Tag Archives: Neurosciences

Stop! Think for a moment with both your cognitive brain parts

Sometimes in life we are going too fast. We don’t know how to slow down and take a breather. It is like we are trying desperately to be one step ahead of everyone. What we don’t understand is that they are trying the same thing. We go at 100 miles an hour and yet, we are followed by others. The race to succeed never really goes away. You know that wonderful retirement stage where you envision yourself sitting on a rocking chair drinking a tall glass of iced tea looking at the scenery around you from the porch of your house while your great grand children play in the backyard? Well, let’s just say that will never happen.

When a car spins out of control a bystander can often tell how the car might spin but when a person spins out of control, you can never tell anything until the shit hitting the fan has finally had the chance to settle down on some part of the room.

This is what happened to me. No, I didn’t meet with an accident. But, I caught the flu. I was careless enough to play in a river all day long and uninhibitedly walked around in wet clothes. Add to that, a sick friend who exposed me to a possible influenza virus and I am a very sick man. Being sick and having someone fuss around you leaves two things for you to do: Sleep and think. I did the most rational thing a person can do. I slept for 24 hours in 2 days. Rest of the time, I thought about how difficult it must be for people who are invalid for the rest of their lives to deal with it and this brought to my mind a TED talk that I watched way back about a woman who suffered a stroke. Her name is Jill Bolte Taylor. She is quite famous for her book – My Stroke of Insight. She was also on The Oprah Winfrey Show to promote her book.

If you haven’t listened to her TED talks or read her book, this is what she went through.

Jill Taylor was a neuroscientist who worked on schizophrenia (a kind of mental disorder – more on this later, I promise you). In 1996, a blood vessel in her brain exploded in the left half of her brain. It is important to understand that the left hemisphere is an integral part of everyday life. In fact, it is the dominant of the two hemispheres and is responsible for things such as walking, talking, reading, writing, recalling etc. Basically, without the left part of your brain, you will be an infant. That is not a nice thing, I assure you. Diapers and drool all day long!

So, why bring up Jill Taylor and her stroke. I wanted to talk to you about an exciting thing inside your brain. Wait! Make that two exciting things: The left and the right hemispheres. Before you get disappointed, let me assure you, this is one of the best things nature has created. Can you believe that the two parts of our brain process differently? They think about different things, care about different things and in fact come up with different solutions for a single problem. The two parts are connected in the middle through the corpus callosum and this is a medium for connection and contact with each other.

Jill Taylor thinks that the two parts of the brain have different personalities.

Let me give you a few things that the right and left hemispheres do. Our right hemisphere thinks in pictures. It understands different the situation kinaesthetically (smell, feel, hear) and makes a mosaic picture on where we are standing, what we are doing etc. In fact, it is concerned about the present. The “this moment” of my life is what right part understands and cares for.

On the other hand, the left side of the brain is more logical. It is linear in its thinking. It recalls the past, thinks about the future keeping the present mosaic that the right builds up as a base for its thought process. It is detail oriented (sounds like something you find on a CV. Next time you can write, my left part of the brain is my real boss. So, I am more interested in details, futures and not repeating past mistakes). More importantly, our left hemisphere contains the memory for words and language. So, it thinks in language and words (Again, a CV pointer. Are you noting it down somewhere?).

“Did you watch what she said? OMG” did a small voice inside your brain tell you this when you listened to someone on the TV or on the road? That small voice is a weapon created by the left part of the brain not only to give you sane advice but also to make your life miserable with guilt. But, it is also a distinguishing feature. Do you remember the day you recognized that small voice in your mind as yours? No? Because, it has been there always and it is responsible for your self – identification. “I am not like that. I am a better person than that. I am the way I am” all things that can be found on slogan T – shirts as well as the things that the left brain instils in you.

