Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Brain, Mind and Me

For more than a decade now, I have been fascinated by the human mind. And the more I have understood, the more baffled I have become.

Simple things – seemingly simple things like perception, decisions, awareness, emotions are such complex events and happen at so many levels (chemical, electrical, macroscopic- physiological, environmental, metaphysical, spiritual…) that with every passing moment, my awe and respect for the web of complexity in which we live has only increased.

While scientists have made some useful connections in terms of details, we are still struggling with some very basic questions –
“What is consciousness?”
“Who is the observer?”

Recently I have been reading a book called “How do brains make up their minds?” by Walter J. Freeman. In spite of the deceptively simple title, the book is a difficult read, but I am persisting and the result has been a rare insight into the workings of the brain (not the mind!).

Learning about the brain is fascinating, because unlike in the case of mind (which is intangible), in the case of brain – you actually have something to work with. The physical mass of gooey matter between our ears we call the brain. The neurons, the hypothalamus, the neuropeptides and the neural network are some of the labels we have given to an absolutely unexplainable miracle happening inside our heads all the time.

Every emotion has a chemical associated with it (called a peptide) and every time you choose to experience an emotion, the chemicals are produced in your hypothalamus. These chemicals are then released into the bloodstream. So, the happiness-chemical or the sadness-chemical literally explodes into your entire body through the blood-stream and finds its way to different cells. It then docks on a cell and then changes the very nature of the cell, sometimes even the nucleus.

We literally, with chemicals – poison ourselves with anger.
We literally, with chemicals – fill ourselves with fulfillment.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

How does this fit in with making real, measurable changes in our lives?

This is a good place to share another distinction I have made. In learning about the brain and creating real change in life (which is what I am committed to).

It is very interesting, it can give you amazing insights – but it is no more necessary to create changes in real life than it is to understand the intricate workings of the internal combustion engine to drive a car or even know how exactly a microprocessor works to use the computer more effectively.

Of course it would help, but it is not necessary.

While studying hardware is good for a deeper understanding and quenching our thirst for knowledge, it is surely more important to know your operating system and how it works.

Which is why for someone like me, who hopes to create effective results in life – better relationships, fulfillment, satisfaction and passion – study of the brain must remain secondary to the study of the mind.

If only it were not so damn fascinating!!


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