Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brain and its plasticity

In modern thought the brain and mind has almost become inseparable. It’s only people like Penfield who could even voice other views in this regard. And when they do so, that would normally be treated with derision, since there is a strong behaviorist content in modern medical thought.

Yet this was not what the doctor was famous for. He was the first to introduce brain mapping. In his experiments he had carefully mapped the brain of his patients and though he had not personally claimed that the centers within the brain are unalterably attached to the bodily parts from which they receive stimulation, he was supposed to have done so by all the text books on medicine till recently. This view was taught widely and every medical student believed in it implicitly. And so it was imagined that the adult brain had no plasticity, that is, once the centers of brain were confirmed by exposure to sensations they remain unchanged and localized.

Yet David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel had already proved that there was plasticity in the brain of the young and Wiesel had also received the Nobel Prize for the discovery! But they too had held firm on to the theory that adult brain is not plastic. It was left to Michael Merzenich to prove otherwise. By inhibiting stimulation from body parts to the brain he is said to have conclusively established that the brain adapts quickly and the part that is cutoff is immediately integrated into the system and used for processing other data coming from without that is related to its previous activity.

If that is so it’s done by neuro transmitters that act as messengers between neurons and the brain cells. This is important, because science has not yet found a central mechanism inside the brain that integrates all its parts into a whole and passes orders modifying the behavior of any of its parts when the need arises to do so. This is where the words of Penfield come to our mind.

“Scientific work on the brain does not explain the mind – not yet”

And again

“But the mind has energy. The form of that energy is different from that of neuronal potentials that travel the axone pathways.”

If there is a separate entity called mind and it has its own potential then what would prevent us from imagining that it acts as an integrative force on the brain, modifying its behavior to the extend it is needed? But then what could be the nature of this mind? How do we account for it? Where does it originate? Could it be of the nature of thought or feelings, could it be a body created initially by the brain itself and perpetuated by the constant and intelligent reactions of the being to its environment, becoming stronger and capable of existing on its own as time goes, even capable of attracting the necessary conditions to produce life forms so that it can survive?

I think it’s possible. In short energy can’t just disappear like that!

May be by now you have started wondering where I am leading all this to! Well not to worry. What I have been trying to do was to provide an impetus to our imagination so that we can cognize stranger things than what we are accustomed to by this circuitous and interesting journey. I certainly can go deeper into it and cite scientific examples by the scores. But that is not the point. The point is, there could be alternate views to the existing ones and if they come to us with the authority of a figure of the great Buddha’s stature we may give ear to it. I encourage you to read up on the subject of our brain and its functions.

I think it was evident to Buddha that birth is the result of previous birth. We can’t argue that the limited sphere of our ordinary experience is the end of all perception. Even the science recognizes that there are alternate states of consciousness where the reality experienced by us could be different to that of our ordinary one.

We will now return to the teachings of the great master.

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