So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you have that “Aha – moment” think about this: We are not just minions of the world who have opposing thumbs (dexterity, if you will), capacity to stand on two legs (Bipedal) and can feed ourselves. We are the ultimate creatures that nature created. We may not be the fastest or strongest or even the loudest but we are definitely the smartest. Case in point, we don’t have one but two cognitive minds. Power to choose our identity and lead our lives. Think about it: use both parts of the brain this time.




Top myths about brain and its ability

Recently, I was seeing cartoon network. Yes, I know it is cartoon network. Are you telling me you haven’t seen it recently? Boy, you are missing a lot!

Anyway, coming to the point, I saw Jerry whack Tom with a saucepan and Tom loses all his memories! Amnesia has really got the short end of the stick. I wanted to tell that doesn’t really happen to my father (Yes, I know! He was watching it with me). This gave me a brilliant idea. There are so many myths about the brain and its capacity. When it comes to the brain, everybody miraculously transforms into a neuroscientist. So, here is my article on the top myths about the brain and the reality behind it. Hope you enjoy it. Oh and by the way, don’t forget to catch up with Tom and Jerry.

We use only 10 percent of our brains. 
I have heard this time and again. For brain’s sake stop spreading this. It has been repeated in popular culture so many times, that people are compelled to believe this. The myth implies there is a huge reserve of untapped powers that can be utilized to perform extraordinary feats.

I want you to think about this before I give you the actuality behind this. Do you think evolution will be stupid enough to give humans a chunk of the brain without any use? Will it really allow us to carry around a mass of expensive tissue just in case we find a way to utilize it? In evolutionary terms, that 90% or whatever percent of brain which isn’t used is called as a vestigial organ.

There are multiple examples of vestigial organs in the human body. You can read more about this here.

Brain is an expensive organ. Not merely due to its activities but because it takes a huge amount of energy and complex compounds during foetal and childhood development to make it into the organ it is today. In that case, it would make no sense to completely utilize so much energy on a mass of tissue that may or may not be utilized in the course of the human life. Common, look around you, there are millions of people struggling to do normal stuff. How is it going to be for them to have 90% extra power in their hands? It is like giving a 5 year old kid keys to the Kohinoor diamond (Oh wait, has this been made into a movie? Movies these days, pfft)

Experiments using PET or fMRI scans show that much of the brain is engaged even during simple tasks, and injury to even a small bit of specified point in the brain can have profound consequences for language, sensory perception, movement or emotion.

True, we have some brain reserves. Autopsy studies show that many people have physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease (such as amyloid plaques among neurons) in their brains even though they were not impaired. Apparently we can lose some brain tissue and still function pretty well.

The older you get, your brain becomes inactive

This is partially true. Many of our cognitive skills decline as we age. Have you played a game of concentration against a 10 year old? Well, don’t! It isn’t worth the humiliation and you will have to be his slave for the next 100 years he is alive.

Young adults are faster than older adults to judge whether two objects are the same or different; they can more easily memorize a list of random words, and they are faster to count backward by sevens.

What we tend to forget is that the brain is responsible for every single thing we do. There are millions of things that old people can do that the youngsters aren’t very good at. For example, older people are better at vocabulary. They know more words and understand subtle linguistic distinctions. Given a biographical sketch of a stranger, they’re better judges of character. They score higher on tests of social wisdom, such as how to settle a conflict. And people get better and better over time at regulating their own emotions and finding meaning in their lives.

Brains are like computers. 

Repeat after me. The brain is not a computer.

We speak of the brain’s processing speed, its storage capacity, its parallel circuits, inputs and outputs. The metaphor fails at pretty much every level: the brain doesn’t have a set memory capacity that is waiting to be filled up; it doesn’t perform computations in the way a computer does; and even basic visual perception isn’t a passive receiving of inputs because we actively interpret, anticipate and pay attention to different elements of the visual world.

