Posts Tagged ‘Neuron’

What is the Key to LeBron James Phenomenal Performance?

May 24, 2018

And the answer is his superior memory. Sally Jenkins captured this in her article, “How is LeBron James always one move ahead? Let’s ask the scientists” in the 18 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. She begins, “Much as his brute-strength shoulders and legs define LeBron James, it’s the stuff in his head that elevates him.”

Ms. Jenkins continues, “Much has been made of James show-offy display of memory in his postgame analysis of Game 1. Replay it and notice not just the accuracy but the detail: in narrating six sequences in proper order, he noted the time on the shot clock, who took each shot and missed what, where the ball was inbounded from, and Jayson Tatum’s use of a Euro-step and right hand on a layup. When he was done, listeners broke into applause.

Zach Hambrick, a cognition-performance expert at Michigan State said, “It’s remarkable, but not surprising.” It is not surprising because there is a strong connection between cognitive science and human performance. Hambrick said, “This is one of the bedrock findings in research on human expertise: that experts have superior memory for information within their domain.”

Research has shown what seems to be “photographic memory” is really extrapolation based on habit-worn paths of knowledge, the vestiges and traces left in the brain by experience.

Adriaan de Groot conducted a famous study of chess players in the 1960s. Pieces were shown on a board for five seconds and then removed. The players were asked to recall what they had seen. Novices remembered poorly. The more expert the players, the more pieces they could recall, and the locations of the pieces. An important point in this study, which is frequently not mentioned, is that the superior recall of the experts only occurred when they pieces on the board were placed in a meaningful manner as would be found in a game between experts. If pieces were arranged in a random, nonsensical manner, the masters’ performance differed little from the novices. If so arranged in a meaningful manner, grandmasters could recall virtually everything.

Masters of games don’t just build static memories, but have a remarkable ability to intuit. Ms. Jenkins writes, “James’s anticipation is inseparable from his memory. Ericsson cited a study of elite soccer players where they were shown a game and the screen was halted at an unpredictable point. The best players remembered not only who was where but also predicted where they would go next.

Ms. Jenkins writes, “Think about the processes involved as James scans the court while moving down the floor. The optic nerves absorb and transmit small peripheral details, then shift to a sudden zoom focus as he throws a glancing no-look bounce pass that hits Kevin Love in the hands mid-stride. Then his attention broadens again stereoscopically to capture the whole floor. The cognitive flexibility to go in and out of those states fluidly is highly learned. And yet little short of magic.”

In 2014 researchers John O’Keefe, Maybritt Moser, and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize for explaining how the brain navigates. They answered the questions: How do we perceive position, know where we are, find the way home? O’Keefe found a specific cell in the hippocampus that throws off a signal to mark a specific place. The Mosers found that neurons in the entorhinal cortex fire in fields with regularity. When they drew lines corresponding to the neuronal activity they saw a grid. So LeBron James has a geometric projection in his brain that acts as a computation coordinate system. And so do we, but LeBron makes a much more effective use of this system.

There still is the question as to how James’s brain discriminates among multiple similar memories. Andre Fenton has published a possible answer to this question in the journal “Neuron.” The answer is that the “place” signaling is not so much a constant remapping. Actually it is highly synchronized. Think of the neurons in James’s head as birds. Starlings, “Like a flock of starling that takes on different formations while still maintaining cohesion as a flock,” Fenton said. “He’s not recording like a videotape. He’s not rebuilding. He doesn’t rebuild a picture of what is going on. He watches it evolve continuously and fluidly. There is a flock, and it’s moving down the court, and everybody has a place. All these birds form a structure, and the structure is important. We call it a flock. He calls it a play.”

Fenton says that this is actually what all human beings do. HM would add that this is also what many infra human species do. Our brains learn a series of models over our lives and is constantly making predictions.

Phenoms like James are masters of assessing the likelihoods of things. With an amazingly good set of models and expectations—of opponents, of teammates and of how the ball will move, it can look like total omniscience.


