Tag Archives: Brain

Electromagnets and the Servings of Hope

So got the latest iPhone and accessories? That will definitely speed productivity and social connections. Do you have children who are electronically savvy with these devices? Depending on who is doing the research, there may be a mixed bag of OOOHS and OH NOOOs.

EMF1Here we explain. Most of our speedy, high tech devices are powered by Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs). Cindy Sage, MA, and Nancy Evans, BS explain in their handout prepared for a website called Healthy Schools in 2011 in detail the kinds of EMFs that we encounter everyday:

Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) are generated from appliances and other items that  use electricity (power frequency fields).

Radiofrequency (RF-EMF) is generated by wireless technologies such as cellular and cordless phones.

“Dirty electricity” is a term used to describe low kilohertz frequency fields that can be thought of as an unintentional RF pollutant on electrical wiring and into living space. Power is “dirty” or polluted when it contains the high frequency signals flowing through overloaded wires, and not just the clean 60 Hz power that’s created at the source.

We are all aware of the benefits of modernization and upgrading to the latest gadgetry. We are able to cram as much work/leisure/information as possible in the shortest amount of time. It improves productivity, increases quantity of life skills, and promotes connectivity only science fiction writers used to dream about.  Ironically (good or bad), in 2010 MIT neuroscientists have now shown they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region — a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality. The researchers, led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT assistant professor
of brain and cognitive sciences disrupted activity brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp.  The researchers used a noninvasive technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to selectively interfere with brain activity in the right TPJ. The magnetic field applied to a small area of the skull creates weak electric currents that impede nearby brain cells’ ability to fire normally, but the effect is only temporary.

They found that the subjects’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions was impaired. The researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.

So EMFs literally can assist in changing our minds, literally. How about our health? And our young people’s development?

EMF2
A report commissioned by T-Mobile and Deutsche Telecom MobilNet GmbH prepared in 2000 reviews effects such as gene toxicity, cellular processes, effects on the immune system, central nervous system, hormone systems and connections with cancer and infertility. This was utilized by the Commonwealth Club of California’s Program on Health Effects of Cell Phones, Wireless Technologies & Electromagnetic Fields With Leading Experts in November 2010.

In their study, Dr Kerstin Hennies, Dr H.‐Peter Neitzke and Dr Hartmut Voigt in behalf of the Telecom companies found:

1. Given the results of the present epidemiological studies, it can be concluded that electromagnetic fields with frequencies in the mobile telecommunications range do play a role in the development of cancer. This is particularly notable for tumours of the central nervous system, for which there is only the one epidemiological study so far, examining the actual use of mobile phones.

2. Damaging effects on the immune system which can aid the development of illnesses as demonstrated higher secretions of stress hormones in humans.

3. Effects of high frequency electromagnetic fields on the central nervous system are proven for intensities well below the current guidelines.

4. The terms ‘electrosensitivity’ or ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ describe disturbances of well‐being and impairments of health, such as they are suffered by certain sensitive people when working with or being in the presence of devices and equipment emitting electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic fields.

They also conclude: “A particular problem in this exposure group is posed by children and adolescents, not only because their organism is still developing and therefore particularly susceptible, but also because many cp-radiationadolescents have come to be the most regular users of mobile phones. Advertising towards this population group should be banned. Furthermore, particular efforts should be made to lower the exposures during calls. It would be recommendable to conduct (covert) advertising campaigns propagating the use of headsets. It would also be important to develop communications and advertising aiming at minimising the exposures created by carrying mobile phones in standby mode on the body.”

That was in 2000. That is not the case in 2015. Covert would not be the word for the in-your-hand ads aimed to the youngest demographic possible (e.g. no more teen data overages…hint hint). So what to do?

Here’s the practical, scientific approach recommended by experts: Use a corded phone (land line) as your regular telephone. If you need to use a cordless phone or cell phone, use a headset (wired only) whenever possible and/or use your phone on speakerphone. Text rather than talk. Keep your calls very brief, and hold your cell phone away from your head and body, especially when the phone is connecting your call. Children should not use cell phones or cordless phones. Studies show children have a five-fold risk of malignant brain tumors in a shorter time than adults. 

hope1The other recommendation? Healthy servings on Hope. The brain on hope supports a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness. What it shows could fuel a revolution in psychology, as the field comes to grips with accumulating evidence that our brains are constantly being shaped by the future.

Findings from a study  conducted a few years ago with prominent neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and Tali Sharot suggest that directing our thoughts of the future toward the positive is a result of our frontal cortex’s communicating with subcortical regions deep in our brain. The frontal cortex, a large area behind the forehead, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It is larger in humans than in other primates and is critical for many complex human functions such as language and goal setting.

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, the researchers recorded brain activity in volunteers as they imagined specific events that might occur to them in the future. Some of the events were desirable (a great date or winning a large sum of money), and some were undesirable (losing a wallet, ending a romantic relationship). The volunteers reported that their images of sought-after events were richer and more vivid than those of unwanted events.

This matched the enhanced activity observed in two critical regions of the brain: the amygdala, a small structure deep in the brain that is central to the processing of emotion, and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), an area of the frontal cortex that modulates emotion and motivation. The rACC acts like a traffic conductor, enhancing the flow of positive emotions and associations. The more optimistic a person was, the higher the activity in these regions was while imagining positive future events (relative to negative ones) and the stronger the connectivity between the two structures.

The positive physiological effects of hope are well-documented, most recently by CNN in 2013  in Jerome Groopman’s “The Anatomy of Hope,” where he writes: “Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry.”  His research also showed that during the course of illness, belief and expectation have an impact on the nervous system which, in turn, sets off a chain reaction that makes improvement and recovery more likely. Groopman observed that hope does not just involve a mind-to-body connection, but also a body-to-mind connection, where neural input about one’s physical condition serves as a moderator of positive and negative emotions.

hope2Shane Lopez, author of the new book “Making Hope Happen,” believes hope is the stuff of change, recovery and healing. Hope is half optimism, Lopez explains. The other half is the belief in the power that you can make it so.There is a profound difference between hoping and wishing, he continues. Wishing encourages passivity, whereas hope represents an active stance.

“Wishing is the fantasy that everything is going to turn out OK. Hoping is actually showing up for the hard work.”

And it is hard work to find moderation between technological use and traditional, generalist methods of living. A line needs to be drawn for generations after us to have a chance at a future before they can manipulate it, or else all the forward thinking and efficiency cramming we did in our heyday for them is mismatched and misaligned. Balancing between picking up a book with pages AND including one or two websites for research creates a nifty scale bridging the survival rate of the future and wisdom from longevity of the past.

T’is the Season for Depression, And How to Shake it Off

It is definitely the heart of winter, mid-February, and we would be lucky if we had a week that didn’t have frigid temperatures, snowfall and blizzard-type winds, and long nights. Compared to the spring and summer seasons, winter in the northeastern hemisphere of the United States challenge even the happiest of people — weather conditions force us to stay indoors as much as possible, unless we emancipate ourselves from the city during these times into a cabin in the woods with hot cocoa and recreational activities meant for the season.

I am willing to bet however we aren’t all as lucky; city life and the responsibilities that come with it keep us close to it even in the harshest winter weather conditions. Compound that feeling of being trapped with heavy layered clothing, dangerous walking and commuting conditions, and gray, dreary short days that at 5 pm remind you it is wintertime with it’s pitch black quick nightfall.

Understandably this time of year, after the holidays have passed, depression sets in full force. There are those of us, however, who suffer a more consistent, cyclical type of depression this time of year called Season Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD has been recognized and included in the diagnostic classification system of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition as major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern. In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, for those people with the opposite pattern, meaning have symptoms that begin in spring or summer may be suffering from a major depressive disorder.

Let’s look at this table below, courtesy of information from the Mayo Clinic:

Mayo Clinic Table

There is a clear difference identified between Major Depression affected by SAD, Fall and Winter SAD stand alone, and then a category that actually has a Spring and Summer SAD! Obviously, the most popular kind is in the fall and winter, however there are those who have difficulties thriving in the Spring and Summer and display the symptoms listed above.

After serving a distinguished career at the National Institute of Mental Health researching cyclical mood patterns, Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, currently a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and Medical Director of the Capital Clinical Research Associates, in Rockville, Maryland, sheds light on the topic in an interview  with Psychiatry (As published in NICH website).

Dr. Rosenthal claims, “Every year, as the days become short and dark, people with SAD develop a predictable set of symptoms. They slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches, and they gain weight. Their concentration suffers, and they withdraw from friends and family. As you can imagine, their work and relationships suffer, and they can become quite depressed. This symptom cluster often lasts for four or five months until the days become longer again. Since the syndrome is linked to a lack of light, people with SAD may become depressed during cloudy weather at any time of year, or if they are confined to windowless offices or basement apartments.”

He also says that SAD in its full form affects productivity in work or school, affect interpersonal relationships, and causes a marked loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. There is a milder form of seasonal disorder which is called the winter blues and yields similar symptoms of decreased energy and increased appetite.  This can also affect enthusiasm and productivity. For instance, people with SAD report sleeping an average of 2.5 hours more in winter than in the summer, whereas people with winter blues sleep 1.7 hours more (the general population sleeps 0.7 hours more in the winter).

