The Mysterious Brain

By on April 16, 2014
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Our brain is the very basis of our functioning.  Without our brain, there is no sense of self or consciousness.

While the nature of consciousness is highly debated, it cannot be argued that a wholly functioning brain is required for consciousness.  Some patients have a stroke that puts them in a coma. While their bodies may still be hard at work to keep them alive, the part of the brain that establishes a sense of self is no longer functioning. Yet if a part of the brain just adjacent is impacted after a stroke, the body is paralyzed while the mind is hard at work. The patient is essentially a prisoner within his own body. So what makes the brain so complex that we are unable to understand it?

As the late biologist Lyall Watson said “If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.”

But as science is advancing, we are at a point where we know enough about the brain to at least provide medications for Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy, even if we cannot come up with a comprehensive cure. Every day, research is done in attempt to learn more about the brain and its functions. But with the several functions, come several diseases.

These diseases prove to be very difficult for us to understand because so much of the brain is still unknown to us. In addition, the brain controls the functions of the entire body, which is no small feat.

Diseases of the brain or nervous can be so different, too.

Meningitis, the bacterial infection of the meninges, is considered a brain disease, yet, so are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. All three diseases are so different from each other, but they are all 3 ways that the brain is not functioning properly.

Then we have an illness like depression that many actually don’t even consider a disease. Altered brain patterns have been observed in patients diagnosed with depression, including reduced synaptic plasticity, meaning the neurons are not as dynamic as usual, making it harder to recall old memories as well as form new ones. In addition, levels of chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin seem to be altered in depressed patients.

Anti-depressants work to reverse these trends, making neurons more plastic and readjusting chemical levels. Interestingly enough, studies show that anti-depressants seem to be only as effective as placebo pills.  This suggests that there is a very powerful effect in thinking that you are being “cured.” Again, this delves into the complexity of the brain that we have yet to understand.

The fields of psychology and neuroscience both are blooming as research in these disciplines is becoming more and more popular. The next couple decades and millions of dollars of research funding will hopefully uncover more secrets that the brain has kept to itself for thousands of years.

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