How Our Brain and Mind Work

May 5, 2013

Aristotle and his contemporaries believed that the mind resided in the heart. It was Hippocrates who argued that the brain is responsible for thought, sensation, emotion, and cognition. However, it took almost 2500 years for the next major advance. At the beginning of the 20th century the Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal identified the neuron as the building block of the brain. He identified different types of neurons and advanced the “connectionist” view that it was the connections and communications among the neurons that characterized the activities of the brain.

There are four basic types of neurons. Sensory neurons transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Motor neurons send signals to parts of the body to direct movement, such as muscles. Interneurons provide connections between other neurons, Pyramidal neurons are involved in many areas of cognition.

The connectionist network is amazing. There are about 100 billion neurons in our brains. Each has about 1000 synapses connecting with other neurons. So there are about 100 trillion interconnections in our brain. Our brains are remarkably flexible. This plasticity is due to a special class of neurotransmitter that serve as “neuromodulators.” These neuromodulators “…alter the amount of other neurotransmitters released at the synapse and the degree to which the neurons respond to incoming signals. Some of these changes help to fine tune brain activity in response to immediate events, while others rewire the brain in the long term, which is thought to explain how memories are stored.

Many neuromodulators act on just a few neurons, but some can penetrate through large swathes of brain tissue creating sweeping changes. Nitric oxide, for example, is so small (the 10th smallest molecule in the known universe, in fact) that it can easily spread away from the neuron at its source. It alters receptive neurons by changing the amount of neurotransmitter released by each nerve impulse, kicking off the changes that are necessary for memory formulation in the hippocampus.”1

Much of this brain activity takes place outside our conscious awareness. According to Kahneman’s Two Process View of Human Cognition, there are two basic systems for processing information. information in a dynamic environment. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without, or most likely with, technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 and $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer. Good students tend to be suspicious of a question that is too easy!

So what happens to the brain as we age? The psychologist Dr. Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging.2 She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span.  So relying too much on our System 1 processes could increase our risk of suffering dementia. New experiences and new learning call upon our System 2 processes as do any problems that require active thinking. The neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques that define Alzheimer’s Disease have been found in both living and dead individuals who never showed any symptoms of the disease. They evidenced no cognitive impairment. The notion is that they had built a cognitive reserve that protected them from the disease.

So what might this cognitive reserve be? It is reasonable to believe that it consisted of rich interconnections in the brains of these individuals. The brain is remarkably plastic, so even when the plaques and tangles were present, apparently the interconnections were rerouted around them.

So how can someone build up this cognitive reserve? Lifelong learning, continuing to learn throughout one’s lifetime is key. Challenging the mind with tasks that require attention is important. It is also important to revisit those old memory circuits laid down years ago. Trying to remember all acquaintances and events can reactivate those circuits. Sometimes it will be difficult to recall these memories. Nevertheless, your unconscious mind will continue searching after your conscious mind has given up. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere it will just pop into your mind. Trivia games and games such as Jeopardy can be fun and potentially beneficial to a healthy memory. Reminiscing can also be beneficial provided the reminiscing is not always about the same old memories.

The healthymemory blog is devoted to building a cognitive reserve. The Mnemonic Techniques Category provides blog on mnemonic techniques that not only improve memory, but also provide cognitive exercise. Blog posts on meditation and mindfulness can also be found here. The Transactive Memory Category provided information on how technology and your fellow humans can foster memory health. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on memory and related topics bearing on a healthy memory.

1O’Shea, M. (2013). The Human Brain. New Scientist Instant Expert 31.

2Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Electrical Activity, Chemical Activity, Connectivity, and Epigenetic Activity

October 24, 2012

All of these are involved in making our memories. Our short term or working memories are held in fleeting changes in the brain‘s electrical and chemical activity. They quickly fade as our attention wanders, but they provide the basis of our conscious awareness.