There’s a long history of likening the brain to whatever technology is the most advanced, impressive and vaguely mysterious. Descartes compared the brain to a hydraulic machine. Freud likened emotions to pressure building up in a steam engine. The brain later resembled a telephone switchboard and then an electrical circuit before evolving into a computer; lately it’s turning into a Web browser or the Internet. These metaphors linger in clichés: emotions put the brain “under pressure” and some behaviors are thought to be “connected like an electronic circuit.” Speaking of which…

The brain is hard-wired

This is one of the most enduring legacies of the old “brains are electrical circuits” metaphor. There’s some truth to it, as with many metaphors: the brain is organized in a standard way, with certain bits specialized to take on certain tasks, and those bits are connected along predictable neural and communicate in part by releasing ions (pulses of electricity).

But one of the biggest discoveries in neuroscience in the past few decades is that the brain is remarkably plastic. Brain plastic doesn’t mean brain is a fake piece of organ. It means it has the ability to change remarkably based on the situation.

In blind people, parts of the brain that normally process sight are instead devoted to hearing. Someone practicing a new skill, like learning to play the violin, “rewires” parts of the brain that are responsible for fine motor control. People with brain injuries can recruit other parts of the brain to compensate for the lost tissue.

A conk on the head can cause amnesia. 

Those bloody serials. How I would like to conk them in the head. Switching babies at birth and re-emerging from a tragic death. All shite that are shown on the tele nowadays. Along with that comes this: Someone is in a tragic accident and wakes up in the hospital unable to recognize loved ones or remember his or her own name or history. (The only cure for this form of amnesia, of course, is another conk on the head)

In the real world, there are two main forms of amnesia:

1. Anterograde (the inability to form new memories) and

2. Retrograde (the inability to recall past events).

Science’s most famous amnesia patient, H.M., was unable to remember anything that happened after a 1953 surgery that removed most of his hippocampus. He remembered earlier events, however, and was able to learn new skills and vocabulary, showing that encoding “episodic” memories of new experiences relies on different brain regions than other types of learning and memory do. Retrograde amnesia can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury (ask that sports player who didn’t have enough marbles not enter the violent game to begin with) thiamine deficiency or other insults. But a brain injury doesn’t selectively impair autobiographical memory—much less bring it back.

“Flashbulb memories” are precise, detailed and persistent. 

We all have memories that feel as vivid and accurate as a snapshot, usually of some shocking, dramatic event—the assassination of a President/Prime Minister, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attacks of September 11, 2001.

People remember exactly where they were (On 9/11 I was sitting in my Grandma’s house), what they were doing (eating dinner), who they were with (with grandma duh), what they saw or heard (She asked me to change the channel so that she can catch on with her daily serial).

But several clever experiments have tested people’s memory immediately after a tragedy and again several months or years later. The test subjects tend to be confident that their memories are accurate and say the flashbulb memories are more vivid than other memories. Vivid they may be, but the memories decay over time just as other memories do. People forget important details and add incorrect ones, with no awareness that they’re recreating a muddled scene in their minds rather than calling up a perfect, photographic reproduction.

We have five senses. 

Sure, sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are the big ones. But we have many other ways of sensing the world and our place in it.

Proprioception is a sense of how our bodies are positioned. Nociception is a sense of pain. We also have a sense of balance—the inner ear is to this sense as the eye is to vision—as well as a sense of body temperature, acceleration and the passage of time.

Compared with other species, though, humans are missing out. Bats and dolphins use sonar to find prey; some birds and insects see ultraviolet light; snakes detect the heat of warm blooded prey; rats, cats, seals and other whiskered creatures use their “vibrissae” to judge spatial relations or detect movements; sharks sense electrical fields in the water; birds, turtles and even bacteria orient to the earth’s magnetic field lines.

Happiness is in our hands we can do something to get it

In some cases we haven’t a clue. We routinely overestimate how happy something will make us, whether it’s a birthday, free pizza, a new car, a victory for our favorite sports team or political candidate, winning the lottery or raising children.

