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Superfoods for a healthy brain

Food for thought

superfoods you must include in your diet to boost your brain:

Wild salmon: are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function

Crab: One serving of crab contains more than your entire daily requirement of phenylalanine, an amino acid that helps make the neurotransmitter dopamine, brain-stimulating adrenaline and noradrenaline and thyroid hormone, and may help fight Parkinson’s disease. Crab is also an excellent source of brain-boosting vitamin B12.

Chicken Giblets or Clams: are a great sources of vitamin B12, which is crucial for brain health. Just a cup of giblets provides 228% of your recommended daily dose of B12. They also contain zinc and iron, which have been associated with the brain’s ability to stay focused and recall information.

Coffee: A cup or two of coffee could boost the brain’s ability to store long-term memories and also reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Nuts and seed: are good sources of vitamin E that protect neurons and nerve cells. Higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as you get older.

Whole grains: Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and brown rice can reduce the risk for heart disease. Every organ in the body is dependent on blood flow and if you promote cardiovascular health, you’re promoting good flow to the organ system, which includes the brain

Chickpeas: are one of the best food sources of magnesium (aside from kelp and green leafy vegetables). Magnesium benefits brain cell receptors to speed the transmission of messages, while also relaxing blood vessels, which allows more blood flow to the brain.

Tomatoes: lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s

Broccoli and cauliflower: A great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of choline. Choline intake may boost cognitive function, improve learning and memory, and even diminish age-related memory decline and your brain’s vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as conferring protection later in life.

Sage: has long had a reputation for improving memory and although most studies focus on sage as an essential oil, it could be worth adding fresh sage to your diet too

Celery: a rich source of luteolin, a plant compounds that may calm inflammation in your brain, which is a primary cause of neurodegeneration. Luteolin has also been linked with lower rates of age-related memory loss in mice. In addition to celery, peppers and carrots are also good sources of luteolin.

Beets: boost your brainpower. Natural nitrates found in beets (as well as cabbages and radishes) can actually increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance.

Avocados: it’s a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow “healthy blood flow means a healthy brain”. Avocados also lower blood pressure, and as hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, a lower blood pressure should promote brain health. Avocado also contains vitamin E.

Garlic: Fresh garlic is best as it has properties which reduce bad cholesterol and fights bacteria because of the antioxidant content.

Vegetable Juice: Vegetables provide all the vitamins and antioxidants our hearts and brains need. Juiced vegetables are a convenient and delicious way to get all those vital nutrients.

Blueberries: help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Pomegranates: As good as blueberries, pomegranates are rich in antioxidants. Rather than waste all the fibers present, it is better eaten in the fruit form rather than as a juice. Pomegranates are great stress busters.

Elderberries: are packed with quercetin, a flavonoid that’s critical to your brain’s health. Like blueberries and strawberries, the flavonoids found in elderberries help reduce harmful inflammation at a cellular level. Additionally, quercetin increases the activity of your cells’ mitochondria, which you can think of as the “powerhouses” within each of your cells. By boosting your mitochondrial activity, you’ll boost your overall energy level, too.

Red wine: moderate amounts of red wine and other types of alcohol may be at reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Curry: Contains turmeric, a spice that in turn contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant curcumin that may help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as break up existing plaques. Curcumin has even been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells.

 

 

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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Chewing can improve your memory