Our long term memories are woven into webs of connections among the brain cells. The brain alters the communication between networks of cells by the creation of new receptors at the end of a neuron, by a surge in the production of a neurotransmitter, or by the forging of new ion channels that allows a brain cell to boost the voltage of its signals. The same pattern of neurons will fire when we recall the memory bringing the thought back into our consciousness. Long term memories include our autobiographical memories, our episodic memories of specific events in our lives, our sensory memories, as well as our semantic memories that comprise our knowledge of the world. One of the most important brain regions involved in this process are the hippocampi. The are located near the base of the brain and are especially important in the consolidation of new memories. When they are surgically removed or damaged, no new memories can be stored. Thus, no new learning can take place.

The preceding has been known for some time, what is new is an understanding of the epigenetic changes that are involved in memory. These involve small alterations in the structure of a gene and determine its activity within the cell. For instance, certain genes linked to the formation of memories have been shown to have fewer methyl groups attached to their DNA after learning. This is a clear example of an epigenetic change.1 Every time we recall a memory, new proteins are made. The epigenetic markers are altered changing the memory in subtle ways. So the brain is not like a video camera. It is dynamic and changes itself.

1Young, E. (2012). The Making of a Memory, New Scientist, 6 October, p.34.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Are the Atoms of Memory?

August 8, 2012

If you answered, “neurons,” you get partial credit. You need to remember the earlier Healthymemory Blog Post, “Glial Cells and Short Term Memory.” So neurons and glial cells are the atoms of memory. However, memories are not allocated to single neural or glial cells. Many years ago, the psychologist Karl Spencer Lashley published a report, “In Search of the Engram1” He would train animals to perform a specific task. Then in a series of experiments he would systematically remove different segments of cortex. Much less finding the engram in specific neurons, he was unable to locate specific areas of the associative cortex in which memories were stored. Let me stress associative cortex. If portions of the sensory cortex are removed, then the sense specific to that area of the cortex will be lost or seriously degraded. There are also subcortical structures, such as the hippocampus, that are important for the processing of memories.

Apparently memories are stored in patterns of firing among the circuits of neurons and glial cells. So memory circuits are established. The more they fire, the stronger they become, and more connections are established with other memory circuits. In this manner, one thought or memory leads to another. Many of these firings are below the level of consciousness. But your mind does manage to tap into some of them, and they constitute your flow of conscious thought. This can be regarded as short term or working memory. There is some question as to whether circuits in long term memory decay or are permanent. This is difficult to answer. Surely, you have experienced times when you knew you knew something, but could not recall it. This is called the Tip of the Tongue phenomenon. Later the desired item will suddenly pop into memory.

Generally speaking, I think it is a good idea to make a practice of recalling old memories. This puts you in touch with your past and prior knowledge. Even when you give up consciously trying to recall something, your subconscious will likely keep working to find it. Then, at an unexpected time, it can suddenly pop into consciousness. Unless you are working under time constraints, when you cannot recall something, it is best not to fall back on transactive memory immediately (that is, look it up or search for it, or ask someone), as your subconscious will likely keep working looking for it. This process of searching might well activate unused memory circuits.

A complicated experiment reported in Scientific American Mind2 done using mice came up with the estimate that on the order of 10,000 interlaced neurons in one very specific area of the brain is sufficient to form an engram, a specific memory. It is not yet known whether these interlaced neurons are necessary for the memory, or whether their removal will obliterate the memory.

1Lashley,K.S. (1950). In Search of the Engram. Society of Experimental Biology Symposium. 4, 454-482.

2Kock, C. (2012). Searching for the Memory. Scientific American Mind, July/August, 22-23.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Glial Cells and Working Memory

July 25, 2012

When I was a graduate student, glial cells presented a problem. No one seemed to know their function, yet there were so many of them. Gradually we are gaining insight into their important functions (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “Our Neurons Make Up only 15 Percent of our Brain Cells,” “Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease,” and “Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques.”) A recent study reported in Scientific American Mind1 indicates that certain types of glial cells might play a role in conscious thought. Astrocytes, a type of glia, appear to play an important role in short term or working memory.

