Time appears ‘slow’ when we are young and ‘fast’ as we grow older. Time seems to be passing faster when we are enjoying ourselves or when we are busy, as opposed to when we are bored or idle. The description of time-related events in the history of humankind differs in different cultures. Time is different for animals and plants as we can see from their lifecycles, behaviour and responses which are not what we might expect.

Clocks and other similar instruments measure time and tend to be almost identical in terms of information about it. This is to be expected as we designed them all for the purpose of measuring time defined to be consistent within our universe.

Time seems to be continuous, but is it?

We divided our earth year into subsets in different units: months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. Scientists continued the division into one thousandths of a second or millisecond, a nanosecond, which is one thousand millionths of a second, and a Pico second, which is one million millionth of a second (one and 12 zeros).

Time is continuous with respect to our universe and within it, and it is relative to our observations. When we observe a moving object between two points we ‘see’ it travelling all the distance between the two points, so we assume that this continuity of observation means that time is continuous. This may not be the case, however, if we perform our observation in another galaxy or in another dimension, where these rules are not necessarily valid. In the digital domain, as opposed to the analogue domain, we may observe the same continuity of moving objects. The time is digitized, however, and between two consecutive time points there is a gap of a certain fraction of a time unit, equivalent to the sampling resolution, where ‘anything might happen’.

For other creatures these time gaps may represent their entire lifecycle, or we may be living within our time with another life form, whose time resolution fits with our ‘dead times’, which are our time gaps. Television is viewed as continuous moving pictures, whereas actually it comprises discrete individual pictures, projected at thirty frames (or more) or pictures per second.

Time can be measured, viewed and evaluated. The observer’s tools for the evaluation of time are his/her senses. Unfortunately, senses can be fooled. Strobe light projected onto a rotating disk will generate the illusion of a still disk. Are our other observations wrong or at least inaccurate, then, particularly if we are a small subpart or subspace of a much larger and more complex galaxy?

In the laboratory, we have successfully accelerated and slowed down certain processes, such as chemical or other natural processes. These experiments offered the possibility to control processes which were functions of time. Certain processes were successfully reversed to what they were before, indicating ‘pseudo going back in time’, which is not really going back in time, but it looks like it.

The introduction of computers generated a revolution in time-related processes and enabled not only the observation of past and present time-related phenomena, but also predictive processes, which are future time-dependent scenarios.

Time affects our entire lifecycle, our birth, our life and death. Our heart beats almost once every second and our inner biological clock operates throughout our life. If we overturn this clock by flying to another time zone, our body suffers a phenomenon known as jet lag and it takes some time to adapt to its new condition. Time affects most of the processes and phenomena on earth, some faster and some slower. If there are time-independent phenomena or a phenomenon that until today has seemed to be unaffected by time, then these scenarios must be classified as ‘past, present and probable future’.

According to Einstein, time is more like a river, flowing around stars and galaxies, speeding up and slowing down as it passes massive bodies. One ‘second’ on the earth is not one second on Mars. All materials, including all known life forms and other mass owned celestial bodies are time-dependent.

The above mentioned time related scientific explanations are somewhat contradicted when we analyse the time related relationship between Brain and I, or more precisely the Brain-Time.

External and internal time measurement in relative to our brain is not the same time. The brain’s external time is equivalent to the standard time as mentioned above and it is the same to all. However, the internal time measurement is much more complex, especially because it’s individual.

When we sleep and dream, our individual internal perception of time is not correlated to the external time. We all experienced dreams that may be perceived as hours and more while in reality or externally it took minutes or less.

Sleep is essential for our brain. We spend about thirty percent of our life in sleep. Our survival and quality of life depends on adequate and qualitative sleep. Our daily responses and concentration during our diverse activities are dependent on our sleep. When we analyse patients with sleep disorders in sleep-labs, we observe the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) which correspond to brain activities during deep sleep and related to dreams. In general REM sleep starts after about an hour and half after falling asleep. Most of our dreams occur during this phase of sleep. We all dream and it takes actually about two hours per night. For us individually the time may take much more than that. The most vivid and real dreams we experience during the REM sleep.

During our lifetime the brain may be exposed to many diseases. It has been known for years that Alzheimer’s starts in a brain region known as the lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC). This region of the brain is considered to be a major factor responsible of our long-term memory. Alzheimer may spread from the LEC to other areas of the cerebral cortex, a brain region involved in spatial orientation and navigation.

We humans have not only consciousness, we also have self-awareness. The major difference is that consciousness is awareness of our body and our environment, while self-awareness is the recognition of that consciousness. In other words, not only we understand that we exist, but we comprehend that we are aware of our existence. To be conscious is to think; to be self-aware is to realize that we are thinking. Self-awareness is awareness of me-the “I”, my thoughts and feelings.

Now imagine that the brain is not an organ. Imagine that we are two beings one is our original brain and the other is “us” with our self-awareness ability and we are communicating with each other.

I’ll switch the previous scientific language into our human common and easy to understand language using metaphors to clarify the issues discussed.

Dialogue recording between the two entities “Brain and I”:

Brain: I have needs, feed me with sugar

Brain: Remember that for every action there will be a reaction (remuneration)

I: OK, I will eat chocolate

Brain: Thanks, here is your dopamine (remuneration)

I: Wow! that feels great, I’ll eat more.