chewing apple

Several studies have shown that chewing produces an enhancing effect on memory. Mastication is associated with various brain regions, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, ventral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex. It may accelerate or recover the process of working memory, encoding new information, delayed recall  and the arousal level will also be improved by the chewing motion. Chewing also increased the blood circulation in one of the most important arteries. This artery (middle cerebral artery) is mostly affected in case of a stroke. Heart rate was found to increase in the chewing condition which was similar to other light physical activities.
This is quite essential, specially among the group of elderly who suffer from dementia and cognitive problems such as memory impairment. As there is no cure for dementia, interventions are aimed at improving the clinical consequences. For example, interventions targeting life style factors, such as increasing physical activity, have been found to improve cognitive measures in healthy elderly. Physical activity interventions targeting elderly persons suffering from dementia may improve cognitive function, mood, and Quality of life (QoL) or reduce the risk of cognitive impairments. But demented elderly and in particular, residents of nursing homes have often less or in most cases no physical activity during the day. For this reason it is important to find alternative ways to reduce and delay the process of cognitive decline. One suggestion is simply by mastication. There is additional support for a relationship between mastication and cognition in the elderly population, including those, perhaps even especially those, suffering from dementia. But unfortunately most elderly also suffer from a bad oral health because of inadequate oral health care. A healthy dentition, preferably with nine or more occluding pairs, is needed for good masticatory function in adolescents and adults of all ages. Bad oral health, such as periodontal disease, can lead to tooth loss in the older population causing loss of masticatory function. In most cases even if elderly are able to chew they regularly receive fluid or mashed and pureed meals, because of the fear for chocking. This is very unhelpful because in the first stages of dementia only 30 percent of this group suffer from swallowing and chewing difficulties (dysphagia) and the other 70 percent is often eating fluid and pureed food for no particular reason.
Overall, the above information shows a quite serious condition that needs immediate attention. After reading this you might now want to start looking around to see if you can help people in your community. But what can you do exactly to improve their quality of life? Start by stimulating them to be more active and if they are unable to move, make sure they are chewing regularly and eating properly. Dentist visits at least once in 6 months and regular oral care is essential as well.
And for yourself try a chewing gum while you are learning and memorizing, before and during your exam or during other memory performances. chewing will improve the encoding and recall of the information and help you perform better. I am sure it will at least help you stay more alert whenever you need it.

interesting to read:

Effects of chewing gum on mood, learning, memory and performance of an intelligence test http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/147683009X423247

Effects of chewing in working memory processing http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394008003169

Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory http://www.pnas.org/content/108/7/3017.short

Physical activity and enhanced fitness to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD005381.pub3/abstract

Increased masticatory activity and quality of life in elderly persons with dementia-a longitudinal matched cluster randomized single-blind multicenter intervention study.
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186%2F1471-2377-13-26#page-3

 

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The most fascinating people with Bipolar disorder

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Vincent Van Gogh-  1888, Starry Night over the Rhone

People with bipolar disorder are often very fascinating in the early stages.
Before I start writing about this group I would like to give you a clinical description of Bipolar disorder according to the DSM-4 and DSM-5:

Bipolar Disorder (formerly called manic-depressive) affects 1 to 1.5 % of the population.  Patients have one or more Manic or nearly manic episodes (extreme elevated mood), alternating with major depressive episodes (extreme sadness). The first episode often occurs in the mid-20s and unfortunately, often leads to suicide.
A manic episode: is defined by a distinct period featuring abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, and this period has to last at least one week, of course less if hospital is required.
The mood disturbance has to be accompanied by at least three symptoms: First of all, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity. So a typical incident of this sort would be a bipolar person who buys a house that he can’t afford because he thinks that it is very important to his life and that he is very important in the world. Decreased need for sleep, Pressure of speech, Flight of ideas, distractibility, increased involvement in goal directed activities or psycho-motor agitation, Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities with likelihood of painful consequences
(being involved in unusual sexual activities for example)

It is important to know that these disturbances need to be severe enough to cause impairment in social- or occupational functioning. So it’s not enough to feel good or to feel bad, one’s life needs to be disrupted.

So the impulsive behavior during a manic episode can lead to serious consequences for the person and the family and a major depressive episode can cause the person to be dysfunctional in his or her daily life.

Bipolar disorder has 3 different types:
Bipolar I, This classic type, has pretty fast cycling with very high ups and very high downs.
Bipolar II Manic episodes are not so high (“hypomanic”), not so frequent, depressive episodes are severe.
cyclo-thymia Milder than other two. Less severe mood swings, but persistent and recurring.

Bipoloar disorder, specially the classic type has a high heritability .77 which is even higher than major depression which has a high genetic component. Unfortunately the medications for this disorder have not advanced in the last few decades and a lot around the cause has remained mystery.

Now that you know more about this disorder, let us think about how it is that genes pre-disposing to bi-polar disease have survived and even perhaps maintained their ratio in modern societies? The answer may be that a small disposition to bipolar behavior and manic behavior may be a selective advantage.  In fact bipolar people often receive favorable notice for their excellent achievements in high functioning environments such as artistic environments, universities, corporate leaderships and government.
Kay Redfield Jamison, who wrote two amazing books about mood disorder, presented a list of highly creative people, artists, writers, composers, musicians, poets and artists in her books.  These people´s success seemed to go along with a certain propensity toward mood, possibly bipolar behavior.