It is well known that marijuana plays a role is disrupting short term memory. Although this might be fine for recreational uses of the drug, it can be disconcerting to those who are taking it for medical reasons to relieve pain. The experiment was done by Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux in France and his colleagues. They removed the cannabinoid receptors that respond to marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient THC. These mice were just as poor at memorizing the location of a hidden platform in a water pool. However, when the receptors were removed from the astrocytes, the mice could find the platform just fine while on THC.

Of course, we are generalizing findings from research on mice to humans. Although one should be caution, many such generalizations have held up in the past. You can understand why research like this is difficult to perform with humans. Mariscano made the following statement: “It is likely that astrocytes have many more functions than we thought. Certainly their role in cognition is no being revealed.”

Fortunately the pain-relieving property of THC appears to work through the neurons, so it might be possible to design THC-type drugs that target neurons, and not glia, so that pain relief can be provided without the cognitive disruptions.

1Williams, R. (2012). What Marijuana Reveals About Memory. Scientific American Mind, July/August, p.10.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stress and Memory

September 25, 2011

The relationship between stress and memory is complex. A recent article1 provided a discussion of this relationship. It is believed that stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol can facilitate or impair memory. These hormones may affect memory by strengthening or weakening the connections between nerve cells. It is thought that specialized cell-adhesion molecules play a key role in the learning process at the cellular level. These proteins connect two nerve cells and stabilize the synapse between them enabling the transmission of signals from cell to cell. These cell-adhesion molecules play an important role in reestablishing contact between nerve cells. They also help enable the synapses to change strength in response to increased or decreased signal transmission.

Whether memory is facilitated or impaired depends on when the hormones were released. Marian Joels and her colleagues formulated the theory2 explaining this relationship. According to their theory stress facilitates memory only when it is experienced close in time as the event that needs to be remembered and when stress hormones activate the same systems as those activated by the event. So stress only aids memory “when convergence in time and space takes place.” The stress hormones need to be released during or immediately after the event to be remembered. If they are released too soon before the event or a considerable time after, they have the opposite effect.

So their explanation involves two phases. During the first phase, stress launches hormones and neurotransmitters that increase attention and strengthen connections between brain cells forming new memories. In the second phase the cortisol initiates a second process within an hour or so to the stressful event. This second process works to consolidate memories suppressing any information not associated with the stressful event.

Stress does not affect all types of memory. The effects described refer to episodic, or personal biographic memory. Memory of motor skills, such as riding a bicycle, typically do not suffer adverse effects from stress. Stress limits the focus of attention, often overlooking helpful or relevant options. It calls upon strong crystalized memory circuits, limiting access to new or creative options.

1Schmidt, M.V., & Schwabe, L. (2011). Splintered by Stress. Scientific American Mind, September/October, 22-29.

2Joels et al. (2006). Learning Under Stress: How Does It Work? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 152-158.

Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease

May 8, 2011

A preceding post (“Our Neurons Make Up Only 15 Percent of Out Brain Cells”) highlighted the importance of glial cells to brain function. It was based on an article1 in Scientific American Mind, on which this current blog post is also based. The discoverer of Alzheimer’s Disease, Alos Alzheimer noted that microglia surround the amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of the disease. Recent research suggests that microglia become weaker with age and begin to degenerate. This atrophy can be seen under a microscope. In aged brain tissue, senescent microglia become fragmented and lose many of their cellular branches.

One more sign of microglial involvement can be found in the way Alzheimer’s courses through the brain. Damage spreads in a predetermined manner. It begins near the hippocampus and eventually reaches the frontal context. Microglial deneneration follows the same pattern but precedes the advance of neuronal degeneration, Alzheimer and most experts had presumed that microglial degeneration was a response to neuron degeneration. This new research suggests that the senescence is a cause of Alzheimer’s dementia. The hope is that once researchers learn why microglia become senescent with in some people but not in others, new treatments for Alzheimer’s could be developed.

