It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us. 

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The Truth about Your Brain (You’ll Be Surprised)

deepak9.29

The notion that human beings walk, talk, think, and do things because our brains control us is an argument that has been around for decades. It replaced the religious argument that the soul is what drives us or some divine spark ignited by a divine creator.

Now the average person accepts that the brain is a machine analogous to a computer, and when we believe that we have free will, we are mistaken. This view suggests we are like brain puppets driven by the mechanical operation of neurons.  Robbed of free will, we only have to go a step further to see that even being conscious is an illusion. As long as the machine-brain is in charge, anything else we tell ourselves is just a story.

Yet the flaws in this argument have been pointed out many times.

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287 Hits

Be Mind Full of Good

RickH8.27.21

What’s in your mind?

The Practice:
Be mind full of good.

Why?

It’s kind of amazing: right now, what you think and feel, enjoy and suffer, is changing your brain. The brain is the organ that learns, designed by evolution to be changed by our experiences: what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that each one of us has the power to use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better. To benefit oneself and other beings.

Using this internal power is more important than ever these days, when so many of us are pushed and prodded by external forces – the economy, media, politics, workplace policies, war on the other side of the world, the people on the other side of the dining room table – and by our reactions to them.

Life is often hard. To cope with hard things, to be effective and successful, or simply to experience ordinary well-being, we need resources inside, inner strengths like resilience, compassion, gratitude, and other positive emotions, self-worth, and insight.

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306 Hits

The Evolution of Love

cuddling-wolves

How did we evolve the most loving brain on the planet?

Humans are the most sociable species on earth – for better and for worse.

On the one hand, we have the greatest capacities for empathy, communication, friendship, romance, complex social structures, and altruism. On the other, we have the greatest capacities for shaming, emotional cruelty, sadism, envy, jealousy, discrimination and other forms of dehumanization, and wholesale slaughter of our fellow humans.

In other words, to paraphrase a teaching story, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate live in the heart of every person.

Many factors shape each of these two wolves, including biological evolution, culture, economics, and personal history. Here, I’d like to comment on key elements of the neural substrate of bonding and love; in next week’s blog, I’ll write about the evolution of aggression and hate; then, in the next several posts, we’ll explore the crucial skill of empathy, perhaps the premier way to feed the wolf of love.

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329 Hits

Want to Stop Living in Fight or Flight Mode?

iStock-1167360726 By Sandra & Daniel Biskind

Did you know that unconscious thoughts trigger chemical messengers in your brain, which in turn trigger your cells to take action? 

Let’s break it down... 

You may be familiar with the “fight-or-flight” response.

This response is something we all have.  On an evolutionary scale, it was intended to be triggered when we are faced with a predator, one that may kill or eat us. 

In this situation, we have two choices: to fight the predator or to RUN. 

Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline that gives it the ability to do one or the other. 

That same response is triggered in humans every single day. 

We are not running from tigers any longer but…

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387 Hits

Hug the Monkey

baby-macaque-monkey-picture-id1142957157 Hug the Monkey

Longing for love?

The Practice:
Hug the monkey.

Why?

To simplify a complex process spanning 600 million years, your brain developed in ways that are loosely related to three major stages of vertebrate evolution:

  • Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harms
  • Mammal – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards
  • Primate/human – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us”

Since the brain is integrated, avoiding, approaching, and attaching are accomplished by its parts working together. Nonetheless, each of these functions is particularly served and shaped by the region of the brain that first evolved to handle it.

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772 Hits

Feed the Mouse

little-mouse-and-cheese-picture-id92906697 Feed the Mouse

Got cheese?

The Practice:
Feed the mouse.

Why?

To simplify a complex process spanning 600 million years, your brain developed in ways that are loosely related to the three major stages of vertebrate evolution:

  • Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harms
  • Mammal – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards
  • Primate – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us”

Since the brain is integrated, avoiding, approaching, and attaching are accomplished by its parts working together. Nonetheless, each of these functions is particularly served and shaped by the region of the brain that first evolved to handle it.