A good example of a person who showed some traits of bipolar disorder would be the painter Van Gogh. He made statements that seem hypomanic such as “I’d like to do portraits which will appear as revelations to people in a hundred years’ time”.  In his rather short lifetime, 47 years, he was vastly prolific, with 750 paintings, 1600 drawings and 700 letters. He had a beautiful style of brush strokes that was very typical of his work. He was born and raised in the Netherlands, moved to Paris where many artists lived in, at that period. In Arles he was hospitalized after cutting off his own ear, an obvious manic state and two years later he shot himself.

When most of these artists and writers and composers and poets lived, there was no DSM, there was no clear distinction between neurology and psychiatry and no way to talk about bipolar disease. Also, certainly, no way to distinguish among bipolar 1, 2 or 3. But, this list of highly creative people, artists, writers, composers, musicians, poets, artists is really quite impressive.

Jamison’s list

KEY:
H= Asylum or psychiatric hospital; S= Suicide; SA = Suicide Attempt  

Writers Hans Christian Andersen, Honore de Balzac, James Barrie, William Faulkner (H), F. Scott, Fitzgerald (H), Ernest Hemingway (H, S), Hermann Hesse (H, SA), Henrik Ibsen, Henry James, William James, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Joseph Conrad (SA), Charles Dickens, Isak Dinesen (SA), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Eugene O’Neill (H, SA), Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams (H), Mary Wollstonecraft (SA), Virginia Woolf (H, S)

Composers Hector Berlioz (SA), Anton Bruckner (H), George Frederic Handel, Gustav Holst, Charles Ives, Gustav Mahler, Modest Mussorgsky, Sergey Rachmaninoff, Giocchino Rossini, Robert Schumann (H, SA), Alexander Scriabin, Peter Tchaikovsky

Non-classical composers and musicians Irving Berlin (H), Noel Coward, Stephen Foster, Charles Mingus (H), Charles Parker (H, SA), Cole Porter (H)

Poets William Blake, Robert Burns, George Gordon, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hart Crane (S) , Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot (H), Oliver Goldsmith, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Victor Hugo, Samuel Johnson, John Keats, Vachel Lindsay (S), James Russell Lowell, Robert Lowell (H), Edna St. Vincent Millay (H), Boris Pasternak (H), Sylvia Plath (H, S), Edgar Allan Poe (SA), Ezra Pound (H), Anne Sexton (H, S), Percy Bysshe Shelley (SA), Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman

Artists Richard Dadd (H), Thomas Eakins, Paul Gauguin (SA), Vincent van Gogh (H, S), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (H, S), Edward Lear, Michelangelo, Edvard Meunch (H), Georgia O’Keeffe (H), George Romney, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (SA)


suggestions for reading:
Touched with fire by Kay Redfield Jamison
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Neuroscience improves the effectiveness of advertisement

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These days advertising is everywhere. Even our dominant TV genre is nowadays advertising. Media that was once largely commercial free now is filled with commercial messages. Have you ever wondered how many ads we see per day? One of the sanest studies I came across said we see about 250 images per day and probably don’t notice half of them even though we’ve been exposed to them. The fact that you are in reasonable proximity with these messages to be able to see them doesn’t mean you see them all. Our brains can’t truly process that many messages. We can’t notice, absorb, or even judge so many visual attacks a day. So there must be something special about the ads that do affect us. We can’t deny the power of these daily ads. In fact I can’t really imagine the modern society without the advertisement. I guess we all can see why and that is the reason why making an effective advertisement is so essential. In order to do that neuroscience offers 3 very helpful neurotechniques that are being used in a popular technology called “Neuromarketing”: fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging), EEG (Electroencephalography) and eye tracking technique. The concept of neuromarketing was developed by psychologists at Harvard University in 1990. While the term “Neuromarketing” was coined in 2002 by Ale Smidts, the bases derive from the Greek Philosopher Plato (two horses’ theory). The technology is based on a model whereby the major thinking part of human activity (more than 90%), including emotion, takes place in the subconscious area that is below the levels of controlled awareness. For this reason, the perception technologists of the market are very tempted to learn the techniques of effective manipulation of the subconscious brain activity. The main reason is to inspire the desired reaction in person’s perception as deeply as possible. Neuromarketing is originally supposed to be not about manipulating the subject’s brain but just reading its response. These techniques provide researchers with useful information about the consumers’ opinion.  Researchers found these techniques more efficient ways to predict the effectiveness of commercials than scientific methods with quantitative pretesting, using variety of questionnaires.  One of the big ideas behind these tools is that what people say they think and feel doesn’t always match what they really do, so focus groups and surveys can’t always give an accurate insight.