So how do we combat depression, SAD or otherwise?

Typical Major Depression that is not directly affected by SAD are affected by Dopamine and Serotonin levels. A Study in the International Journal of Neuroscience in 2005 by TIFFANY FIELD, MARIA HERNANDEZ-REIF, MIGUEL DIEGO, SAUL SCHANBERG, and CYNTHIA KUHN determined that in studies cortisol was assayed either in saliva or in urine, significant decreases were noted in cortisol levels (averaging decreases 31%). In studies in which the activating neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) were assayed in urine, an average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine. These studies combined suggest the stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences. They suggest that massage therapy improves overall wellness that can be utilized as an external source of increasing the happy neurotransmitters.

In some cases, Norepinephrine was also tagged to be part of the major depression cycle. See the image below:

Norepinephrine-Dopamine-Serotonin Venn
Norepinephrine-Dopamine-Serotonin Venn

The three neurotransmitters combine to maintain mood, focus and learning. Interestingly enough however, the serotonin-norepinephrine connection is what mostly determines the increase in depression, while dopamine-serotonin here is claimed to be highly involved in learning. Would it be safe to say then if the focus was on new learning and equipping one with new skills, that this may also offset major depression with chemical intervention to stabilize the serotonin-norepinephrine channels? New learning has been related to initially boosting dopamine which attracts wellness and confidence, and in turn effects the serotonin levels and pulls away from the norepinephrine pull to depression.

However, learning something new is only a small part of the solution. There are many more complex factors in major depression such as genetics, environmental situations, lifestyle choices which includes work-rest-exercise balance, diet and sleep.

For those with SAD on either the Fall-Winter Seasons or the Spring-Summer Seasons, Dr. Rosenthal says commonly used therapies include Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications are the main treatments for SAD. Also, stress management and exercise programs can be helpful. Although the first controlled studies of light therapy were conducted only 25 years ago, this treatment has subsequently become the mainstay of SAD therapy throughout the world.

Mayo clinic also indicates that one’s biological clock (circadian rhythm) is part of what is affected by SAD sufferers. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD.The changes in the season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.

Dr. Rosenthal agrees with the need for therapeutic sunlight. He says, “Sixty to 80 percent of SAD sufferers benefit from light therapy. The amount of light varies from person to person. The best light therapy units are about 1ft by 1.5ft in surface areas and use white fluorescent lights behind a plastic diffusing screen, which filter out ultraviolet rays. Mornings seem the best time for light therapy to work, although the treatments can be divided during the day. Most people respond to light therapy within 2 to 4 days of initiating treatment. Although the amount of time needed varies, most people need between 30 and 90 minutes (10,000lux) of light therapy per day.”

In the New York Times article by Roni Rabin in 2011, “A Portable Glow to Help Those Winter Blues,” it quotes a 2006 multicenter double-blind randomized controlled trial that compared bright-light therapy head to head with the popular antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) in 96 subjects found the two treatments equally effective for alleviating winter depression, though light produced results faster, usually within a week, and with fewer side effects.

Presently, popular companies like Verilux, Nature Bright, and Northern Light Technologies have come up with consumer based light boxes that can be used all year round at home and in other locations with lack of light. Dr. Andrew Weil, a doctor and author who focuses on holistic health recommends SAD sufferers must sit in front of the light for about a half an hour per day. Light therapy is reputed to work in 80 percent of all cases of SAD. This treatment can relieve symptoms within a few days, but sometimes takes as long as two weeks or more. He cautions that  while light boxes can be purchased without a prescription, a physician or other mental health professional can provide guidelines as to how to use a light therapy box for maximum effectiveness and may recommend a particular light box (you may need a doctor’s prescription if you’re seeking insurance coverage for the cost of a light therapy box).

Exposure to natural sunlight as well during the long winter months is recommended as well as a walk outside during the morning hours, however that is dependent on lifestyle and weather conditions unfortunately. The bottomline is this: whether it is major depression or SAD that causes you to be frozen in your own life, aiming for the serotonin-dopamine increase will ultimately be the key to off-setting the symptoms and hopefully improve the quality of living in the long run.

Love with the Brain, the Mind and the Body

Sitting at a table at Tillie’s, my favorite, independent Brooklyn café, I find myself easily distracted. The people are much more interesting to watch than my work is to complete. A guy of about 23 years walks in. He’s nearly 6 feet tall, very thing, longer, thick wavy dark hair—in a word attractive. I decide to watch him. What is his story? Does he go to school? He orders a large Raspberry Iced-Tea…or I assume that’s what he’s ordered because it looks exactly like mine, and that is what I ordered. He takes out his phone and fiddles with it. Boring. I got back to my work. About thirty minutes later, a girl walks in. Tall, dark olive skin, black long straight hair, very thin—in a word attractive. She is carrying a medium size white bag, most likely with food in it. He looks up and tries very hard to hide the smile the smile that is growing inside of him at the sight of HER, her walking through the door weaving among the chairs toward HIM. She hands him the bag and sits down in one swift smooth motion, maybe she’s a dancer, She, too, cannot hide the smile. The bag is more than a bag, perhaps an expression of love. She leaves to get something to drink. He immediately opens the bag and pulls out a small note—filled front and back—about the size of post-it—the smile trying so hard to stay hidden returns. He reads the note, more in lover with her than ever.

Love. Almost as essential as breathing. Why? Because love is ubiquitous. People love with their entire self: their brains, their minds, their bodies; No one loves with just their hearts.

According to Helen Fisher at Rutgers University, there are 3 stages; lust, attraction, and attachment. Robert Sternberg proposes a similar idea: the love triangle. The love triad includes: intimacy, commitment and passion, which Sternberg demonstrates is found in the seven different types of love determined by the power of each point of the triad:

1. Consummate: highest level of level, equal presence of intimacy, commitment and passion

2. Infatuated: Includes only passion

3. Fatuous: Includes equal amounts of passion and commitment

4. Empty: Includes only commitment

5. Companionate: Includes intimacy and commitment

6. Romantic: Includes intimacy and passion

7. Liking/friendship: Includes only intimacy

However, each researcher’s theory on love show the impact of love on they brain, the mind and the body.

The Brain on Love

Love literally changes our brain.

The brain on love is akin to the brain on drugs given the release of hormones that occur especially in Helen Fisher’s second stage of love: Attraction. In this is stage, greater than normal levels of dopamine are released in the brain. Dopamine release triggers the reward and pleasure center in the brain; the same chemical released when using cocaine. In addition, to dopamine, many other neurotransmitters and/or hormones are released: cortisol, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. The release of these neurotransmitters are literally changing the wiring and firing of the neurons. Therein, changing the brain, which changes the mind and the body. In Sternberg’s love triad, commitment, the active decision to stay in the relationship, represents the brain. A connection to people’s evolved pre-frontal cortex and executive function skills such as goal-directed  or task-directed persistence. Loving only with the mind would be considered empty love according to Sternberg.

The Mind on Love

The mind on love leads to sharing, trust, and intimacy.
The mind on love leads to sharing, trust, and intimacy.

The mind on love is a result of the release of serotonin. Helen Fisher found that serotonin is responsible for the inability of one to stop thinking about his or her partner and the rose-colored glasses effect. The ability to see the object of affection as more desirable and the relationship as more unique than others. This can be equated to intimacy on Sternberg’s love triangle. Dr. Arthur Aron demonstrated the ability to create intimacy even within a lab setting when complete strangers were paired with one another and given approximately 45 minutes to discuss 36 questions. After the discussion participants were asked to look into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes without speaking. Two participants after this experiment ended up married. According to Sternberg, intimacy is critical in many types of love including: consummate, companionate, romantic and liking/friendship. Intimacy represents the mind on love because it has the ability to occur despite the absence of an end-goal or physical attraction.

The Body on Love

The Body on love is felt by the heart.
The Body on love is felt by the heart.

This is the most common reference to love because people associate love with their hearts. Indeed, loving another person involves a change in heart-rate. However, this due to the release of cortisol and norepinephrine. Yet, the bodily changes, which cue people to the fact that they are experiencing a strong and separate emotion from those on a daily basis is the most easily identifiable because it involves the body. According to Helen Fisher, body love is the first stage of love: lust. It leads to the other stages taking place. Dr. Aron, found that it takes only 90 seconds to determine if someone finds another attractive. The body on love associated with romantic love or what is perceived to be romantic love, but may in fact include: consummate, infatuated or fatuous types of love.

One does not fall ‘in’ or ‘out’ of love One grows in love. ~ Leo buscaglia

 

Regardless of how love is categorized, labeled, or defined, the experience of love, regardless of type is unique to very. Love is universally acknowledge, felt and expressed. The great equalizer so to speak; given the uncontrollable impact it has on the brain it can make the most eloquent speaker a mumbling mess or turn the introverted intellect into a dashing diva. Fall…leap…sneak…grow love in whatever form. Love is meant to be experienced with the brain, the body and the mind…not just the heart.