Money does make people happier, but only to a point—poor people are less happy than the middle class, but the middle class are just as happy as the rich. We overestimate the pleasures of solitude and leisure and underestimate how much happiness we get from social relationships.

On the flip side, the things we dread don’t make us as unhappy as expected. Monday blues? Oh please, there is a survey done and people predict that Monday mornings aren’t that unpleasant. So, suck it and get back to work.

Seemingly unendurable tragedies—paralysis, the death of a loved one—cause grief and despair, but the unhappiness doesn’t last as long as people think it will. People are remarkably resilient.

Our perception is always right 

We are not passive recipients of external information that enters our brain through our sensory organs.

Instead, we actively search for patterns (like a Dalmatian dog that suddenly appears in a field of black and white dots), turn ambiguous scenes into ones that fit our expectations (it’s a vase; it’s a face) and completely miss details we aren’t expecting.

In one famous psychology experiment, about half of all viewers told to count the number of times a group of people pass a basketball do not notice that a guy in a gorilla suit is hulking around among the ball-throwers.

We have a limited ability to pay attention (which is why talking on a mobiles while driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving), and plenty of biases about what we expect or want to see. Our perception of the world isn’t just “bottom-up”—built of objective observations layered together in a logical way. It’s “top-down,” driven by expectations and interpretations.

Men and women are different 

Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most over interpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.

Women are thought to outperform men on tests of empathy. They do—unless test subjects are told that men are particularly good at the test, in which case men perform as well as or better than women. The same pattern holds in reverse for tests of spatial reasoning. Whenever stereotypes are brought to mind, even by something as simple as asking test subjects to check a box next to their gender, sex differences are exaggerated.

Women college students told that a test is something women usually do poorly on, do poorly. Women college students told that a test is something college students usually do well on, do well. Across countries—and across time—the more prevalent the belief is that men are better than women in math, the greater the difference in girls’ and boys’ math scores. And that’s not because girls in Iceland have more specialized brain hemispheres than do girls in Italy.

Certain sex differences are enormously important to us when we’re looking for a mate, but when it comes to most of what our brains do most of the time—perceive the world, direct attention, learn new skills, encode memories, communicate (no, women don’t speak more than men do), judge other people’s emotions (no, men aren’t inept at this)—men and women have almost entirely overlapping and fully Earth-bound abilities.

I will leave you with some of my wisdom. This is a precious piece of information and I hope you treat it with the respect that it deserves. Watch Tom and Jerry and get enlightenment.



Neurosciences behind Ecstasy

For a long time, I have been a shy person, an introvert (to be exact). I preferred to keep my thoughts to myself and never expressed an opinion on anything!

Then, I slowly developed this whole new image of the “wild child”. Not exactly drugs and booze, just that I am open to talk and experience a whole lot of things that aren’t necessarily conventional. No, I am not talking about sneaking a cigarette or drowning a bottle of Tequila. I am talking about things like expressing my views on any topic that are considered to be taboo in India.

Recently, I was talking to my friends about this blog that I wanted to write. About human sexual activities and love (you can read about love here). Not in the adult film kind of way, but the neurosciences behind it. I know most of you started reading this blog post with a certain image in mind. I won’t be pasting pictures of naked women and men. I think there are enough sites to see that. Here I am going to write about the neurosciences and psychology behind that ultimate experience humans go through – Orgasm.

case study published by a team of Taiwanese neurologists reported a most unusual set of circumstances.

One of their 41 year-old female patients, diagnosed with epilepsy, had a seizure every time she brushed her teeth. Seizures in response to external stimulation are not unusual – flashing lights are a well known source – and other sorts of stimulation are not uncommon triggers. A recent case-report even involved seizures induced by vacuum cleaner use.

So the unusual aspect for the Taiwanese case was not the trigger, but the effect of the seizure. The woman had seizures when she brushed her teeth, and had an orgasm every time she had a seizure, shortly before losing consciousness.