It is also interesting to note the path of progression of the disease. It begins near the hippocampus, a cortical structure critical to memory. Memory loss can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s. The disease then progresses through the cortex to the frontal cortex. So more memory loss occurs as more cortex is destroyed. The frontal cortex is where most planning occurs. It plays an important role in focal attention. The executive functions of the frontal lobes include the ability to recognize future consequences from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions, to override and suppress unacceptable social actions, and determine similarities and differences between things and events. In short, it is key to higher mental functions.

1Fields, D.R. (2011). The Hidden Brain. Scientific American Mind. May/June, 53-59.

Our Neurons Make Up Only 15 Percent of Our Brain Cells

May 4, 2011

So what makes up the rest of our brain cells—glial cells. When I was a graduate student no one had a good idea what glial cells did. Glia comes from the Greek word for glue, so the best bet was the glial cells helped hold the brain together. An article1 in Scientific American Mind brought me up to date and demonstrated how woefully ignorant we were at that time. There are different types of glial cells. Astrocytes ferry nutrients and waste and mediate neuronal communication. Oligodendrocytes coat axons with insulating mylein, boosting signal speeds. Microglia fight infection and promote repair.

Previously, the neuron doctrine governed our understanding of the brain. According to the neuron doctrine all information in the nervous system is transmitted by electrical impulses over networks of neurons linked through synaptic connections. Recent research has demonstrated that some bypasses neurons completely, and flows without electricity through networks of glial cells. It has shown the role of glial cells in information processing and learning, as well as in neurological disorders and psychiatric illness.

In contrast to neurons, which communicate serially across chains of synapses, glia broadcast their signals widely throughout the brain, similar to cell phones, In contrast to the rapid communication throughout neural networks, the chemical communication of glia is very slow and spreads like a tidal wave through neural tissue at a pace of seconds or tens of seconds.

New brain imaging techniques have shown that after having engaged in such activities as learning to play a musical instrument, to read, or to juggle, structural changes occur in brain areas that control these cognitive functions. What is remarkable is that changes are seen in regions whee there are no complete neurons. These are “white matter” areas that are formed from bundles of axons coated with myelin, a white electrical insulator. All theories of learning had held that it is solely by strengthening synaptic connections is how learning occurs. As there are few synapses in while matter, clearly something else is happening that involves glial cells.

With respect to neurological and psychological illnesses, glial cells have been found to play a role. Alzheimer’s Disease is one of these illnesses, but the discussion of Alzheimer’s and glial cells will be postponed to a subsequent post. Glial cells account for the mystery of why spinal cord injury results in permanent paralysis. Proteins in the myelin insulation that oligodendrocytes wrap around axons stop injured axons from sprouting and repairing damaged circuits. Chronic pain is the result of microglia do not stop releasing the substances that promote the healing processes after healing is complete. Consequently, sensitivity to pain continues after healing is complete.

It is not surprising that glia play a central role in neurological disease as astrocytes and microglia are first responders to disease. Compulsive behavior, schizophrenia, and depression might all have there roots in the glial cells. Epilepsy is also regarded as a prime-candidate for glial-based therapeutics.

1Fields, D.R. (2011). The Hidden Brain. Scientific American Mind. May/June, 53-59.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Consciousness and the Grandmother Cell

February 27, 2011

The notion of a grandmother cell is that there are specific neurons that represent a specific concept of object, such as your grandmother. Initially this concept was not generally accepted. The primary criticism was that too many cells would be needed to identify each individual face because each orientation, expression, and lighting on the face would be different. Moreover, the appearance of the face would change over time.