Celebrate. Love. Everyday.

Metacognition is to Mindfulness (Not Everyone Can Always Teach…)

Big buzz words, both of them in the title of this article. One featuring a significant process of the Pre-Frontal Cortex, and the other, affectation of awareness from the entire brain, based upon the driving of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. However, let’s simplify the language of Metacognition and veer away from the “thinking about thinking” cliché (albeit that is what that is, the repetitive use of the definition is overused).

Meta (after, or beyond) cognition (conscious mental activities : the activities of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering) is that ten second delay before the thinking is decided upon as the last answer or decision. It is the pulling yourself out of your own awareness to look at the process that is involved in your own thinking: from the first suggestion of an idea to the last decided action. Metacognition then is the conscious mental activity that is after or beyond the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering.

The Metacognition Phase
The Metacognition Phase

It’s what we commonly refer to as THINKING ON YOUR FEET. When you rely on the automatic responses of behavior that you tuck in the memory bank for the ‘rainy days’ and successfully combine these responses without reference to a specific technique or to a pattern, you have successfully practiced the art of metacognition. Most of us use the metacognitive process in its basest sense that its application is usually muted.

Labels, both rigid and tailored to testing have been directing the voice of education. Plotting one’s education based on the ability to test versus improving the quality of the inquiring mind has recently been winning the battle of what standards should look like and what ‘schooling’ should seem to be in the eyes of a successful community, and in the grander picture, what the world expects of a citizen belonging to a particular first-world geographical location. Teaching to the BRAIN inside the human being has been scoffed in skepticism and propaganda by purists of testing protocol, and worse, by those who insist that the BRAIN is a static piece of software that can only evolve in, well, the dog-eat-dog thriving situations to effectively learn (forgetting that the BODY is attached to it, inconveniently).

And yet, there are those who do acknowledge that there is a BRAIN that echoes its decisions on the shadow called a MIND (which apparently is highly controversial for those who have either no imagination, philosophical inclinations, or even quantum physical understanding of cause and effect). The MIND is not simply an artistic, metaphorical description of romantics or serialists.

The In-Between Phase: Anticipation From Metacognition to Mindfulness
The In-Between Phase: Anticipation From Metacognition to Mindfulness

Mind (the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels, and remembers) fulness (the eventual quality or state of being full). Mindfulness then is inherently a state of consciousness. Although awareness and attention to present events and experiences are given features of the human organism, these qualities can vary considerably, from heightened states of clarity and sensitivity to low levels, as in habitual, automatic, mindless, or blunted thought or action (Wallace, 1999).  Therefore, Mindfulness is the eventual quality, state or part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers that is full.

Conscious activities of thinking lead to filling up the state of a person that thinks, feels, reasons and remembers. Conscious and purposeful filling, which is aimed at harnessing powers of understanding from genetic, evolutionary biological cognitive methods, now contrast with teaching-to-test. Conscious and meaningful activities where learning is matched with the learner’s natural aptitude while harnessing multiple abilities of learning.

Teaching with the Meta-Mind process is the ideal, not necessarily realistic. The Teacher, broken as Teach (to cause or help a person to learn how to do something by giving lessons and showing how it is done) -er (person or thing belonging to or associated with something) fulfills this process with such subconsciousness if you ask him or her the process of the real teaching, they would have to pause and trace the Meta of how they begin. And when there are words to describe this magical process (taking away the paperwork load and the political requirements), the Teacher’s Metacognition  begins with an idea, a seed, a stage either theatrical, comical, empirical or thoughtful. The Teacher  is actively immersed in the conscious mental activity that is after or beyond the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering.  The preparation for every scenario entails an almost see something-say something proactiveness; student temperament will never be the same in spite of the occurrence in the exact classroom, having the exact community of students, and/or support through the same rules and regulations. Only homeostasis remains similar as learning experiences are emotionally, memory-dependent.

The students come, the dance begins of giving and taking…sometimes with upstarts and hiccups; however, with the arsenal from the Teacher’s Meta phase, the learning is curved to where it momentarily docks. After the last word on the subject, the wards attach the knowledge to a memory base, perhaps a mnemonic one for future reference. And the Teacher? He or She goes into the Mind phase: Mindfulness of students sharing, discovering, uncovering and maybe not fully comprehending what just had happened in the minutes before with the topic at hand. The Teacher in this phase enters into that eventual quality, state or part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers that is full.

The Mindfulness Phase: Is  it the Silhouette or is it the Canvass?
The Mindfulness Phase: Is it the Silhouette or is it the Canvas?

How then can the teacher be unreasonably requested to match the learning of a subject that is not only too cognitively complex for the developing brain of the current roster he or she is given, but also when there is a predetermination of the worded script, the presentation of the activity or knowledge base, and/or finely trimmed boundaries they are unable to be flexible with? How is that called common core really a commonality? The Meta-Mind cycle is interrupted, the learning process is artificial, and citizens are not created, rather parrots with haphazard training preparation for the competitively overflowing sea of professional niches. The Teacher ceases to have a democratic role in the abilities and skills he or she thought was hired to use in the classroom; amazingly, all that’s needed to do this newly reinvented job are professionals with paper pedigree to continually beat down their passion or dedication…unless the latter is just a bad dream someone decided to share with us.

Please allow the teachers to teach again. Respect the Meta-Mind Process of Learning.

The Article as seen in Brainblogger.com: The Fundamentals of Neuropedagogy

Thanks to our friends at Brainblogger, here you can read the complete article. Happy reading!

Introduction

Over the past decade, we have learned that for every student who is simple to understand or figure out, there are one or two who are a conundrum. Over this same decade we as separate and collaborative professionals have also discovered that the answer to these students’ needs being met is two-fold: 1. Education looks only at symptomology not etiology 2. Education fails to integrate disciplines effectively. Special education needs to stop being about labels and start being about the whole child.

Enter the practice of Execu-Sensory and Neuropedagogy. When we look at the child as a whole: brain, body and mind, we begin to understand that more than what teachers are taught in school is at play. Take child development, for example, this class may or may not be required to earn a Masters in Educations, especially if the focus is middle childhood rather than early or elementary.  Yet, the brain is not done growing, literally, until the age of 19 or 20 and the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until the age of 25. Not to mention, the developmental surge that takes places during adolescence is akin to the one which occurs during early childhood. How then are teachers prepared to teach the ever evolving whole child if they lack the basic knowledge of brain development.  The simple answer is they most likely cannot. The brain is a vastly complex system of electrical wiring and firing that is critical to understanding, given the goal is not only to teach, but teach effectively.

However for the purposes of this blogpost, we shall focus the discussion on the fundamentals of Neuropedagogy in practice with some aspects of Execu-Sensory components.

Structure of Neuropedagogy

Neuropedagogy in its most basic state begins with the executive function skills and the developing Pre-Frontal cortex. However when we attempt discussion with other educators, the typical response is,  “Executive what in the where? Neuro?”

Understandable response, seeing as this predominantly European concept is commonly referred in the United States as Educational Neuroscience or Neuroeducation--or perhaps more commonly not discussed among educators at all. It was introduced during an educational summit in 2009 at Johns Hopkins University simultaneously with a “Learning and the Brain” wherein organizers and educators alike agreed there needed to be an interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, psychology and education to create improved teaching methods and curricula. It was bringing into focus new links between arts education and general learning, how learning physically alters the brain, and what goes wrong in students with learning disabilities.

Neuropedagogy however went further than Neuroeducation. The European definition of Neuropedagogy is when science and education meet and whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. It is targeted at stimulating the brains of all types of learners, not only those with students who have learning disabilities. Dr. Judy Willis a practicing neurologist made a conscious transition to the classroom as an educator feels that there needs be research about the brain’s neuroplasticity and the opportunities we have as educators to help students literally change their brains — and intelligence. To become a teacher without understanding the implications of brain-changing neuroplasticity is a great loss to teachers and their future students.

Based on the experience and the research we have done on current classroom structures in New York City, we have found that the most effective use of Neuropedagogy was in three sections: Brain Element Neuropedagogy, Body Element Neuropedagogy, and Mind Element Neuropedagogy. The hierarchy of training is dependent on the prior knowledge of brain function, thus beginning the discussion with the brain was the most functional and useful approach. The body then and it’s organic processes were the next step in the training and understanding connections between innervation and control, and lastly the mind which not all fields of classroom instruction fully develop or are able to reach without the clear understanding of how the brain and the body encompass the physics of the mind.

To say the least, one would need basic brain to facilitate the body and change the mind.

The Brain Element Neuropedagogy

The most obvious reason to share information is for learning, and learning can only be achieved if there is sufficient brain function. In our practice, we lay the foundation for understanding the Central Nervous System (CNS) neurotransmission, the utilization of approximate brain mapping of the cerebral hemispheres, and raise awareness of the unmistakable impact of the digital society on the organic brain.