Although probably doing wonders for her dental health, the condition has left neurologists rather puzzled. Because so little is known about sex and the brain, her doctors had very little to go on when they tried to explain what was happening.

Ecstasy? Agony? Euphoria? Surprisingly little is known about what happens in the brain at the very peak of our sexual experience. A Dutch team have done the unthinkable and scanned the brains of men and women during orgasm.

Neuroscientists trying to untangle the riddle of desire and sexual pleasure in the brain have discovered something that turns conventional wisdom on its head. During orgasm, men experience heightened activity in the emotion-processing centres of the brain. But women’s brains, say researchers, are shut down in emotion-processing regions during arousal and orgasm.

Physiologist Dr Gemma O’Brian from the School of Biological, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at the University of New England also has a keen interest in the neurobiology of the orgasm, as fleeting an experience as it can be sometimes.

Gemma O’Brien: And this is one of the problems with trying to look inside the brain during something like orgasm. Orgasm’s a fairly brief event. We enjoy the response for an extended period of time, the resolution phase, but the actual brain changes are fairly brief so finding a technique that can see what’s happening in the brain.

The whole orgasm process is divided into three stages by Masters and Johnson: stage of arousal plateau, sexual climax and resolution. And it’s the sexual climax part that many people use the word ‘orgasm’ for.

So, is it all chemicals or is it all in the brain?

In men who have a high spinal cord injury may have ongoing capacity to use the reproductive tract so they can manually stimulate or tactilely stimulate to erection and all the way through to ejaculation but not detect anything by brain, not orgasm. They have to actually look or feel by hand to see whether anything happened. But they don’t actually have the sensations of euphoria that come with it.

Both male and female sexual reward releases beta-endorphin (Dictionary of Pharmaceutical Medicine, Springer Vienna, 2009) in the brain, which in experiments caused tremor.

[Looking at the brains of orgasming men using a PET scanner] scientists also saw heightened activity in brain regions involved in memory-related imagery and in vision itself, perhaps because the volunteers used visual imagery to hasten orgasm. The anterior part of the cerebellum also switched into high gear. The cerebellum has long been labeled the coordinator of motor behaviors but has more recently revealed its role in emotional processing. Thus, the cerebellum could be the seat of the emotional components of orgasm in men, perhaps helping to coordinate those emotions with planned behaviors. The amygdala, the brain’s center of vigilance and sometimes fear, showed a decline in activity at ejaculation, meaning, men are oblivious to their surroundings during an orgasm.

To find out whether orgasm looks similar in the female brain, [neuroscientist Gert] Holstege’s team asked the male partners of 12 women to stimulate their partner’s clitoris—the site whose excitation most easily leads to orgasm—until she climaxed, again inside a PET scanner. Not surprisingly, the team reported in 2006, clitoral stimulation by itself led to activation in areas of the brain involved in receiving and perceiving sensory signals from that part of the body and in describing a body sensation—for instance, labeling it “sexual.”

But when a woman reached orgasm, something unexpected happened: much of her brain went silent. Some of the most muted neurons sat in the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex, which may govern self-control over basic desires such as sex. Decreased activity there, the researchers suggest, might correspond to a release of tension and inhibition. The scientists also saw a dip in excitation in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which has an apparent role in moral reasoning and social judgment—a change that may be tied to a suspension of judgment and reflection.

Brain activity fell in the amygdala, too, suggesting a depression of vigilance similar to that seen in men, who generally showed far less deactivation in their brain during orgasm than their female counterparts did. “Fear and anxiety need to be avoided at all costs if a woman wishes to have an orgasm; we knew that, but now we can see it happening in the depths of the brain,” Holstege says. He went so far as to declare at the 2005 meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Development: “At the moment of orgasm, women do not have any emotional feelings.”

