• Posted: Feb 03, 2008 13:14:15
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There is, to say the least, much we don't understand about the brain, even after more than 100 years of poking, prodding, dissecting, irradiating, chemically bathing, electrically stimulating, testing, and compassionately discussing. But careful observation will offer verification for a few remarkable truths.
First, the brain processes information. Physicists and chemists spend nearly their entire careers charting the paths of matter and energy through the various twists and turns of material existence. Only recently has it become apparent that pairs of sub-atomic particles communicate with each other at a distance through something called "spooky action at a distance". As a result, one physicist has theorized that through concrete action we actively alter the universe of the past by steps we take to influence the future. Interesting, though probably unprovable. However, the point here is that humans commonly influence each other, themselves, and their environment everyday by reading and acting upon something other than impinging matter or energy. And that something is information. Information is non-substantial, but significantly consequential. And the organ that allows that to happen is the brain.
Second, the healthy functioning of the brain is significantly influenced by environment. But "environment" in what sense? The answer is informational richness. Over and over again studies and experiments have proven this. Only recently an orphanage within the former Soviet Union housing infants severely deprived of any kind of human interaction offered profoundly saddening evidence of this truth. And thousands of studies comparing various classrooms, school districts, and parenting and teaching methods concur. An informationally rich social environment engages the informational processing abilities of the brain and it flourishes.
Third, the appetite of the brain for novel and intriguing information is tempered within the brain by an emotional need for calm. This innate desire or push for calm was likely in some previous sense adaptive. No doubt it has always been dangerous to advertise your presence to potential predators with elation or anger. Hence, those who successfully temper their enthusiasms tend to survive to reproduce. One hazard, though. In the dead of winter as homeostatic processes slow or as the routine of a settled mature life is established, the over-calmed brain can become starved for informational richness. And the result can be dysfunctional thinking and/or behavior.
Fourth, narrative helps us to organize and make sense of the information we experience. Narrative can help us achieve useful insight and meaningfully differentiate choices. But narrative can also help establish and maintain blindness and prejudice, or set us up for predation.
Beware the stories you listen to. Not all have your best interests at heart, no matter how much they tell you they do.
Saturday, January 6th, 2007
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