By organizing the hierarchy of understanding based on the processes involved from brain neurotransmission in each section of the cerebrum at any given time, we shed more light into the powerful effects of neuroplasticity, the endless ability for the brain to change itself. There are four that have been identified for learning: Acetylcholine (ACH), Serotonin, GABA, and Dopamine. Ultimately these are the communicators responsible in delivering the information to all the lobes, including the Pre-Frontal Cortex. The PFC is not currently recognized as a lobe; however, the role that it plays in learning and behavior have been measured via Executive Function Skills.

Many definitions for executive function skills exist and they all essentially make the same point. The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines executive function skills as,” mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information… [it is the ability to use] information and experiences from the past to solve current problems.” These skills are critical to understand because when they are weak or delayed in developing, they can mask themselves as an educational disability which may lay the groundwork for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as determined by a mutlidisciplinary team.  For example, let’s say a child is referred for an evaluation for special education services because he is showing consistent negative behavior, such as being unable to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, constantly calling out, and failing to complete homework, all of which lead to decreased academic gains.  The child will most likely be mis-classified as having ADHD or a learning disability, which ultimately leads to inefficient or worse ineffective solutions. If the interventionists applied an interdisciplinary Neuropedagogical Approach, a different and more effective outcome may have played out.

Now, let’s add a layer of dynamic complexity to Neuropedagogy. Neuroscience has looked at the brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born after 1986 and compared them with brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born before 1986. The studies show a significant difference between the two. The over-arching difference: access to the digital world.  The first group is digital natives; the second digital immigrants. Digital natives have brains that have weakened pathways for interaction, decreased activity in anterior cingulate gyrus and medial orbital frontal cortex, increased isolation, aggression, passivity, loneliness, etc, increase in cortisol due to excessive brain fatigue, decreased hippocampal size. Digital immigrants, the ones who have the capacity to hand down life experiences effectively via examples and who can communicate thoughts personally are ones who are usually comfortable with familiar technology and shy away from change in that department. They have been found to have faster PFC circuitry as they have had abilities to strengthen neuronal circuits with numerous life experiences, including delaying gratification.

WIth all of the Brain Element Neuropedagogy, one can proceed to appreciate understanding the Body and it’s unique processes.

The Body Element Neuropedagogy

In our modern society, people are perceived initially from the way they present themselves. Usually what is displayed from the external body is what immediately connects one person to the next. The body’s senses take in the physical and external world, neuronally process the input and in the cortex it’s given meaning.

From a learner’s perspective, the body is both intake and output. As interdisciplinary brain-based practitioners, we shed light into the Sensory Processing Systems, the limitless potential of a person’s Multiple Intelligences and Emotional Quotient (EQ), culminating on the influence of what we have managed to call the 3 External E’s (Ergonomics, Economics, and Environment).  The body by itself is a complete sensory organ, however it has been proven by evidence-based practice that the seven (7) senses are the checkpoints of the body: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, movement and position in space. Research in this area was pioneered by Dr. A. Jean Ayres and current practitioners include Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and Carol Kranowitz all of who have contributed to the education and learning landscape. One simply cannot function by brain alone!

Multiple Intelligences Theory was pioneered by Howard Gardner, a developmental neuropsychologist,who played the violin well, wondered if a tool, aside from the Intelligence Quotient (IQ test), could be developed to measure additional attributes to determine a person’s complete intelligence. Another factor we considered was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) as this too plays an important factor externally; even as the limbic system is brain centric in it’s processing of emotions, the manifestation on the outside is clearly body centric.

Education in the twentieth and now twenty first century tends to teach to two types of learners: visual and auditory. Yet, research has shown that multiple types of learners exist, not just two. Teaching methodologies need to start designing lessons, activities and classrooms not only for the typically forgotten or ever present kinesthetic learners, but for the quiet introvert and the shy extrovert and multiple combinations of them.

Simple modifications such as state changes, strategically planned brain gym breaks or yoga ball chairs have shown to improve the executive functioning skills of sustained attention and task persistence. Additionally, when inserting brief yet planned breaks of any type, students are given an opportunity to work on set-shifiting a skill in high demand in the modern digital-world.  Modifications for the introvert include quiet spaces in the classroom or projects with an option to work alone.  The shy extrovert, may benefit from group projects with assigned jobs. However, this type of differentiated instruction is believed to be fitting only to the special education population. The rest of these students, rather than adopting a label that may or may not fit, they are instructed to adapt their bodies to fit because that is what the ‘real world’ will expect of them. Meanwhile, that potential intelligence lays mostly dormant because teachers are not teaching to them, and were probably never taught how. Neuropedagogy recognizes the learning process that processes from a brain and proceeds into the body offers perspective and solutions to teaching with the body in mind.

The Mind Element Neuropedagogy

Of all of the Elements that we train, it is the Mind Element that is the most challenging to explore.The brain and the mind are used interchangeably in the realm of education; however, scientists have discovered that although they do seem to be influential of the other, the brain and mind affect each other in very different but significant ways. The psyche in psychology practice have also been associated with the mind, and pop culture usually uses the word mind loosely as choice or state of one’s mental being.

In referencing the brain, it  is the material organic matter that has the physical manifestation of the neuronal processes while the mind is where consciousness and active thinking occur. However a thought may occur from consciousness which may alter the neuronal process that was intended to happen and vice versa. The mind discussion includes: theory of mind, the belief-desire reasoning in learners, and neuroplasticity in the habit loop, Behavior Modification and Habit Routine change that can have both positive and negative effects.

Neuropedagogy of the mind starts with the premise that the mind of a child is complex. The Belief-Desire Reasoning from H.M. Wellman’s The Child’s Theory of Mind Mechanism shows just that.  Thinking, perception, sensations, beliefs, cognitive emotions, physiology, basic emotions are all interconnected and simultaneously interacting to produce desires, intentions, actions and inevitably reactions. Actions are merely the tip of the iceberg to the ongoings of a child’s, and ultimately a learner’s mind. Educators who understand and teach with Executive Function Skills such as Metacognition, Emotional Control and Response Inhibition in mind, essentially have x-ray vision, which provides them the insight to ask the questions that will reveal the iceberg. Intention is marked by a WHOLE person, a product of perception, inception and conclusions.

Conclusion: The Neuropedagogy Synthesis

ESNP's Unique Neuropedagogy Synthesis
ESNP’s Unique Neuropedagogy Synthesis

When science and education meet it is called Neuropedagogy, whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. The information that is presented here may appear overwhelming and less comprehensive in practice however it the changing the lens and perspective that allow best practices to occur, to remind those involved in direct service that people are not formulaic in their learning.

The Neuropedagogy synthesis demonstrates just that. One of our current partnerships, The Teaching Firms of America Professional Charter School in Brooklyn, New York applies these principles by tying choice and action to their basis in the brain, Theory of Mind, and most importantly, the brain has the ability to change.  They empower their scholars to be thinkers and owners of their actions and choices by giving them knowledge from the world of neuroscience.  Finally, the utilize the principles of Neuropedagogy to guide and inform their instruction, interactions and interventions. It is a common occurrence to hear students say, “I can change my brain.” From initial classroom set-up to end of day classroom clean up, they created and continue an atmosphere of curiosity and intellect, which always seems to start and end with the brain.

Brain Molecular Protein Connections in Neurodevelopmental Disorders: The Research

It is not news to us in the field that researchers looking to determine causation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders have zeroed in on Molecular Proteins in the brains. To be specific, these disorders (namely Epilepsy, Intellectual Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are being hailed as brain-based disorders due to the surging evidence in the last 2 years that indeed, some molecular proteins are atypical in both brain origin and development.

Let’s begin the survey in August 2013 where genetic studies were initiated in large scale. An international study on the genes involved in Epilepsy Disorder had uncovered 25 new mutations on 9 key genes behind a devastating form of epilepsy disorder during childhood. Among those were two genes never before associated with this form of epilepsy. One of these genes previously had been linked to autism and a rare neurological disorder, for which an effective therapy had previously been developed. With the findings of this research, the direction for developing genome-wide diagnostic screens for newborns to identify who is at risk for epilepsy improves potentially development of precise therapies for the condition.

“The limitations of what we currently can do for epilepsy patients are completely overwhelming,” said Daniel Lowenstein, MD, a UCSF neuroscientist and epilepsy expert. Along with Ruben Kuzniecky, MD from New York University, the pair was overseeing the Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project (EPGP). “More than a third of our patients are not treatable with any medication, so the idea of finding specific drug targets, instead of a drug that just bathes the brain and may cause problems with normal brain function, is very appealing.”

“We knew there was something happening that was unique to these kids, but we had no idea what that was,” said Elliott Sherr, MD, PhD. He a pediatric neurologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and is the principal investigator of the Epi4K Epileptic Encephalopathy (EE) project. He was responsible for the development of this group of the target research patients within EPGP.