You cannot basically conclude that these parts of the brains are shutting down because of the intense experience that the body is going through. It is like a busy road, it maybe because there is a sale in the local supermarket, or there might be a circus performance, or there might be a cat fight going on. Come on, you are interested to see two cats fight viciously right?

Brain scanning just finds associations, but to find out whether an area is causally involved in a particular function or whether it is necessary for the function, research with brain injured patients is one of the most powerful methods.

For example, if you think a brain area is necessary for orgasm, or a certain component of orgasm, a person with damage to that area should not experience what you’ve predicted.

Sexual neuroscience is one of the most under-researched areas in the human sciences. A quick search of PubMed (the international database of medical research) shows that we know more about the neuroscience of hiccups than we do about orgasm.

Part of the problem is practical. fMRI scanners, some of the most useful and popular tools in cognitive neuroscience, involve lying in a tube while scanning takes place and need the head to be completely still. Add the fact that you’re being watched by neuroscientists and none of this makes for relaxed coupling, or even self-stimulation.

So, if you have a way of testing people going through this, then tell me. Maybe I can do some mind boggling errr research. (I solemnly swear I am up to only good)



A sad sad world

This is my 8th attempt at writing today’s article. I must have written almost 5000 words before I restarted my computer to write again from scratch. Every single time I thought I had written enough, electricity flickers (Monsoon time, I can’t help it) in my home and my computer shuts down without me saving the article. I have written so many versions of the same topic because I cannot remember how I introduced the topic to you all. It is quite depressing really. Ahhh!! There it is: my opening. I’m going to talk about a touchy subject – depression.

I’d appreciate it if people took an open mind to what I’m saying, rather than defensively saying ‘I had depression, it is not like that and you don’t know what the hell you are talking about’. I’m not claiming to be a saviour or guru; I’m just writing my opinion based on my personal experiences.

If somebody greets you, you always greet them back with a positive message. Fine, good, great, awesome etc, even if you aren’t. Even if you are sad, depressed, unhappy, in pain, you never let it through and usually try to hide it. So, I thought I will write something about depression and sadness. It is important to know the reason for such things and ways of overcoming it. Did you know there are genes associated with depression? I will tell you more about finding “the gene” later on. First, we will see some of the reasons and factors pushing us towards depression.

Society today through the use of mass media especially TV, movies and magazines gives the impression to young people (more so girls but males as well), that life is going to be one big picnic, you are going to find the partner of your dreams, you are going to be the coolest person around at school, basically that life is going to be one big fairytale.

Now when people reach the mid-teenage years, they begin to discover that the world isn’t everything it’s made out to be. Their parents are just people with the same faults and inconsistencies as anyone else, with the ability to hurt them just the same as anyone else. They read magazines and find that they are not as attractive as the models they read about, begin to discover that the guy of their dreams is possibly not going to ride in and sweep them off their feet (The Twilight guy, whatshisface? Robert Pattinson? Tall, dark, handsome and a rich man), people in their lives are going to do things that upset them, and their grand fairytale plan for life isn’t going to fall into their arms. It isn’t just body issues.You can read more about the body issues here

I think when people begin to realise that the real world is a very different place than what they have been led to believe. Some people are brought up thinking that the world owes them happiness. That their family/friends/teachers are responsible for them feeling bad, and they get stuck in a rut which leads them to be sad about the situation and frustrated at their helplessness.

Recently, an article was published in the Guardian which claimed that depression can be good for you! Here is an extract from that article. I don’t know if it is true, but it sure gives something to think about.

Dr Paul Keedwell, an expert on mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, has written how Sadness Survived in order to understand why something that causes so much pain and disability has withstood evolutionary changes and still occurs so commonly. ‘We see it as a defect – often patients see themselves as broken in some way – whereas I think of it as a defence mechanism. It has simply adapted in the human species to actually give us some long-term benefits.

