Humbling Insight
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Humbling Insight • Posted: Apr 27, 2020 20:58:41Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Distraction can be a soothing palliative for distress. Instead of focusing on all that’s going wrong and feeling overwhelmed and inadequate in face of impending consequence, many of us seek distraction. President Trump, for instance, throws a tantrum, publicly berating those whom he feels have failed to protect him from embarrassment. Others turn to reruns on TV or actually reading a book again. Exercise, trying something new in the kitchen, or picking up on a lost and forgotten thread of interest can be even more healthfully simulating and productive. One cannot go wrong feeding the brain on curiosity. In fact, curiosity is the life’s blood of science, scientists, academics, artists, and journalists everywhere. Serendipitous discovery is the treasure to be found, a reward far more satisfying than leaving scars on one’s perceived enemies.

So sad the pathetic personality of our current head of government. One is tempted to ask: how do such self-destructive personalities actually come about? Lately, my curiosity has me reading articles on the latest discoveries in science. One such article has me fascinated. And, it would seem to have bearing on the question of how personalities develop.

The article in Science Daily peaking my interest reviewed a study by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, originally published in Nature Communications. Those researchers, led by Ph.D. candidate Tianda Fu and microbiologist Derek Lovely, were attempting to create electronic circuits operating at voltages similar to what occurs within the human brain. Today’s computers and cell phones operate at around 1 volt or 1000 millivolts. The human brain operates at closer to 80 millivolts, a significantly weaker signal. The Amherst team achieved their goal using stretches of protein nanowire, derived from the surface of a microbe, instead of using only fabricated nanowire made of metal. And in the process, they discovered something very interesting. As ultra-low voltage current passed from protein nanowire to metal nanowire, the metal nanowire changed. It branched.

So, what’s so interesting about that? To my mind, it helps make more concrete something only theorized as to how learning works within the human brain. Scientists have suspected for some time the most probable process by which the brain encodes new learning is by creating new connections between neurons within the brain, neurons being the branching and rooting vine-like cells making up most of the brain and nervous system. But how that process actually occurs has not been obvious. The discovery by the Amherst team suggests a chemical mechanism by which learning initiates within neurons of the brain.

According to microbiologist Lovely, ultra-low voltage electrons flowing from protein nanowire to metal nanowire “facilitate metal reduction, changing metal ion reactivity and electron transfer properties.” Branching occurs when newly ionized metal molecules re-associate with each other creating semi-crystalline structures branching outward. The same process is known to cause deterioration of anodes and cathodes inside rechargeable batteries. What now seems probable from the Amherst team’s observation is that, within the human brain, ultra-low voltages crossing the gap between neurons likely initiate the fabrication or construction of new connections across and between existing networks of neurons by changing the ionic relationships amongst molecules within those neurons. The Amherst results suggest changes to ionic relationships within cells by ultra-low voltages is the chemical mechanism that precipitates new neuronal out-branching. New out-branching means new networks of connection, new insights, new understandings, new abilities, and, in many ways, a new you with clearer definition to your developing personality.

It must be noted, however, that not all newly branched connections within human brains persist. Anatomical investigations indicate that pruning occurs. Think of learning to play the piano. Not all newly formed connections contribute to playing the intended notes with reliable precision. With diligent practice, some connections strengthen while others atrophy and are pruned from existence. Playing gets better. Learning becomes clarified.

Now, because learning is so individually different between persons, reflecting differing points of view, differing individual experiences, and different framing, reading, and interpretation of experience, we get widely differing personalities. That’s not usually a bad thing, especially as we learn to appreciate our own limited points of view and find value in other people’s differently knowledgeable points of view. But why some of our number seem to have lost, or perhaps never had, the advantage of being able to easily learn new things or appreciate leaning by others, that is still a mystery, a particularly disturbing mystery in some cases. Think, perhaps, of President Trump.

May the change of routine forced upon us these days inspire your curiosity and lead you to an ever growing variety of humbling and useful serendipitous discoveries.

Friday, April 5th, 2019