In this three-part series, the previous JOT – pet the lizard – was about how to soothe and calm yourself. This affects your brain as a whole, including its most ancient structures and the management of perhaps the first emotion of all: fear. This JOT continues the series by focusing on how to help you feel rewarded, satisfied, and fulfilled – in a word,  fed – which also engages your brain as a whole, with a particular focus on its subcortical regions that emerged mainly during the mammalian stage of evolution.

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Why Can’t We Get the Brain Right?

brain Why Can’t We Get the Brain Right?

For many decades It was assumed that the human brain must be special, as superior to the brains of other mammals as our minds are. This specialness was never seriously questioned, and even basic facts, like asserting that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons, were arrived at with surprising casualness.

In an interesting 2013 TED talk, the articulate Brazilian neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel offers clarity for the first time on several of the basic issues. After devising a way to dissolve brain cell membranes so that only the nuclei remained, and isolating them to be counted, she determined that the human brain contains 86 billion neurons, the most of any primate. Even though the human brain is a small fraction of our total weight, it uses 25% of a person’s daily calorie consumption.


That may seem like an incidental fact, but Herculano-Houzel makes it the cornerstone of her argument, which declares that the human brain isn’t special. We have primate brains, she says, that are in proportion to our primate relatives like chimpanzees and gorillas. But in an odd evolutionary twist, chimps and gorillas cannot sustain the calorie load of an immense brain by eating raw food. Typically, a great ape feeds for eight hours a day to sustain its large body, and over time a choice was made to prefer a very large body with a smaller number of neurons.

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737 Hits

Do Your Genes Run You or Vice Versa?

overwieghtmom Do Your Genes Run You or Vice Versa?
There's a disturbing trend in science to try and prove that human beings are machines, and where this was once a metaphor, it is being taken more and more literally. We are told that a brain hormone is responsible for falling in love or a mother's affection for her newborn baby. Brain areas that light up on an fMRI scan supposedly indicate that a person is depressed or prone to criminal behavior and much else. Besides being brain puppets, we are supposed to believe that our genes program us in powerful ways, to the point that "bad" genes doom a person to a host of problems from schizophrenia to Alzheimer's.


There needs to be a clear rebuff of this notion that human beings are mechanisms, and the fact that science has a wealth of findings about both genes and the brain doesn't make the notion any more valid. The general public isn't aware, for example, that only 5% of disease-related genetic mutations are fully penetrant, which means that having the mutation will definitely cause a given problem. The other 95% of genes raise risk factors and in complex ways interact with other genes.
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912 Hits

The Smartest Diet for Your Brain

The Smartest Diet for Your Brain

In the scheme of things, your brain is one of your greatest treasures. Learn to take care of it! Feed it what it needs. This post from the archives will fill you in of brain nutrition basics. And, by the way, you won't miss a beat on flavor! Brain healthy foods include some delicious favorites. I recommend making them part of your repertoire, and weaving them into your day on a regular basis.

It starts with the “p” word — and that would be “plants.”

A flood of new and surprising research is emerging about the role that plants play in brain health. For example, a study on the MIND diet — a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association — concluded that people who eat more dark, leafy greens at least once a day have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).Bingo!

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1086 Hits

Will the Gut-Brain Connection Revolutionize Wellness?

Will the Gut-Brain Connection Revolutionize Wellness?

Three decades ago, the brain lost its sovereignty as the seat of thinking, feeling, and the operation of intelligence. In fact, those processes began to escape the confines of the nervous system itself. All of this occurred when it was discovered that various “messenger molecules” associated with the brain are in fact circulating throughout the body via the bloodstream. Every cell is eavesdropping on the brain’s activity, sending and receiving messages identical to those that the brain processes.

 

Over the next three decades, the realization that what we dub “intelligence” is a holistic feature of the body, the main difference being that outside the brain, this intelligence is nonverbal. The immune system’s incredible ability to identify and combat invading bacteria and viruses, in fact, has earned it the nickname of the floating brain. Everywhere researchers looked, new avenues were opening in a virtual information superhighway that reaches everywhere, and now it is possible to redefine wellness in terms of a “whole system” approach that has no need to recognize the artificial boundaries between brain and body, neurons and other cells, or even the distinction between human DNA and the countless other microbial genes that reside inside us.

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1868 Hits