‘Essentially, depression can give us new and quite radical insights – it can give us a way of responding effectively to challenges we have in life. In its severe form it is terrible and life-threatening, but for many it is a short-term painful episode that can take you out of a stressful situation for a while. It can help people to find a new way of coping with events or your situation – and give you a new perspective, as well as making you more realistic about your aims.’

Keedwell says there is good evidence from long-term studies, particularly a recently published population survey of Dutch adults, to show that, after their depression, many patients seem to be able to cope better with challenges. ‘For most, their vitality, their social interaction and their general health actually improved on recovery – and so did their work performance. I know from patients that it can also make you more realistic in your outlook; you develop more empathy to those around you.’

Going deeper into depression:

Much of what we know about the genetic influence of clinical depression is based upon research that has been done with identical twins. Identical twins are very helpful to researchers since they both have the exact same genetic code. It has been found that when one identical twin becomes depressed the other will also develop clinical depression approximately 76% of the time. When identical twins are raised apart from each other, they will both become depressed about 67% of the time. Because both twins become depressed at such a high rate, the implication is that there is a strong genetic influence. If it happened that when one twin becomes clinically depressed the other always develops depression, then clinical depression would likely be entirely genetic. However because the rate of both identical twins developing depression is not closer to 100% this tells us that there are other things that influence a person’s vulnerability to depression. These may include environmental factors such as childhood experiences, current stressors, traumatic events, exposure to substances, medical illnesses, etc.

How people process positive and negative stimuli is central to theories of emotion, and may be the key component in vulnerability factors governing risk for depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety are commonly experienced in the general population and may significantly impair psychosocial function. In their extreme form these negative affective states develop into clinical depression and anxiety – the most commonly experienced psychiatric disorders today. While these disorders are often characterised as distinct phenomena, they co-occur in up to half the cases with either disorder. Here is an article to read if you are interested in knowing the neurosciences behind depression.

How to overcome it?


Here is a cycle that might give you an idea what is happening during depression. I forgot where I got this article (Remember the 8 power cuts I had to deal with), so I am sorry I cannot refer this properly, but anyway, it gives a good picture about depression and the “escape route”.

While sadness will always be part of the human condition, hopefully in the future we will be able to lessen or eradicate the more severe mood disorders from the world to the benefit of all of us. This can be done by doing research in this progress. And for that, the government and funding bodies have to provide money for the researchers. A long process and umpteen number of convoluted bureaucracy to deal with. It is quite depressing, really.

Exciting world of neurosciences

Hello everybody,

Today, I am going to write something about a subject that is very dear to me. I am fascinated by this subject so I hope a little of my fascination rubs on to you. I am new to this subject, so I am not an expert. I hope that you will learn and come to appreciate this subject just as I have.

The subject that I am going to talk about is THE BRAIN. Yes, I know. There are a million different things that can be said about this one “master organ”. It is a 3 pound jelly (you can hold it in the palm of your hand!), made of 100 billion neurons. Neurons are a class of cells which make up the brain and nerves. The brain is such a wonderful organ that is can contemplate the vastness of the universe, contemplate the meaning of infinity, God… In fact, it can even contemplate itself contemplating the meaning of infinity. Self – awareness, according to me is the holy grail of neurosciences.

All these neurons together constitute the spectrum of human activities. To understand how the brain works, there are several different methods. One such method is to study the brain which has been damaged. If the damage is confined to a small region of the brain (either due to genetic change or a physical damage), then the brain itself doesn’t stop working altogether. There is no reduction in the cognitive ability on the whole. Instead, there is a highly selective loss of one function while other functions are preserved intact. This makes it easy to map the function onto the structure and understand how the structure contributes for the overall activity.

Here are a few examples which help you understand this process:

Example number 1: Capgras Syndrome

According to wiki, the Capgras delusion theory (or Capgras syndrome) is a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family members have been replaced by identical-looking impostors. This is due to the damage to a very specific part of the brain called fusiform gyrus. It is also called discontinuous occipitotemporal gyrus. In layman terms, it can be called the face area of the brain. If there is damage to this particular part of brain you can no longer recognise people just by seeing their face. Mind you, you can still recognise them by hearing them. In fact, you won’t be able to recognise yourself in a mirror. Of course, you know it is you because it imitates your actions.