Eye tracking appears to be the most affordable and reliable choice. It helps correlate the emotional, attention or memory activity with the visual focus on the advertisement. It measures how quickly someone is looking at an object after that object is presented. This is to investigate how it draws the attention and to measure how long and how often people look at an object. This shows whether they like the image or not. The more they look the better they can remember it.

EEG records electrical impulses produced by the brain’s activity to see whether a subject is engaged or not, or has positive or negative emotional engagement. EEG is a very effective tool because it provides immediate readings and it’s more portable and easy to use.

FMRI measures the blood-flow to areas of the brain that are responsible for decision making and gives even more insight into how the subject is reacting to content. It also measures whether an ad can be memorized or not.

The base of neuromarketing is “meme”. Meme is a unit of information stored in the brain. These units are effective at influencing a person who is making choices and decisions within 2.6 seconds. If meme is chosen properly we remember the good, joke or song and would share it. “Memes stay in memory and they are affected by marketers”. Examples of memes are: Aromas of fresh bread, sweets, grandmother’s pie; Characters in fairy tales, melodies that cannot be out of head. Thus neuromarketers examine people and   manipulate them.

Advertisement affects parts of our brains that handle emotions causing us to respond physically and mentally before we even begin to think about a decision. Even when we don’t think we’re being affected, we are, and the fMRI can measure that. So the emotional appeal and the experience are very important. I give you the example of a research about Coke versus Pepsi:

In a study from the group of Read Montague published in 2004, 67 people had their brains scanned while being given the “Pepsi Challenge”, a blind taste test of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Half the subjects chose Pepsi, since Pepsi tended to produce a stronger response than Coke in their brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region thought to process feelings of reward. But when the subjects were told they were drinking Coke three-quarters said that Coke tasted better. Their brain activity had also changed. The lateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that governs high-level cognitive powers, and the hippocampus, an area related to memory, were now being used, indicating that the consumers were thinking about Coke and relating it to memories and other impressions. The results demonstrated that Pepsi should have half the market share, but in reality consumers are buying Coke for reasons related less to their taste preferences and more to their experience with the Coke brand.

Off course there are many people against these so-called non-traditional approaches toward gathering consumer opinion. But there are many more that use neuromarketing to improve the effectiveness of their advertisements in this very competitive market. But for us as a consumer a very important question will arise: How far marketers are willing to go to get the most effective ads.  Let us be more aware next time we go shopping, or at least let’s try to be more mindful about how we choose.

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You can click here to watch a video about eye tracking technique: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01g5vlb

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Male vs Female Brains

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Looking at the sales of glossy magazines that promise to teach us how to work with someone of the opposite gender as well as self-help books are proof that we need a little help understanding what’s going on inside our heads.

As it turns out, it may be better to turn to neuroscience rather than to those glossy magazines. Research indicates that we do in fact have different brain structures and connections, and we might also use our brain differently. I am going to select some of these differences to discuss below.

To begin with it is very important to know that the size and activity of our brains are different. Men have bigger but less active brains. Brain of a man is 8 to 10 percent larger than a woman’s restless brain. But the total size doesn’t necessarily mean better, because also inside the brain the size of various regions differs. Women have bigger frontal lobe which is essential for decision making, problem solving, multitasking and lots of other complicated functions. The bigger Orbitofrontal cortex in women results in having more impulse control among them. Since women tend to have a larger deep limbic system than men, they’re more in touch with their feelings and are better at expressing their emotions. This makes women better at connecting with others, but unfortunately also more prone to different types of depression. Women also appear to have a higher emotional intelligence (EQ).

