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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Neuroscience of the mind

I recently attended a weekend workshop on Neuroscience with David Presti who is a professor at UC Berkley . Although Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system, the workshop was focused on Neuroscience of the mind.

David Presti is wonderful man. Talking to him is like talking to a monk. I hope to connect him with Ralph Abraham who is another wonderful and brilliant man. David and Ralph talking to each other may solve a few problems of the world.

Following are my random notes from the workshop:

The Human Brain is considered to be the most complex structure in the Universe. More complex than then the Universe itself. The reason being interconnectedness of 1 trillion cells inside the brain. So far, what we know of the Universe, this level of interconnectedness does not exist among diverse entities in the Universe.

The Human Brain weighs between 2 and 3 pounds.

The basic structure of the brain is same in all human beings. However, why all human beings think/behave differently is still unknown. Is it genetics? Culture? Upbringing? The Nature vs. Nurture debate continues.

We are at the very beginning of our understanding of the brain and the mind.

What is memory and how does it work? We don't know for sure.

Science can not explain consciousness. For example, when we are in love, why does it feel good? When we see someone in pain, why do we feel bad? Why do we like smell of a rose? If you study the brain, you can not explain the phenomenon. The subjective & currently unexplainable phenomenon supposedly come from the mind and not from the brain. And, that is difference between the brain and the mind. The brain is physical and the mind is subjective and not physical.

There is an idea that the mind resides outside the body and it survives death of the brain/human. Furthermore, the mind is a collective and not an individual entity. In other words, all minds are interconnected. There are experiments being done to show interconnectedness of the minds.

How do the brains vary between someone who is smart and someone who is dumb? Are the neurons "better" in smart people? Or, are they more connected? We don't know.

Why do kids learn faster and more than adults? We don't know for sure. However, one explanation maybe that kids need to learn necessary skills to survive and by the time you are an adult you have figured out how to survive. Hence, the incentive for learning is smaller in adults.

The understanding of the mind will not come from our current thinking. Just like Newtonian physics can not explain particle behavior at atomic level. Bohr led the development of a new science called Quantum Mechanics which explains the energy and matter behavior at atomic and subatomic levels. I think Complex Systems in the new science which will explain many things in the coming years.

The word "Genes" comes from "Genesis". All living things depend on genes. Genes hold the information to build and maintain an organism's cells and pass genetic traits to offspring.

The US education & social systems fail to teach empathy.

Why we instantly like some people and dislike others can not be explained by science.

Food, body, and mind are interconnected i.e. the food you eat affects your mind and the body. A good eating philosophy was development by Michael Pollan. And, it states, "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

The amount of nicotine a cigar has can kill a human being if it inhaled at once. When you smoke a cigar, most of the nicotine does not go inside your body.

How Psychedelic Drugs affect the brain is still unknown. And, the current laws do not allow scientists to experiment with the drugs.

Everything is poison if taken in excess. People have died with drinking too much water.

Sleep is very important to humans. We don't know why. Dalai Lama said that sleep is the best meditation.

Changes in breathing techniques can produce same affect on the mind as psychedelic drugs. The phenomenon is called Holotropic Breathwork.

In the early part of the 20th century, psychologists "wasted" many years because they followed the method physicists were using to advance the science i.e. testing the hypothesis with experimentation/observation. Psychology works different than Physics. Psychologists should have advanced the science with internal retrospection. And, it has started to happen in the last few decades.

I got more questions than answers from the workshop. And, I love finding more unanswered questions. Following are the authors/books which may help advance our understanding of Neuroscience of the mind:

Irreducible Mind: Alternate views on Neuroscience, Psychology, and Philosophy with documentary evidence.

Alan Watts and Oliver Sacks: Popular authors on Neuroscience, psychology and the mind.

Golf in the Kingdom: Understand the mind and improve your golf game.

William James: A prominent American psychologist and philosopher with radical views on life after death in 19th century. An excellent book on William James is Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum.

How we decide by John Lehrer: Using Neuroscience to become better decision makers.

My stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor: A brain scientist's exploration of the consciousness.

Entangled Minds: Understanding interconnectedness of all things using Quantum Mechanics.

Max Delbruck: Pioneer of modern molecular genetics.

In Search of Memory by Eric Kandel: Understand how the memory works at a physical level.

Food of the Gods: Role of food in human evolution.

Life after Death by Raymond Moody: The book that gave birth to the term NDE (Near Death Experience).