In this rare syndrome, the person will be completely lucid but still will not be able to recognise his own friends and family members. In the olden psychiatry textbooks, this can be explained by a Freudian principle – Oedipus complex in men and Electra complex in Women. According to this explanation, young children will have a strong sexual attraction to their parents (“father-fixated” and “mother-fixated”). As they grow up, the cortex develops and inhibits these latent sexual feelings. If there is a damage to the part of the brain which suppresses these feelings then the sexual arousal returns.

You have to understand that I don’t necessarily believe in this principle. It just happens to be one of the explanations that could successfully resolve the capgras delusion. But, this principle cannot explain why a person with capgras delusion has difficulty recognising his own pet. The whole Freudian explanation (Oedipus and Electra) don’t really work for pets, do they?

To explain it, scientists looked at visual areas in the brain (all 30 of them). The object is processed and sent to a small structure in the brain called fusiform gyrus where faces are perceived. From this structure, the message cascades into another structure called amygdala in the limbic system which is involved in gauging the emotional significance of the object that has been visualised.

The patient (With Capgras delusion) might  have a problem in the area where the neurons connect the fusiform gyrus with the amygdala. So, he recognises his friends, parents etc, but the emotional significance of it is lost. So, the patient starts thinking of his own friends and family as imposters. (Scientists determined this based on galvanic skin response)

You can read more about this methodology here.

How is this complex neural circuitry set-up in the brain? What is the reason for it? Is it nature, nurture or genes?

Example number 2: Phantom Limb

                Recently, an uncle of mine had an amputation done on his leg (above the knee) because the doctors found giant cell tumours below his knee cap. I started reading up about this peculiar feeling that he had post surgery. It was a vivid compelling experience for him. Of course, I knew what a phantom limb was but I never appreciated the severity of the situation. He was bed ridden for several months before the operation and experienced severe pain (due to a fracture to the same leg). His brain sent signals to his leg to move but it gets back visual feedback saying “NO”. This is called learned paralysis because it gets wired into the brain that even after sending a command, there is no appropriate result.

Even after the operation, he continued to feel that pain in the same place. He knew his limb was amputated. He could see it, but still he felt the pain. The learned paralysis allowed him to feel the pain. The phantom limb also behaves like a paralysed limb. The only way of dealing with this is to allow the brain to see that the phantom limb is moving according to the command. This can be done using a mirror box. A simple but ingenious creation by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. You can read more about this here.

Example number 3: Synaesthesia

                Synaesthesia is a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. In short, it is mingling of the senses.         

In one common form of synaesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently coloured. 5 is red, 3 is green, 1 is white, 2 is blue so and so forth. These people are completely normal in other ways. Sometimes, sound and colour gets mixed up. C sharp is yellow, perhaps?

Did you know that synaesthesia is 8 times more common in artists, poets, novelists and other creative people?

In the brain, the “colour area” and the “number area” are next to each other. In people with synaesthesia, there is a crosslink between these two areas. This is because the gene which causes the changes in interneuronal connection. Usually, artists have a way of perceiving seemingly mundane things in a different way. (Her lips were like a volcano that’s hot – Elvis Presley). There is a link between these things. You can read more about this here.

Just a few more things to say: Each neuron makes 1000 – 10,000 contacts with other neurons in the brain. That is a lot! This blog is not a review of any one particular paper. I will leave that to someone who is an expert in that particular field. What I want to achieve by posting this blog is to create an interest in neurosciences amongst budding scientists. There are a lot of things being done in this particular area and yet, we have only taken baby steps in our understanding of the brain and its functions. If we join this research, then we will surely be able to understand more about ourselves and our behaviour.