Many men are sharply left-brain dominant, they are more strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere, while women tend to be more evenly balanced between left and right-brain processing. Women are therefore thought to be slightly more intuitive. Men are often less socially adept, and are more task-oriented thinkers than females. On the other hand men have bigger parietal lobe which is crucial for space perception and orientation in space. This parietal region is thicker in the female brain, making it harder for them to mentally rotate objects, which is an important spatial skill. Women often report difficulty with spatial tasks, both on tests and in real life. The inferior part of the parietal lobule, which controls the numerical brain function, is larger as well in males. On standardized tests, men often score higher on mathematical tests than women. Also amygdale is larger in male brain which regulates the sexual behavior and fight- flight reactions and also plays a large role in emotional memory formation and storage. On average, women retain emotional memories more vividly than do men. Sometimes, however, this can have a negative effect on women and they may have impaired memory at times due to strong emotional overlap. Another negative outcome of women forming strong emotional memories is again an increased vulnerability to depression. Females tend to dwell on negative feelings or “memories of negative life experiences” which can lead to depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder, is also more prevalent in women (2 times more common in women than in men) for similar reasons. Emotional memory encoding also differs between the male and female amygdala; males encode emotional memories using the right side of their amygdala while women use the left. When faced with stressful situations, men are usually more alert and employ ‘fight or flight’ tactics, while women use a ‘tend or befriend’ response that is rooted in their natural instincts for caring for their children and establishing strong group bonds. A behavioral difference that has been linked to the amygdala’s size is sexual drive. Men have a greater sex drive than women; this may be due to the fact that males have a larger amygdala.

Here comes a very famous one that men might like to hear: women talk too much? It is true that women use language more and easier in different situations than men do and are purported to have better communication skills and are better at language-based tasks. That’s because of two reasons 1-language-associated cortical regions are proportionally larger in the female brain. 2- Women process language in both hemispheres while males favor a single brain half.

Let’s take a look at one of my favorites which is the gray and white matter. Men have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, but listen to this: Women have about 10 times more white matter than men do. This difference may account for differences in how men and women think. Men seem to think with their gray matter, which is full of active neurons. Women think with the white matter, which consists more of connections between the neurons. In this way, a woman’s brain is a bit more complicated in setup, but those connections may allow a woman’s brain to work faster than a man’s.

In women’s brains, the neurons are packed in tightly, so that they’re closer together. This proximity, in conjunction with speedy connections facilitated by the white matter, is another reason why women’s brains work faster. Some women even have as many as 12 percent more neurons than men do. In studying women’s brains, those neurons were found to be most densely crowded on certain layers of the cortex, namely the ones responsible for signals coming in and out of the brain. This could be one of the reasons why women tend to score higher on tests that involve language and communication. These differences might be present from birth.

But the density of women’s neurons, or the size of a man’s brain, is not enough for predicting intelligence. As we’ve already said, men use gray matter, and women use white, but they’re also accessing different sections of the brain for the same task. In one study, men and women were asked to sound out different words. Men relied on just one small area on the left side of the brain to complete the task, while the majority of women used areas in both sides of the brain. However, both men and women sounded out the words equally well, indicating that there is more than one way for the brain to arrive at the same result. For example, while women get stuck with a bad reputation for reading maps, it may just be that they orient to landmarks differently. And as for intelligence, average IQ scores are the same for both men and women.

The last point I would like to write about here is the susceptibility to brain disorders. Men are more likely to be dyslexic or have other language disabilities, since they are more often left-brain dominant. Males are also more prone to ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and autism, while women are as we said before, more susceptible to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

It is important to notice that I didn’t want to discuss the effects of hormones which have huge influences on the brain function. Maybe we could get back to it another time. For now I hope you found this topic as intriguing as I did and enjoyed this amount of collected information. If you have alternative points of view as many people do, please do not hesitate to let me know.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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What does religion do to our brain?

