Stepping into the world of the Brain
Neuroscience literature is vast and it’s difficult to understand esoteric terminologies for brain areas. When I first started out my journey to understanding the brain, it was challenging to keep up with the localization of brain functions. This article is a timeline of the things I did and continue to do, to know more about the brain.
One common feature I find in most neuroscience and neurobiological books is that they all operate under one principle which is “figuring out the machine, through its broken parts”. Here, of course, I’m addressing the brain as a direct metaphor for a machine, owing to the earliest notion neuroscientists had. However, it’s not so much like a machine, because of how plastic the brain can be.
We’re able to do incredibly complex things within spans of seconds because of thousands of neural networks in your nervous system that spark electrochemical signals that your brain picks up and relays back to you.
“All good science emerges from an imaginative conception of what might be true.”
― V.S. Ramachandran
Reading//Books, Articles, and Papers
Calm Clarity- Due Quach
Calm clarity was the first book I read that closely dealt with neuroscience. Due Quach expanded on an intuitive model of the brain- where she divided the brain into three levels/gears. Brain 1.0: highly activated amygdala: “fight or flight”. Brain 2.0: Some areas of the prefrontal cortex are deactivated or impaired but motor areas are engaged.Brain 3.0: prefrontal cortex is not impaired. We should all strive to operate on brain 3.0 for the most part. Our pre-frontal cortex helps us make important decisions, plan ahead, think clearly, etc., and therefore should not be impaired or suppressed in any way. The first two levels aren’t all bad, they are needed, for example, when we have basic needs, brain 1.0 naturally takes control. However continuous activation of the brain 1.0 could be harmful to us and result in erratic moods. Due Quach, with her background as a refugee, explains how the environment shaped her into using brain 1.0, and the numerous challenges she faced due to it. Her success story starts when she realizes she can change her mindset, implement brain plasticity intuitively by changing gears to brain 3.0.
This book is emotional, inspiring, and beautiful.
The Brain- The story of you- David Eagleman
We’re all aware of neural plasticity which has eminently contributed to modern neuroscience. This book talks about pruning and brain wiring in childhood, and how it spans through teen years, ultimately to adulthood. It addresses the common misconception that it’s not the number of brain cells that increase, but the neural connections that multiply. These neural connections form over time and disentangle themselves when they weaken. Our neural network system is self-efficient, and works behind the scenes, to make living for us humans, easier and better. Eagleman also gives neurobiological answers to questions like how teenagers are probably more risk-takers than when they’re adults. He also talks about how you’re fundamentally different when you’re a teenager. During these years, there are certain areas of your brain that are slightly more active than the others which may cause an imbalance, especially in impulses and your sense of self.
The brain understands surroundings, adapts, and programs itself in an algorithmic way, for the future. There are some important questions that need to be considered in the field of neuroscience, which have not yet be answered quite clearly yet, which this book manages to tell us.
The book also delves into the topic of what consciousness is. An important pointer I learned is a phenomenon called “emergence”- when simple units interact with each other in the right ways and something larger arises. Knowing this drove my curiosity to seek answers for questions like- Is emergence what consciousness is in the bigger picture? Does the mind seem to emerge from the interaction of the billion pieces and parts of the brain? Overall, the book is thought-provoking and keeps your mind inquisitive and stimulated.
Phantoms in the Brain- V.S Ramachandran
V.S Ramachandran manages to answer simple questions with fascinating answers and funny anecdotes. This book introduced me to the concept of haptic perception and the body-mapped into your brain, spatially, i.e. your brain has mapped out body parts, that are different from the places in your body, I knew nothing about how marveling the brain is and its capabilities before I read this book. The vocabulary will definitely be foreign to a person with little to no background in neuroscience, but it doesn’t keep you from grasping the crux of the content.
Principles of Neuropsychology- Eric A. Zillmer and Mary Spiers
This one is extensive. It’s also very academic, which does make it tedious. I’m still in the process of reading this book. However, there are few takeaways.
A lot of the discoveries were trial-errors or mistakes. Florens’s ablation experiment was to manipulate parts of the brain to demonstrate that disorders resultant are generalized, as opposed to being specific. His experiment, despite being flawed, was important to know more about brain impairments. For example, modern principles came to be followed later on by Wernicke because of Paul Broca’s mistake. Wernicke adhered to two laws which were either destructing an area to check for impairment and to see if alternative places result in the same consequence. (the two people that have brain areas named after them- Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area)
Brain theories witnessed a paradigm shift, which started from localization (believing specific areas controlled particular functions) and then slowly into generalization put forth by some equipotentialists (which were people who didn’t reject the idea of localization completely but did believe that certain processes are too complex to confine in one area). I also got acquainted with “anosognosia” which means- ‘having no knowledge of the disease’ which is as terrifying as it sounds. The complications of treatment for these patients are particularly sorrowful and frustrating. It’s a heavy read, and would only recommend further reading if this introduction intrigues you.
Reading articles online and especially keeping up to date with neuroscience news, goes a long way. I had a preconceived notion it would be dry but It can be surprisingly enjoyable. A recent article I read (Neuroscience News, 2021) talked about brain research in whether or not we look like our names.
Interdisciplinary interests//Psychology, Philosophy, Cognitive Science, Positive Neuroscience
Psychology dives deep into the mind, how it works, and why we need it. Numerous psychologists in history and even now, put forth many theories of the mind, one of the most famous ones being, Sigmund Freud. There has always been a link between the mind and the body, since the time Descartes thought that those two were single units, distinct from each other. The brain is extremely important, of course, we cannot simply ignore the tasks humans are capable of doing, only because of the superpowers of our brains. However, I also believe our minds are equally important. I believe the mind is what we may feel at one moment, that is projected on our brain, and eventually, submerges into our behavior. Exploring the mind-brain link requires you to fully comprehend and interpret the past, i.e. important philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, etc, and the theories they put forth to bridge the numerous doubts and questions. You could check out some good websites to understand concepts of dualism, materialism like for example, here’s one I found: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/. Additionally, knowing cognitive science and its various sub-fields could also give a glimpse of the mind-body problem.
Positive neuroscience is essentially knowing a neurobiological basis for the positive emotions that make life worth living. Reading a compilation of papers that contributed to this nascent field, helped me understand how our brains are wired for love, for music, and for important positive feelings and emotions. It’s essentially categorized into the social brain, the musical brain, the compassionate brain, and the resilient brain.
Supplementary material//Visual aids and Drawings
Videos/Pictures help to graph your progress of knowing the basic lobes, and locations. For example, I understood the limbic system and CSF (cerebrospinal fluids) after knowing where the ventricles were located.
Additionally, I started to draw the brain. Previously, I would see diagrams and try to copy the exact sketch. Subsequently, I started to draw the brain, according to my memory.
Here’s my curated youtube playlist to know more about our brain: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLajerDO1gMUw3oTPoxAbNYPgCEw0G7T58