Brain: Don’t exaggerate, I don’t need so much.

At this stage and during similar communications between the brain and I, if I will ignore or will not understand the brain’s messages, the result may be sickness, such as diabetes.

Brain: If you don’t use it you lose it

I: What do you mean?

Brain: Area “A” in your left hemisphere is rarely used. You must start using it otherwise the probability to get Alzheimer is increasing in that area that didn’t receive its necessary supply of nourishments.

I: What should I do?

Brain: Start solving crosswords, puzzles and brain teasers

The brain wants I to be cooperative in satisfying its needs, therefore, it releases dopamine during sex as a reward. Sex can act like an antidepressant and even as pain reliever. Time during sex may seem to be different than the real time.

Recent studies using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) brain scans of patients during pain stimuli showed different brain responses between men and women. Several areas of male and female brains responded differently to the same pain stimuli. Female’s brain showed more activity in emotion related centers where males responded in the cognitive or analytical regions. Those differences may relate to our evolution process and the different social tasks of males and females.

I(male): She is very sexy

Brain(male): Yes she is, so what are you going to do about it?

I(male): I want to make love to her, all the time, it makes me feel good

Brain(male): OK, but be careful not to get addictive to sex.

I(female): He is nice

Brain(female): He might be a good husband and father.

I(female): Yes, it will make me feel happy.

Brain and I dialogue during certain medication.

Brain: You are sick but I’ll take care of you.

I: It’s OK, I’ll take my medication.

Brain: No need I’ll send the troops to cure you.

I: I will take the pill anyway.

Brain: OK, I am instructing the troops to withdraw; it’s your responsibility now.

In many occasions we can cure ourselves without the need of medication intervention. In certain cases medication may interfere with our normal immune system or self-healing.

I: I am tired and I want to sleep

Brain: Only after I solve the problem you gave me

I: No, it can wait for tomorrow

Brain: OK

Certain brains will continue “working” and they will disturb us, namely, “I” during sleep, which we both need. Our brain relentlessly will continue to search for problem solving and it may awaken us during the night.

A common phenomenon is that when one half of a couple that has been together for a long time dies, the other also dies shortly afterwards. The usual, romantic, explanation is that they loved each other so much that they could not live without each other. He or she died from a ‘broken heart’, ‘could not live alone’, ‘was dependent on their spouse’.

Is there a correlation between the death of one spouse and the subsequent death of the other shortly afterwards?

The hypothesis is that the desire to live may have a certain effect on the immune system. The brain that is in control of our body may have a shut-down mechanism, which is activated in certain cases. Those cases are similar to fatal accidents or certain illnesses, where the brain knows that it will not be able to cope. This mechanism may control ‘suicide cells’. In recent years, suicide cells or what scientists define as programmed cell death (PCD) has formed the basis for ongoing biogenetic research. PCD is the death of a cell which is mediated by an intracellular programme.

There are three major types of PCDs. Type I cell death is called apoptosis. Type II is autophagic and Type III is necrotic cell-death. Cells can be killed by injurious agents or be instructed to commit suicide. If there is a threat to the integrity of an organism by certain cells, PCD is needed to destroy those cells. Typical examples of such cases are: cells that are infected by viruses, DNA damage, cells of the immune system and cancer cells. In certain types of cancer cells apoptosis is triggered by radiation or chemicals used for therapy.

What makes a cell decide to commit suicide?

The author believes that it is the imbalance between positive and negative signals sent by the brain. If there is a lack of the positive signals (no desire to live) needed for survival and/or negative signals are sent meaning ‘no desire to continue to live’, the shut-down mechanism may be activated.

There have been numerous reports of cases where patients recovered miraculously after clearly being diagnosed with cancer. This phenomenon may be explained by the activation of the PCD mechanism by ‘desire to live’ positive signals. In some cases, viruses that are associated with cancers may use tricks, like producing a protein that inactivates the apoptosis signal. In such cases the cancer cells will not only continue to live and proliferate, but they will become more resistant to apoptosis. Further understanding of those tricks and decoy molecules generated to protect cancer cells would enable researchers to reactivate and overcome those protective tricks in order to destroy dangerous cancer cells.

The author also believes that future research on destroying and removing cancerous cells might be implemented in two phases. The first phase would be to distinguish, mark and identify cancerous cells. In phase two the target would be to activate suicide cells in the selected area or group of cells and bypass the existing protection of the cancer cells. Strong psychological and family support is essential for such a recovery. In addition, the patient must believe in and hope for a healthy and bright future.

I: There is no sense to continue struggling in this life.

Brain: You must change this negative attitude.

I: I can’t do it; actually I don’t want to continue living

Brain: Should I activate your self-destruction or PCD procedure?

I: Shut it down…

Our brain is constantly sending signals to our body organs and cells, sometimes the signals are needed for our daily functionality, cell repairs and warnings. If we fail to understand those warning signals or we ignore them, it may lead to certain diseases, addictions and even death.

This schizophrenic/symbiotic individual dialogue between “my brain and I” is essential for our brain’s healthy survival. The more “I” understands the brain’s requests/messages the higher the probability that the brain will operate properly and simultaneously will satisfy the needs of “I” as well.

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