February 21, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

The Brain You Use, and How It Uses You

Neuroscientists continue to find out amazing things about the human brain.  In some ways we are responsible to use our brains, but in other ways the brain does things to us.  If nobody has figured out where the dividing line is for thousands of years, it’s unlikely we will today; but the following findings can shed some light on the mystery.

  1. Sing for mental health.  Something about singing does a brain good.  The BBC News and National Geographic reported on work at Northwestern University that showed music helps prevent dyslexia in children and can even rewire a damaged brain.  That seems to indicate that if you did not choose to avail yourself of music therapy, the benefits would not occur.
  2. Remember to forget:  New studies on memory seem to suggest that forgetting is an active process.  Old memories don’t just fade away; they are actively erased to make room for new memories.  That’s the idea in an article on Live Science reporting on work in China and at Cold Spring Harbor Labs, New York.  The researchers feel this could lead to drugs that could help patients erase bad memories, like traumatic events.  Be sure not to overdose on it.  Who knows if the brain would come back after a reboot – think of having to take all that school again.
  3. Nap stir:  Speaking of a reboot, that mid-day nap might refresh your brain like a warm restart.  PhysOrg, Live Science and Science Daily all reported on findings at UC Berkeley that show naps clear the mind and boost the brain’s learning capacity.  Moms may appreciate the break when the baby takes its nap, but important things are happening in the tiny head in that interval.  Maybe Mom should take one, too.
        Participants who took 90-minute naps in a controlled experiment scored markedly better on learning tests.  One researcher put it into familiar terms: “It’s as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail.  It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.”  So that’s why we forget what the teacher said.  Unfortunately, the teacher doesn’t get a “Returned to sender” message from the student.  The student should not try to argue to the teacher that his napping in class is a way to enhance his learning.

The brain-computer analogy got another insight recently.  Researchers at the Institute for Technical Science in Graz are abandoning the single-file method of computing and building net-like processors.  Science Daily said this effort was inspired by studying how the brain is wired, with each neuron connecting to many other neurons.  “The scientists want to design a new generation of neuro-computers based on the principles of calculation and learning mechanisms found in the brain, and at the same time gain new knowledge about the brain’s learning mechanisms.”
Science Daily looked to worms for the answer.  Whatever it was, it started early on.  Their headline stated, “Last Ancestor Humans Shared With Worms Had Sophisticated Brain, microRNAs Show.”

That last article wins Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week for beginning, “The last ancestor we shared with worms, which roamed the seas around 600 million years ago, may already have had a sophisticated brain that released hormones into the blood and was connected to various sensory organs.”  The implication is that our brains evolved from worm brains.  But this relies on evolutionary assumptions and deep time, and doesn’t help Darwin anyway; it pushes the origin of these sophisticated mechanisms closer to the goo.
    Back to reality. Who could not be fascinated by the brain?  We are aware of choosing to think and act, but there are also many processes that occur automatically in the background – re-organizing memories in sleep, re-wiring in response to music, entrainment of a new skill or idea by habit after focused concentration.  We sense that we are operating a very sophisticated computer.  We know how to use the GUI, but have no idea how the software and wiring works.  Evolutionists tend to be materialists and deny we have free will (e.g., 02/17/2010, bullet 1), but creationists typically believe we have responsibility for our choices and actions.  The debates will go on, but it’s hard to defend determinism, when you think about it.  See?

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