The team identified in in their research children with two classic forms of EE – infantile spasms and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome – in which no other family member was affected. They excluded children who had identifiable causes of epilepsy, such as strokes at birth, which are a known risk for this group of disorders. Of the 4,000 patients whose genomes are being analyzed in the Epi4K, 264 children fit that description. The Epi4K sequencing team, led by David Goldstein, PhD from Duke University ran a genetic scan on the children and their parents.  They compared their scans to thousands of people of similar heritage without epilepsy,  used a cutting-edge new technique called exome sequencing. This method focuses on the exome, which is the 2 percent of our genetic code that represents active, protein-making genes. Those 25,000 genes are considered to be the code for what makes us unique, and is also responsible for disease mutations.

The genetic analysis revealed 439 new mutations in the children, with 181 of the children having at least one. Nine of the genes that hosted those mutations appeared in at least two children with EE and five of those had shown up in previous, smaller EE studies. Of the four other genes included, two may have been coincidental, the researchers found. But two new genes never before associated with EE – known scientifically as GABRB3 and ALG13 – each appeared with less than a one-in-40-billion statistical chance (p = 4.1×10-10) of being connected to EE by coincidence.

The findings implicated GABRB3, for the first time, as a single-gene cause of EE, and offered the strongest evidence to date for the gene’s role in any form of epilepsy, Sherr said. Knowing this about GABRB3, which is also involved with Angelman’s Syndrome, also offers the possibility that children with mutations only in this gene might benefit from the existing therapy for Angelman’s.

Another new gene, ALG13, is key to putting sugars on proteins, which points to a new way of thinking about the causes of and treatment for epilepsy.

‘The take-home is that a lot of these kids have genetic changes that are unique to them,” Sherr said. “Most of these genes have been implicated in these or other epilepsies – others were genes that have never been seen before – but many of the kids have one of these smoking guns.”

From GABRB3 and ALG13 genes in Epilepsy to misfiring neurons in the ADHD brain, the evidence continues to mount on how one size results do not fit all.  In June 2104, Neuroscientists collaborating from the Mayo Clinic in Florida and  rom Aarhus University in Denmark have shed light on why neurons in the brain’s reward system can be miswired, potentially contributing to disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In their study, scientists looked at dopaminergic neurons, which regulate pleasure, motivation, reward, and cognition, and have been implicated in development of ADHD. Together they unveiled a receptor system that is critical for correct wiring of the dopaminergic brain area during embryonic development. However they also discovered that after brain maturation, a cut in the same receptor, SorCS2, produces a two-chain receptor that induces cell death following damage to the peripheral nervous system.

It is the SorCS2 receptor that functions as a molecular switch between apparently opposing effects in proBDNF. ProBDNF is a neuronal growth factor that helps select cells that are most beneficial to the nervous system, while eliminating those that are less favorable in order to create a finely tuned neuronal network. The reserchers also found that some cells in mice deficient in SorCS2 are unresponsive to proBDNF and have dysfunctional contacts between dopaminergic neurons.

“This miswiring of dopaminergic neurons in mice results in hyperactivity and attention deficits. A number of studies have reported that ADHD patients commonly exhibit miswiring in this brain area, accompanied by altered dopaminergic function. We may now have an explanation as to why ADHD risk genes have been linked to regulation of neuronal growth,” says the study’s senior investigator, Anders Nykjaer, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida and at Aarhus University in Denmark.

On the other hand, a study published by Cell Press in the October 2014 issue of  The American Journal of Human Genetics shows that Neurodevelopmental Disorders caused by distinct genetic mutations produce similar molecular effects in cells. This suggests a unique perspective in that a one-size-fits-all therapeutic approach could be effective for conditions, ranging from seizures to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Neurodevelopmental disorders are rare, meaning trying to treat them is not efficient,” says senior study author Carl Ernst of McGill University. “Once we fully define the major common pathways involved, targeting these pathways for treatment becomes a viable option that can affect the largest number of people.”

Ernst and his team used human fetal brain cells to study the molecular effects of reducing the activity of genes that are mutated in two distinct autism-spectrum disorders. Changes in transcription factor 4 (TCF4) cause 18q21 deletion syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual disability and psychiatric problems. Mutations in euchromatic histone methyltransferase 1 (EHMT1) cause similar symptoms in a condition known as 9q34 deletion syndrome.  “Our study suggests that one fundamental cause of disease is that neural stem cells choose to become full brain cells too early. This could affect how they incorporate into cellular networks, for example, leading to the clinical symptoms that we see in kids with these diseases,” Ernst says.

So far, we have learned about breakthroughs in genetic studies in Epilepsy, discoveries of misfiring of neurons in ADHD and in long lasting effects of mutations of certain brain cells leading to Intellectual Disability or psychiatric problems. Now let’s take a closer look at Austism Spectrum Disorder. Would we find some molecular or genetic aberration? Stanford University researchers in December 2014 mapped an entire molecular network of crucial protein interactions that contribute to autism.

While “much work remains to be done,” Dr. Charles Auffray of Université de Lyon who collaborated with the researchers, states this  is “a bold attempt to leverage a number of rich sources of data and knowledge and to complement them with relevant additional measurements to unravel the molecular networks of ASD.”

Though further research is needed to fully understand autism’s origins, this study “contributes to the development of an openly shared methodological framework and tools for data analysis and integration that can be used to explore the complexity underlying many other rare or common diseases,” Auffray said.

In this current study of autism, the scientists did not just look at genes, they also looked at gene expression — the protein interactions — in patients with autism. After they had identified a “protein interaction module,” the researchers sequenced the genomes of 25 patients to confirm its involvement in autism.  They then validated these findings with data from 500 additional patients. In the next step, the team examined gene expression within the module, partly by using the Allen Human Brain Atlas.

It was in this stage that the researchers discovered the brain’s corpus callosum and oligodendrocyte cells  made important contributions to ASD. Developmentally, the oligodendrocyte cells help form myelin, the insulating sheath of brain cells necessary for high velocity nerve conduction. And for patients with autism, for instance, these cells exhibited extensive gene mis‐expression in the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers connecting left and right brain hemispheres.

The findings from the Stanford University study were not only supported in 2014 by the Heidelberg University but also given more specificity in the mutations not only for those with ASD, but for neurodevelopmental disorders in general.  These German Researchers posited that generally, these disorders are multi-faceted and can lead to intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and language impairment. Mutations in the Forkhead box FOXP1 gene have been linked to all these disorders, suggesting that it may play a central role in various cognitive and social processes.

Dysfunction of motor, social, sensory and cognitive aspects play a major role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID). A high comorbidity is often observed between these disorders, suggesting that mutations in critical genes can cause a spectrum of neuropsychiatric phenotypes. The Forkhead box transcription factor FOXP1, for example, has been linked to various cognitive disorders. FOXP1-specific deletions, mutations and chromosomal breakpoints interrupting the gene have been reported in patients with Intellectual Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder, speech and language deficits, and motor development delay.

They were interested to examine the behavioral phenotype of our Foxp1 KO mice, as FOXP1 mutations are associated with various behavioral deficits in humans, including social unattainability, hyperactivity, altered learning and memory, and specific obsessions.Results showed:  Foxp1 KO mice have a reduced ability for short-term recognition memory and memory for spatial contexts, which have been described before in ASD patients and in mouse models of ASD. The effect on spatial memory may be explained by the CA1 hippocampal deficits we observed in Foxp1 KO as the hippocampus is important for spatial memory. The disruption of the striatal region in Foxp1 KO mice may also contribute to the deficits in learning and memory. It has been shown that striatal lesions and infusion of the striatum with a dopaminergic antagonist results in impaired performance in spatial learning tests, while object recognition is impaired by administration of glutamate antagonists to the striatum. Interestingly, the striatum has previously been associated with the pathology of ASD in both mice and humans.

Foxp1 KO mice also displayed a higher occurrence of repetitive behaviours, in accordance with previous findings in mouse models of autism. Repetitive motor behavior is associated with abnormal activation of dopaminergic cortical-basal ganglia circuitry and therefore might partially be explained by the morphological disruption we observed in the striatal region.

They also recorded a striking reduction of social interest  in Foxp1 KO mice. Difficulties communicating and interacting with other people is a key feature of human ASD, and reduced social interaction as well as hyperactivity has been reported in mouse models of ASD before. A strong PPI deficit was observed in Foxp1 KO mice, indicating impaired abilities for sensorimotor integration. Reduced PPI has been previously reported in ASD patients. This effect on PPI in Foxp1 KO mice may be partly explained by the reduction in the striatal region as a cortico-limbic-striatopallidal circuit is involved in the circuit regulating PPI.

Excitatory and inhibitory imbalance is a hallmark brain feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Several studies have reported that ASD-related mutations selectively impact glutamatergic or GABAergic synapses without affecting the other, leading to an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory inputs. WIth their research, they have ultimately shown that the amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents but not miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents is larger in Foxp1 KO CA1 hippocampal neurons. This suggests that  Foxp1 KO neurons receive a disproportionate magnitude of excitatory to inhibitory input. In addition, excitability of CA1 pyramidal cells was reduced in Foxp1 KO mice.

With all this information, it is possible to hypothesize that treatment protocol will also change to a more direct, molecular level based on the genetic misfiring or aberration. In the next post, we will discuss the current therapeutic interventions available for these disorders.