1. The Prayer Maker Machinery - A PRAYER MACHINE -  2011 - James Paterson - 53 x 78 x 25 cm  steel wire , African black wood   

      I was walking at the David Pecat Square the other day when I met James Paterson and saw his beautiful work of art. David is an incredible visual artist who is a perfect illustration of someone with a creative mind. His work was very unique. There was something very special about it. There were these drawing-like sculptural pieces made from wire that he called prayer machines. I mean the name itself, surely gets credit. A prayer Machine was definitely what I wanted to know more about so I went there and asked him about it and this is how he explained his art to me:

    These pieces I call prayer Machines are an expression of verbal language in prayer. I find that words often fail me when I pray. I can’t always find a word that will objectively describe a longing, desire or feelings that I have and as a visual artist I wondered what prayer would look like if I could see it. Obviously once made, the art pieces then become subjective because they are a material representation of my prayer which is an organic and relational process. Yet I call them machines because they do something ; in a fleeting sort of way these whimsical prayer Machines begin to capture, in visual essence, the elusive butterfly, the prayer that is my attempt to communicate with my creator. I construct them out of steel rods and wire then anchor them in a finished wooden base; a blending of the manufactured and natural worlds…..

    What is more fascinating than extraordinary art, illustrating belief, passion and creativity of human mind as an introduction to this topic?      

     I can’t call myself a religious person but as religion has played an important role in my life I can for sure say that I would like to be open to the possibility that god might exist. I also appreciate the religious development as long as it restricts to the person only and not when the person wants to impose the religious rules to others. For many years I went from believing and exploring different religions to not believing in anything or believing in a higher power and so on… With passage of time religion has gone out and in of fashion for many times in my life until I understood why I couldn’t get it out of my head and then I realized that religion has always been part of my life. It only glistened sometimes and then it just tarnished or changed its shape, but it was always there.

     Let’s have a quick look at it from the neuroscience point of view. Although this is a difficult topic to talk about in simple terms especially when it comes to issues concerning consciousness, logic, emotional processing mechanisms of the brain, issues that are essential to address when dealing with the neurological correlates of spiritual experiences and religious beliefs. In order to do this I have used many references such as the work of Andrew Newberg,  Mark Waldman and Dick Swaab and many others.

     We are all born with a particular sensitivity for being religious or not. Let’s say we carry this sensitivity on our DNA’s and then there is social environment that does the rest. Children have all an idea about what god is and how he looks like. If you ask them they often draw the picture of god as an old man with long hair and beard. As children grow in to adults that image changes. In fact the more a person thinks about God, the more complex and imaginative the concept becomes, taking on unique nuances of meaning.
If you contemplate god long enough something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change. Different circuits become activated, while others become deactivated. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive to some subtle experiences. Perceptions alter, beliefs begin to change, and if God has meaning for you, then God becomes neurologically real. For some, god may remain primitive concept, limited to the way a young child interprets the world. But for most people, God is transformed into symbol or metaphor and that neurological concept will never go away. So if you already are sensitive to be religious then the social environment where you grow up and the social context is crucial for having belief. Belief takes its place in our brain and stays there.

      Various practices show that thinking of a loving being causes the compassion centers in the brain to light up, whereas belief in an authoritarian spirit stimulates regions that prime the brain for fighting.
Recent imaging studies have also shown that there are various parts of the brain such as parietal lobe and frontal lobe or even temporal lobe that will be more activated when people pray, meditate or have religious experiences. These parts are also involved in many different functions such as creative thinking, attention, concentration, etc.

     So religion, especially when started at a young age and when the person has certain sensitivity for it, will shape the brain to a different form and that causes changes in the way we think and behave. Even if we decide not to practice any religion, it will appear in other shapes. For example people who have believed in God in the past might now be more open to spirituality or believe in being able to change the world so they will fight for it and they become activists for example. This is just another type of expression but still the same brain structure causes this.  So I guess you could say that beside the group of people who never had belief in their life there are a group of people who are religious and there are also people who have a religious brain. I probably belong to third group with the religious brain. To which group do you belong?

     I hope that this topic as well as this weblog gives the readers a new perspective in how we make our choices and illustrates how beautiful and complex our brain is.
When I talk about this topic with friends they sometimes ask me whether they should encourage or prevent their children at young age to believe in God. The only answer I can give them is as Dick Swaab once said: send your children to a school that teaches them how to think rather than what to think.

If religion is just an activation of certain parts of the brain, does that mean God or any higher power is just in our heads? Or God could have created our brain this way?

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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