However, recent research summarized in a Scientific American Mind article1, not only resurrects the notion of the grandmother cell, but also relates it to the phenomenon of consciousness. This research involves placing electrodes in the brain to measure electrical activity. This procedure is so invasive that it is only justified for medical diagnosis and treatment. Neurons in the medial temporal lobe are the source of many epileptic seizures. This region includes the hippocampus and turns visual and other sensory percepts into memories. Although most neurons respond to categories of objects, a few of the neurons were much more discriminating. One hippocampal neuron responded only to photos of Jennifer Aniston, and not to pictures of other actresses. Moreover, the cell responded to seven different pictures of Jennifer Aniston. They also found cells that responded to images of Mother Theresa, to cute little animals, and to the Pythagorean theorem.

Further research, by a highly creative and painstaking research team, developed a technique for making concepts visible. They took a volunteer patient and recorded from a neuron that responded to images of the actor Josh Brolin (who was in her favorite movie) and to another neuron that fired in response to the scene of Marilyn Monroe standing on a subway grill. The patient looked at a monitor where these two images were superimposed. The activity of the two cells controlled the extent to which she saw Brolin or Monroe in the hybrid image. When the patient focused her thoughts on Brolin, the neuron associated with Brolin fired more strongly. Similarly when the patient focused her thoughts on Monroe, the neuron associated with Monroe fired more strongly. Feedback was arranged such that the more one cell fired relative to the other, the more visible that image became as the competing image faded. The image on the screen kept changing until only Brolin or only Monroe remained on the screen. The patient loved it and felt that she was controlling what she saw, which she was.

We know that we can control what we are thinking about and that corresponding neurons and neural circuits respond. But this is, as far as I know, the first demonstration of this phenomenon. By using and controlling the appropriate memory circuits we are able to build and maintain our minds.

1Koch, C. (2011). Being John Malkovich. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 18-19. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Buddha’s Brain

February 13, 2011

Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom1 is not a book proselytizing Buddhism. Its authors are Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Richard Mendius, MD, who are a neuropsychologist and a neurologist, respectively. They address the intersection of three disciplines: Psychology, Neuroscience, and Contemplative Practice. In doing so, they avail us of wisdom from the East, wisdom that is not addressed by the West, in general, and by the Western educational system, in particular. Buddha’s Brain provides readers with a great deal of potential for cognitive growth and personal fulfillment.

Here are some basic facts from Buddha’s Brain. The brain consists of about 1.1 trillion cells, 100 billion of which are neurons. The average neuron receives about 5,000 connections, synapses, from other neurons. Chemicals called neurotransmitters carry signals across these synapses. A typical neuron fires from 5 to 50 times a second. The number possible neurons firing or not firing is about 10 to the millionth power (1 followed by a million zeroes). Now the number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be about 10 to the eightieth power. Conscious mental events, which represent a small percentage of brain activity, are based on temporary coalitions of synapses that form and disperse. Although the brain is only about 2 percent of the body’s weight, it consumes from 20 to 25 percent of the bodies oxygen and glucose. The brain is constantly working and uses about the same amount of energy whether you are sleeping or thinking hard. The brain interacts with the rest of your body and is shaped by the mind as well. Your mind is made by your brain, body, and natural culture as well as by the mind itself.

Buddha’s Brain covers the structures of the brain and neurotransmitters and explanations of what does what and how the different structures interact. More importantly, Buddha’s Brain explains how you can affect these structures and processes and mold your own brain and behavior. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know the importance of attention and selective attention to effective memory. Buddha’s Brain covers how to control and expand attention as well as how to control your emotions to lead to, as the title promises, happiness, love, and wisdom. People who are deeply into contemplative practices are able to control heart rate and blood pressure.

One prediction that I have read, and which I believe, is that within twenty years meditative practices will have become as frequent as aerobic exercising is today.

Some future blog posts will be based on excerpts from Buddha’s Brain, but they cannot do justice to the entire book. I strongly recommend its reading.

1Hanson, R., & Mendius, R. (2009). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.