The Rollercoaster Ride That is Tolerance (Including Frustration)

The act of being able to tolerate, or imbibe tolerance historically has never been easy to carry over. Either it be willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own definition or the the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant definition, there are no guarantees of progressive thoughts of tolerance making formulaic and consistent headway (however having laws in place to guide tolerance in society does help).

Dr. WIlliam Glasser, MD posited ten axioms on human behavior called Choice Theory. The axioms are:

  1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
  2. All we can give another person is information.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
  5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
  6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
  7. All we do is behave.
  8. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
  9. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
  10. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like

Based on these, there is then no cookie-cutter, logical explanation to the rise in overall intra and interpersonal disharmony due to intolerance…unless we consider tracing the frustration explosion phenomena to axiom number 3: ALL LONG-LASTING PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS ARE RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS. The inability to communicate one’s thoughts and be heard, the ability to differentiate between being assertive and aggressive, and to tie one’s rights over other’s personal space all blurring the lines of the collective unconscious which is present a form of the unconscious (part of the mind Dr.Carl Jung proposed contained memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind and originating in the inherited structure of the brain.

What then if the collective unconscious has been relegated to crevices of mini mental villages and worlds as the highly technological world is creating biological changes in the apportions of appendages (e.g. functions of the thumb due to device usage) and dysregulated exposure to speed and graphics?

Choice Theory also says in axiom 7: All we do is behave. Behavior is situation and environmentally dependent, a thrive and strive response with surviving as the initial aim and contributing as the end goal. If one is not equipped with the tools to compete in the circles that are surrounding him or her, there is the tendency to withdraw, the flight, fight and freeze phenomenon courtesy of the cerebral Acetylcholine (Ach) all to preserve one’s sanity and self. Behavior is an output, both genuine and malicious. If however there is an aberration of brain function, behavior will also mirror the bizarre processes; the anticipation of learned helplessness via anger or hurt habituates the brain into assuming this is the ‘normal’ state of being.

We don’t need to go to extremes however to be in learned helplessness — being in a job that is meaningless, a relationship that is not working, difficulties with parents or with children — all daily, common struggles experienced by us which push and pull stressors in one’s coping mechanisms. And our eventual responses can range from being on the high frustration tolerance (HFT) or low frustration tolerance (LFT), as per Dr. Windy Dryden, a leading Cognitive Behavior Therapist (CBT) in the United Kingdom.

He says that high frustration tolerance beliefs are rational in that they are again primarily flexible and not grossly exaggerated. These beliefs are expressed in their full form, thus: ‘Failing my college exam would be difficult to tolerate, but I could stand it’. The stronger a person’s unmet preference, the more difficult it would be for her to tolerate this situation, but if the person holds an HFT belief it would still be tolerable. That would mean an HFT belief is consistent with reality, and is logical since it again makes sense in the context of the person’s preference. It is like a preference and an anti-awfulizing belief. Overall, it is constructive since it will help the person take effective action if the negative event that is being faced can be changed and it will encourage the person to make a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. HFT displays often are celebrated in Olympians, in academicians, or in service above and beyond required expectations of job descriptions.

Low frustration tolerance beliefs, on the other hand, are irrational in the sense that they are first and foremost grossly exaggerated. They are couched in such statements as ‘I can’t stand it. ‘I can’t bear it., ‘It’s intolerable. When a person has a low frustration tolerance belief, it means one of two things: (i) the person will disintegrate or (ii) the person will never experience any happiness again. Since these two statements are obviously untrue, an LFT belief is inconsistent with reality.

Even Dogs Do It....
Even Dogs Do It….

It is also illogical since it is a nonsensical conclusion from the person’s implicit rational belief (e.g. ‘Because it would be very bad if I failed my college exam, I couldn’t stand it if I did fail’). Finally, like musts and awfulizing beliefs, it is unconstructive since it will interfere with the person taking effective action if the negative event that the person is facing can be changed and it will stop the person from making a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. Extreme examples of LFT displays end up in news headlines: aggression by the bullied, the angry, the fundamentalists.

If we brought these concepts of frustration to Education, we would refer to a recent graduate study by April Vian in 2012 from Kaplan University that looked at,  “Teacher Frustration Tolerance and Disruptive Behavior of Special Education Students.” Teachers completed the Munich Personality Test with its measure of general frustration tolerance and a survey designed for this study of frustration tolerance for special education students. Results demonstrated negative correlations between teachers’ general frustration tolerance and numbers of student discipline incidents among both general and special education children. Results also indicated that teachers found specific disabilities to be more frustrating than others and that frustration tolerance of certain disabilities may predict numbers of discipline incidents for these children.

Ultimately, the direction of the correlation was the inverse, with teachers having the greatest frustration tolerance for special education students also evidencing the greatest numbers of discipline incidents among these students. Among several explanations considered by the researcher, it was suggested that the school administrator in the facility where this study occurred was aware of teachers’ with high levels of frustration tolerance for special education students and thus assigned the most difficult students to these teachers. These lead teachers to have the greatest number of associated discipline incidents among special education students.

Knowing how neurotransmitters are affected by bodily and emotional processes, it is then no surprise that levels of frustration can be influenced by these as well. As the focus in brain training is on strengthening the Pre-Frontal Cortex and Executive Functioning Skills, there also needs to be a heightened awareness for the environmental expectations to not demand more than what the developmental brain can muster, including in ourselves. Irrational beliefs usually stem from irrational or negative emotions that have been learned over time, over habitual exposure to situations that an individual deems impossible to control or comprehend, natural or society-caused.

Humor Always Helps
Humor Always Helps

The Mental Ability to Always Hope: Priceless

As there is the promise still of a new beginning,  a do-over in the resetting of the previous year, that uplifting feeling and positivity can collectively be described as Hope. Hope is not necessarily the same for everyone; however, at some point every person in the world has experienced the internal dialogue and introspection and pushed the positive thoughts out into the universe hoping on hope. And maybe a mantra some of us call prayer.

From a brain perspective,  hope  is activated and is influenced from the  neurotransmitter Dopamine.

The two specific receptors we will focus on here are D1 and D2 receptors. These receptors assist in the faciitation of the sense of well-being, which we label as hope. These have been implicated, along with oxytocin receptors, in both the maintenance and formation of social pair bonds, respectively. The density of these receptors in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens plays an important role in both mating and social bonds. The D2 type receptor is necessary to initially form the pair bond between two monogamous animals.

Hope then based on this study is not only a singular experience,  or a personal experience.  Rather, it’s a  collective biological, mindful collective unconscious that connects from the youngest child to the oldest human.

A study that supports the social aspect of hope was one on primates conducted by Morgan et. al., 2002, Nature Neuroscience. They had singly housed monkey brains scanned for D2 binding capacity (n = 20). Then,  the primates were allowed out of their individual cages for the first time so all the animals were now together, which meant there was an opportunity to create a social hierarchy.

After a stable hierarchy was formed the researchers re-scanned the primates brains. The high ranking animals D2 binding capacity increased by approximately 20% (the authors believe based on rat studies that singly housed animals have a lower than normal D2 levels at baseline, and therefore suggests that falling lower in the social hierarchy would cause a reduction in D2 levels if the animals start at a ‘normal’ baseline), however D2 levels in the low ranking individuals did not change.

In order too see if the changes in D2 levels had a functional effect in these animals, they  offered the addictive drug cocaine to the animals.

The high ranking animals with high D2 levels were resistant to addiction while the low ranking animals with low D2 levels were more  susceptible to addiction. These results are consistent with a large body of additional research that find low D2 levels is related with higher addiction rate.

Can one then be addicted to the feeling of hope or the idea of it?  Can it be strong enough to actually influence the consciousness of one’s mind?

Not directly seems to be the response from the scientific community. Without an external supplement to the dopamine such as cocaine, maintaining the sense of hope to a point of addiction is controlled by the D1-D2 synaptic dance.  The brains ability of course to regulate and maintain biological boundaries.

Efforts to investigate dopamine’s role in addiction and normal biological processes have been complicated by the fact that the nervous system contains multiple kinds of receptor molecules for dopamine as well as different types of nerve cells that use dopamine.

“Research in humans and other species has shown that increased vulnerability to drug addiction correlates with reduced availability of D2 dopamine receptors in a brain region called the striatum,” explains David M. Lovinger, Ph.D., chief of NIAAA’s Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience. “Furthermore, healthy non-drug-abusing humans that have low levels of the D2 dopamine receptor report more pleasant experiences when taking drugs of abuse.”

On another front,  Quantum mechanics has determined that if you think it, it is.  The thought of hope and the end product of hope are one and the same.

Quantum physics specifically states in the act of observing an object (events, conditions and circumstances) the cause for the thought to be there and the outcome is based only on how we observe it. An object or thought cannot and does not exist independently of its observer.

The Quantum Field is an “Infinite” field of potential. Anything and everything that has, does or will exist, begins as a wave in this field and is transformed into the physical realm, limited only by what can be conceived as truth by the observer.

