Itâ€™s only been a few decades since scientists decided to open up a new field of study, called neuroscience. For centuries they have known that the nervous system (brain) controls all of our thoughts, moods, motions, language and dreams, but they were not certain how. Thanks to neuroscience, how our brain functions, and what parts of it are associated with all of our actions are better understood.
What is even more amazing, the more they discover the more they find there is to question.
In our everyday life everything we experience is done through our senses. We see the world around us; we hear sounds of nature and the voices of our friends and family; we touch a cold drink or a hot plate; we smell and taste the food set before us. Our brain takes the information from the senses and translates this information into codes (encoding) through neurotransmitters (connections) that pass from one neuron (brain cell) to another. In between chemicals are produced within our body to allow the connections to go to the right place. All of this is fed by the blood and oxygen that courses through our body and to our brain.
From the time we are born we are learning a new skill, falling in love, laughing at a joke giving our opinion, and sometimes forgetting where we put our car keys. Behind the scenes our brain is working to make the connections, or missing a connection, in order for you to go about your business.
Since neuroscience has developed as its own division there have been groundbreaking studies conducted in how the brain works, and with new technology neuroscientists are even able to map the brain patterns while we are thinking them â€“ and even be able to nearly duplicate a picture we have viewed. Although major strides have been made, there are so many more to go.
Some of the areas studied are how we remember (memory); how we make decisions; our ability to control ourselves (willpower); and religion and spirituality.
- Memory: Memory is the area of neuroscience most studied. It involves the way our brain processes memory; what happens if there is an interruption in our memory; what can cause memory loss, especially as we age; and how can any problem be treated and then cured.
There are many systems involved in memory, and different types of memory – short-term and long-term memory being the two main ones. There are also subdivisions of memory that work together, sometimes at the same time and sometimes separately – like sensory memory and musical memory, for exampleÂ (remembering a song that your grandmother would sing to you as a child, bringing up fond memories).
Memory also is formed and stored in different parts of the brain, so you can forget where you parked your car (information stored in the neocortex), but remember how to drive it when you find it (a learned skill found in the striatum and cerebellum).
- Decisions: Before we even are aware we have made a decision our brain has already taken action and plotted the course you will take. In other words, studies have shown our brain decided for itself which path we will be taking, long before our conscious is aware of it.
- Willpower: Researchers have found that willpower is not just a metaphor; it’s a measurable trait that draws on a finite mental resource, like a muscle. Willpower can be strengthened through training.
- Religion and spirituality: There is a lot of mental activity going on when we study religion and spirituality. Researchers have found there are three essential portions of the brain that are used in the development of religion â€“ search for answers through the process of cause and effect; ability to discern motives and understand people; and language skills. Spiritual activity also can be traced to specific areas in the brain.Â
Our brains have often been compared to computers, but that is not the case. Computers follow a logical path and canâ€™t deviate from their programming, unless malfunctioning. Our brains are a complex bundle of neurons that interact with each other, and are capable of many rewiring itself to make up for connections that may not be working correctly. The brain is also capable of making new cells as it learns, and our computers canâ€™t add more Ram for itself.
Some of the most primitive functions of the brain, such as the fight-or-flight response to danger, resist being overridden by the brain’s powerful reasoning center, which evolved more recently. Your brain also is capable of protecting you by blocking out memories that it believes you canâ€™t handle, until it decides you are capable of handling them.
Much of what the brain does is beyond our conscious control, but intervention is possible in some cases, and this is something neuroscientists are working on to help us in using these methods in treatment for mental conditions and diseases, including Alzheimerâ€™s and other forms of memory loss.
Neuroscience is YOU!
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.
The Great Courses â€“ Neuroscience of Everyday Life: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=1540