Following this line of thinking,  one can only hope for an experience that is being craved or an object that has not yet been retrieved.  All within the realm of the subjective experience of what hope looks like to one person: from positive to hope-imagenegative hopes. Antithetical as this may sound,  there’s a reality out there for negative hopes.

That would be best explained with a philosophy of thought called the Theory of Mind.

This theory has roots in philosophy, particularly in the groundwork for a science of the mind laid down by René Descartes (1596–1650). The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896– 1980) suggested that before the age of 3 or 4 egocentrism prevents children from understanding that other people’s thoughts and viewpoints may differ from their own. And in 1978 Nicholas Humphrey proposed that introspective consciousness has a specific function as it enables social animals to predict each other’s behavior.

Theory of mind is a theory as it is believed one’s mind is not directly observable. The presumption that others have a mind is because each human can only intuit the existence of his/her own mind through introspection, and no one has direct access to the mind of another. It is typically assumed that others have minds by analogy with one’s own, and this assumption is based on the reciprocal nature of social interaction, as observed in joint attention, the functional use of language, and understanding of others’ emotions and actions. Having a theory of mind allows one to attribute thoughts, desires, and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions, and to posit their intentions.

Without a mind, one would either have negative or no hopes. Someone with a theory of mind (ToM) impairment would be someone having difficulty with perspective taking. This is also sometimes referred to as mind-blindness. This means that individuals with a ToM impairment would have a hard time seeing things from any other perspective than their own. Individuals who experience a theory of mind deficit have difficulty determining the intentions of others, lack understanding of how their behavior affects others, and have a difficult time with social reciprocity.

In the end,  no matter which of these you adhere to, the ability to hope is a truly human faculty. Hopefully if will be one hopeful year for those of you with priceless hope.

Change Your Brain; Change your Life and Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Is your new year a blank canvas…

With the end of 2014 looming near, and 2015 appearing like a beautiful blank canvas, or dark vacuous black hole, regardless of perspective, resolutions for the new year always emerge. It may be to brush them off and refuse to make even one or to enter the new year with a list of 10 fully intent on keeping every one. Even with the best of intentions, resolutions are difficult to keep because change is hard. It may help to understand why change is so difficult, then steps can be taken in order to counter the brain’s resistance to change and perhaps the realistic resolutions on that list of 10 can be kept.

or a black hole?

It’s now common knowledge that  brains are plastic and have the ability to change. This change is called neuroplasticity Dr. Doidge explains in his book The Brain that Changes Itself that scientists began seeing “if certain ‘parts’ [of the brain] failed, then other parts could sometimes take over.” However, neuroplasticity not only plays a role when areas in the brain are damaged. It is essentially the basis of all hardwired habits: good and bad. The common phrase reads: neurons that fire together wire together. That wiring together forms the near unconscious behavior that often leads to self admonishment or accolades: the mindless hand movement to eat one more fry, even after feeling full, the compulsory turning off the alarm clock to sleep for 9 more minutes, the turning to go to the gym, even after a 10 hour work day, or the grabbing a bottle of water instead of soda when thirst calls.   Therefore, unwiring or unlearning the bad habits and rewiring the good habits will be the ticket to the annual question: How long before the New Year’s Resolution is broken?  A day? A week? Two weeks?  Use the principles of neuroplasticity, and the Charles Duhigg’s Habit Loop and the response may be 12 months, 2 years, forever.

Charles Dughigg’s Habit Loop

Step 1. Identify a craving; this is essentially the reward.

Step 2. Create or uncover a cue, which will lead to Step 3.

Step 3. Establish or change or a routine so the craving/reward is met.

Charles Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop: Cue, Routine, Reward.  When completed consistently over time, neuroplasticity is the result. The neurons firing together during this three-step process, become wired together and the ‘habit’ becomes automatic. The length of time for a new habit to become just that is dependent upon the source. Decades ago, people misinterpreted Dr. Maltz’s 21 days, which has become the most common number, others say repeat a behavior like working out 10 days in a row and it will become a habit. Charles Duhigg stated that his new habit took a few weeks; however he took many weeks to identify the source, test out new routines and so on. Overall, these numbers are a bit liberal. Phillippa Lally at the University of College London, found that it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit. The average length of time was 66 days for the behavior to become automatic.  Additionally, it was noted that missing a day or two throughout did not negatively impact the formation of a new behavior. What did affect the time to habituate a behavior was the complexity of the behavior, the behavior of the person and additional environmental circumstances.

Going back to New Year’s Resolutions, begin by identifying the bad habits to kick this year or the good habits to begin. That bad habit or good habit is the routine. In order to change that routine, the reward needs to be identified. For example, smoking is a routine; the reward could be socializing with coworkers during a cigarette break,

New Year’s Resolutions are habits in disguise.

taking a break from the job, relaxing. According to Charles Duhigg, it may take some experimenting in order to identify the reward, pick 2-3 possibilities to try. Next find the cue. When does the habit kick in? Is it a specific time? Event? Person? After the cue is identified replace new routines that address the hypothesized reason for the ‘bad habit.’ Afterward, determine if the reward or craving achieved by the bad habit has been achieved with the good one. If so, keep trying it out for a few weeks; if not, try another new routine until the reward has been met.

Once the new routine is ready; a new habit can be formed and the 66, 18 or 254 days or some number in between can begin. Remember, a few missed days here and there does not equate with failure or having to start over.  The brain is plastic and just as neurons take time to wire together, they take time to unwire. Given this information, Charles Duhigg’s few weeks is in fact possible, just not common.

Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions is changing your brain, which can change your life. Deciding to change and taking that first step is the most challenging. People often pick the first day of the New Year to begin, but it is never too early or too late to change. The brain is after all plastic and will change at anytime when the effort is put in. Hopefully that cliché has a little more clarity and the first step will lead to 65 more.

What brain changes will you make this year?

Happy 2015! Here’s to a New Year and a New You.

The Powerful Necessity of TOUCH

Hugs communicate a lot more than you think
Hugs communicate a lot more than you think

If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you have had the pleasure of using public transportation to get around. Buses or trains, or both, and the many others who accompany you in the journey to and from destinations. In these modes of transport, rush hour can get harrowing; packed like a can of sardines until it wouldn’t even matter if you had a bar to hold on to to maintain your balance. The sheer volume of people in your personal space is enough to keep you stuck wherever you are sitting or standing.

And if this is most human touch you experience per day, that may not be enough. Reason: our brains are wired to be touched.

University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute in early 2014 had done extensive research in the area of human touch.Their results have revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. In the Institute’s studies, they discovered touch lessened pain, improved pulmonary function, increased growth in infants, lowered blood glucose and improved immune function. Human touch is extremely important for all ages, but by the time children reach their teen years, they receive only half as much touching as they did when they were infants. Adults touch each other even less.

The researchers in Miami also found that touch with moderate pressure stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. This produces a state that is relaxed, less closed off, but more attentive. Even the Institute’s medical staff and students that received massages for 15 minutes a day over the course of a month were more accurate and took less time on math performance tests than their counterparts who did not receive massages, more proof that touch also decreases stress hormone function and boosts immune systems.

It is then no surprise to learn of evidence pointing to the levels of aggression and violence among children is related to lack of touching.

Cross species touch speak volumes
Cross species touch speak volumes

Touch Research Institute conducted two separate studies, one with French children and one with American children to determine the degree of touch they received from their parents in relation to displays of aggression. The researchers found that French children received more touching from parents and their peers and were less aggressive than their American counterparts. American children on the contrary had less physical interaction with their parents and tended to touch themselves more than they touched their peers (e.g. playing with hair).

And in 2009,  DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein studied the person’s ability to interpret emotional content via other non-verbal means with the sensory cortex.  Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch, of which many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. “This is a touch-phobic society,” he says. “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”

The result? They did touch, all for the benefit of science after all. The results suggest that for all our Pre-Frontal Cortex caution about touching, we are hard-wired with the capacity to send and receive emotional signals solely by touching, one of our sensory systems. Herenstein was surprised at the results, thinking that the results were going to be at a chance level of 25 percent. Instead, participants were able to clearly identify and communicate eight distinct emotions (anger, fear, disgust, love,gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness)  all with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.

Even for those who suffer from seizures can benefit from therapeutic touch.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as combining Acupuncture and Massage Therapy have been found to reduce seizures. Results from studies in China and Germany as per the College of Oriental Medicine have also proven to control abnormal brain activity that causes the seizures.

For the rest of us, average touch is relative. There is debate as to how many hugs one is required to receive per day to stay emotionally and mentally healthy — a range from 8-11 per day. And that is something we can all aim for, in spite of the speed we travel, the inconvenience of daily living, and the noise all around us.

Even they know...many hugs a day keeps one healthy!
Even they know…many hugs a day keeps one healthy!

Let’s have the animals teach us how it’s really done.

The University of Florida recently suggested that animals really wanted human contact after all. Lindsay Mehrkam, a University of Florida doctoral student in psychology with psychology professor Nicole Dorey have published a paper in the journal Zoo Biology that examined different types of enrichment preferences specifically in zoo-housed animals. 

For this study, the pair chose three tortoises at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida named Larry, Moe and Curly. They were given four choices of keeper interaction: playing with a large rubber ball or under a water sprinkler, or having their shells scrubbed or necks rubbed. The zookeepers had used all of these amenities at least twice a month for several years at the zoo.

The inanimate object and the human were placed on opposite sides of the enclosure while the tortoises were released from the barn and had five minutes to make a choice. Consistently, they chose their human companion over the object!

Mehrkam said, “Not only did they prefer keeper interaction overall compared to the traditional forms of enrichment, but the individual tortoises had preferences for the kind of interaction they wanted. Larry and Curly like having their necks rubbed. Moe liked the shell scrubbing.”

Last Minute Gifting Ideas (And They’ll Love Their Brain) All Year Long!

If you are still on the prowl for illuminating choices in gifts this holiday season, here are some recommendations for all ages, sizes, and brains:

1. The Techie – You can go online and plug them in to Lumosity, Mind360, Brain360 to train the techhie you’re gifting. You can also engage further with systems (Wii and others) and subscribe to Minecraft or Terraria. Or you can gift them the ability to create Code. The Executive Function Skills targeted by these sites are usually indicated except for the console and subscription based games.

Minecraft Game
Minecraft Game
Mind360 site
Mind360 site
Coding Lessons!
Coding Lessons!

2. The Builder – If what you are looking for is a gift for someone who likes to build in 3D, then these items will make their day. The old fashioned LEGO has been morphed into Creators 3-in-1, Architecture, Movie themes, Pop Culture, and yes, even life sized characters! The Japanese store MUJI has also come out with 3D cardboard puzzles of animals that will come in multiple shapes and sizes. Ravensburger puzzles also have come up with their own version of a 3D puzzle using literal classic puzzle pieces to create monuments and other famous landmarks.

LEGO Architecture Series
LEGO Architecture Series
MUJI 3D Animal Puzzles
MUJI 3D Animal Puzzles

 

Ravensberger 3D Puzzles
Ravensberger 3D Puzzles

3. The Mover and Shaker – For the ones who love to use their limbs and reach out as far as they can reach to rhythm that they can truly appreciate, there are Just Dance songs (available free on YouTube) that are ideal for any age, as well as the Just Dance Wii game. For those who like the slow and steady pace, there are yoga or t’ai chi classes, or the Gaiam version on DVD or youtube as well. Still looking for the ultimate brain alternative that won’t include potential try outs for the X-games? Try the book Hands On: How to Use Brain Gym in the Classroom. In this photo-filled book, authors Isabel and Marcelle, who are teachers in the South African school system, have captured the joy of learning through their use of 25 of the Brain Gym activities and 14 of the Vision Gym movements. Another option to Brain Gym would be the program FUNtervals.

Just Dance on YOUTUBE
Just Dance on YOUTUBE
Hands On: Brain Gym
Hands On: Brain Gym
Yoga on DVD
Yoga on DVD

4. The Critical Thinker – And for the one who can’t stop thinking or philosophizing about the world and their future endeavors,  good old fashioned board games which are timeless in their appeal but modern in their evolution would be the perfect gift. Monopoly, for example, has evolved into the modern world and into electronic banking or thematic characters which younger audiences can relate to. Other options are Sequence or Quirkle, and even Critical Thinking Card Games.

Critical Thinking Card Game
Critical Thinking Card Game
Quirkle
Quirkle
Monopoly electronic Banking
Monopoly electronic Banking

5. The Social Butterfly – These are probably some of the easiest people to find gifts for, as anything that will encourage a conversation or a gathering will enhance this person’s day. Supercell games like Hay Day cross over onto the tecchie world and provide planning opportunities. Other options include hosting your very own Jeopardy game. Two person card to board game hybrids like LIfe Stories and Say Anything also encourage opinions and self-awareness.

Life Stories Board Game
Life Stories Board Game
Supercell’s Hay Day App
Say Anything Party Game

6. The Organizer – The one person who can manage to multi-task and juggle many demands on their plate and still manage to derive pleasure in listing and keeping things in their proper place and in complete order. The favorites that come to mind are the Container Store, Ikea, and even Muji. These provide multiple options across many age ranges to enhance their already natural talent. Additionally, some options require assembly, which would target Executive Function Skills such as sustained attention, task persistence and almost guaranteed emotional control.

Container Store Options
Container Store Options
Ikea Storage
Ikea Storage
Color Coded Storage Options
Color Coded Storage Options

7. The Empathizer – For the one always has the lending hand, sensitive ear and time of day to encourage kindness and hope that things will be alright, the options are endless. Here are our top three however: Aromatherapy sets, Relaxation sets, and Spa Retreats. For Aromatherapy, the better options are the ones which use natural oils that do not leave a burnt smell, such as Tisserand. Relaxation sets push the envelope further into the complete sets of a massager, aromatherapy and scented towels. Spa retreats are the best of them all, some that have within city locations while others are packaged with resorts or trips.

Relaxation Sets
Relaxation Sets
Tisserand brand
Tisserand brand
Ultimate Spa Retreats
Ultimate Spa Retreats

8. The Explorer – This is for the restless person, the one who cannot stay still in one place and seeks a new adventure in every free moment (or even within) a task setting. In the hustle of the holidays, there is an overload of places to be within one locale as the best gifts are being scoured for, however there are those gems that your explorer can definitely appreciate you for (faux or real). Games like All Aboard give globetrotters an idea of what to expect. Also Geography in Arts would make a wonderful outlet from the actual walking around to passing a plethora of colors and a variety of paper. And for those who are interested in the backyard exploration up close, there is always the explorer’s scientific kit.

All Aboard Board Game
All Aboard Board Game
Exploring Worlds Through Crafts
Exploring Worlds Through Crafts
The Backyard Explorer Science Kit
The Backyard Explorer Science Kit

9. The Music Maker – For one who has music in their blood and can’t shake the melody off! The gifts for this person need to be nifty and personalized according to the sound preferences, headsets and complete control of the musical atmosphere. Surround sound systems that will not break the bank are always a great option. If they need an upgrade, wireless headphones that are not made for cinema and movies only, and lastly, there’s always the music lessons for short term that could turn into long term.

...to finding the best headphones...
…to finding the best headphones…
From finding the Best Surround sound...
From finding the Best Surround sound…
...to short term music lessons!
…to short term music lessons!

10. The Visionary Artist – Last but not least, the one with the hyperactive imagination from words to images and needs to put them down on the page. These are the ones who dare to dream and think big, much bigger and more complex than what the material world can currently handle or fathom. Art supplies are a necessary staple but not exciting or extraordinary to the artist. So there’s a step above the staple which is taking the artist to a new location of inspiration for them to hone their craft, be it more art classes or a new location in the city they live in. The highest of them all is (if one has the means and connections), is to spend up close and personal time practicing  with idolized artists in action, even if it is the Disney Pixar studio!

Art classes in a different location...
Art classes in a different location…
Art Supplies: A Staple
Art Supplies: A Staple
Disney Pixar Animation: Ultimate Experience!
Disney Pixar Animation: Ultimate Experience!

Really Siri(us) Consciousness

With the invention of instantaneous answers through the swipe of a finger, a press of a button and a question, “Hey Siri… or “Hey Cortana… Who was the the little kid actor in The Never Ending Story?” or “What is happiness?” The act of thinking seems to take a backseat to the final destination of an answer. During this digital age, delayed gratification or the desire to experience the satisfaction of recollection has essentially been lost. While quickly seeking answers to simple questions may not be the beginning of the end, it seems plausible that electronic ‘personal assistants’ who refer to their owners as BFFs (yet can’t define it) will be answering questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the difference between right and wrong?” in a non-ironic way.

mind vs phone
What can the human mind do that a smartphone can’t?

Examples of consciousness happen nearly everyday, from the person who holds the door open for a stranger or gives up their seat on a crowded train to the thousands of people who protest for justice. The brain is an organ that can be worked out like a muscle and retrained to fall out of unhealthy habits like going to bed too late and into new ones like waking up early to work out. But what is consciousness?  To date, neuroscientists are still seeking to answer this question with little definitive results. Can it be programmed?

No, not yet anyway. Abstract thought coupled with spontaneous, altruistic action still belong to those with a beating heart and a conscious mind. But perhaps it is time to put down the phone, still the fingers and stop and think or ask a friend, rather then Siri, Google or Cortana, for the best restaurant in the city or the name of the song that played at the end of Princess Bride. Perhaps a few seconds or minutes will be lost waiting for an answer, but  connection–with another conscious–will be gained. Because, even though Siri often says it’s not about her. It’s not because she is being a BFF; it’s because there is no ‘conscious’ her. The conscious are the quiet girl at the coffee shop; the happy go lucky child on the swing, the misunderstood homeless man on the subway train or the real BFF who sometimes needs it to be about her as much as it isn’t. It is time for people to look up, open their mouths and speak. It may even be surprising what consciousness has to say.