Dr. Pramila Kudva is invited to speak at the Education and change makers conclave on the topic Human mind and body connect.
Le me start by telling you a story. Tom a 17 year old was driving home after his soccer match. Out of nowhere came a car from the front straight into him. Brakes screeched. Tom was flung out of his car into a neighbouring compound. While he was in the air he remembers seeing his left arm still sitting in the car. He was a left hander.
What happened next is eerie. Even after recovery from the hospital, he could still feel the presence of his arm. He would extend that arm to pick up the phone, tuck his brother into bed and started getting fearful and paranoid.
Philadelphia physician Silas Mitchel described this phenomenon after the American civil war and called it a phantom hand. The frayed and curled up nerves in the stump that supplied the limbs get irritated and inflamed and send signals to the brain centres which believes that there is a limb.
Neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. He has dealt with the phantom concept In his book Phantoms in the Brain. Strange but true.
Before I delve into the topic let’s try to understand the what is a brain and what is a mind. Are they the same or different?
Each learning, each person, every single experience is represented in our brain by a network of neurons.
The denser the network, means more synaptic connections there are within that network,- the stronger that information is, the easier we will recall it.
Put a person in a positive supportive environment and our brain will learn that we can trust others. So, ensure that the school and home are safe environments. When you teach theme teaching or use integrated approach , the neurons make connections and the memory is long-lasting.
Teaching therefore, cannot be done in silos but linked to the earlier concepts taught.
Now put that same person in a fearful environment subject to physical or emotional harm and he will learn this as well.
This is due to neuroplasticity of the brain. But, this gift of nature has far reaching consequences.
Not only should we be aware of it but we have a duty to choose wisely whatever we decide to dedicate our lives to.
Lets take for example, A soldier risking his life serving for his country he will have developed the same set of skills than a terrorist plotting the destruction of his sworn enemies.
Neuroplasticity of the brain has no moral compass.
What then is the mind? Is it different from the brain?
- The brain, the most intricate organ in the body, has about 86 billion active neurons, which interact with each other to create circuits and exchange information.
The mind is a concept that has been debated and explored by scholars, scientists, and theologians for centuries. It can be defined as the complex network of thought processes and consciousness that arises from the neurological activity of the brain.
- Mind skills can be trained, while brain function cannot be changed.
It can be rewired in the sense that if you try to button your shirt with the non-preferred hand , over a period of time the brain gets adjusted to do it. Research has found that the pilots can fly the virtual planes even when they are seated upside down! Mind skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, creativity, and communication can all be trained over time to increase the effectiveness of a person’s mental processes.
Your mind is in fact an ongoing construction of your brain, your body, and the surrounding world.
- Things in space have a position, at least, and a height, a depth, and a length, or one or more of these. Mental entities, on the other hand, do not have these characteristics. We cannot say that a mind is a two-by-two-by-two-inch cube or a sphere with a two-inch radius, for example, located in a position in space inside the skull. Actually, the average male had a brain volume of 1,274 cubic centimetres (cm3) and that the average female brain measured 1,131 cm3
Lets move to some incredible work done by neuro scientists which indicates the power of the mind over the brain.
Krishna Shenoy a Professor in the School of Engineering, a professor of electrical engineering and, by courtesy, of bioengineering, of neurobiology, and of neurosurgery at Stanford University, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on how the brain creates movement in the rest of the body died at a young age of 54. Battling pancreatic cancer for 12 years. What he did brought smiles on the faces of several patients, students and colleagues.
He along with his team, implanted in the brain paired chips with algorithms which could decipher the chatter between neurons, allowing people with paralysis to control computers and mechanical limbs with their thoughts.
Dennis DeGray, a 69-year-old man paralyzed from the neck down who, aided by Shenoy’s technology, was able to control a computer cursor and to shape letters on screen by simply visualizing himself putting pen to paper. Was it the brain or the mind that made this possible? I leave it to you to decide.
When can brain be in control of the body?
Let me give you an example : Suppose you are an animal roaming the forest and you see a blurry shape in the distance.
Does it have value for you as food,? Is it worth spending energy to pursue it? The answer depends partly on the state of your body – if you’re not hungry, the blurry shape has less value. It also depends on whether your brain predicts that the blurry shape wants to eat you. Flight response will then get triggered.
When we ask our children any question, after they finish their exams. The answer would be NIL. Let me explain this with an interesting anecdote.
Bluma Zeigarnik a Russian psychologist went out for dinner with her friends. The waiter was amazing. He took the order, did not write it and knew exactly who ordered what. Bulma forgot her overcoat on the way back. when she returned to the restaurant she was surprised to find that the waiter did not even recognise her.
When a task is completed, our brain hits the delete button. And our memory gets wiped clean. Our short term memory struggles with space to retain information. So it keeps only the unfinished tasks alive. And the minute a task is completed it hits the delete button. And that’s why waiters at restaurants will remember every little detail of your order. But only until the bill is made.
The Zeigarnik effect explains why at a bank’s ATM, you are now required to pull your card out before collecting the cash. They know Zeigarnik will be at play and once you collect the cash, the task is finished and good chance you will forget to take your card back.
It’s something we can all put to good use. Look at what Netflix does. You will find through all their serials, every episode ends tantalisingly. That 30-minute episode ends at a point where you will say ‘wow, what happens next’? You want to know, you want to come back. There is no closure at the end of that episode and that’s what brings us back all the time.
It might be in order to say there is no mind without the brain and mindfulness improves connections in the brain.
Harvard University research points out that Mindfulness meditation improves connections in the brain. Mindfulness practice positively impacts the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, emotional regulation, empathy, compassion, perspective taking, and stress response.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental discipline. It takes practice. Some meditaion practice at the beginning and /or afternoon may be useful.
Lets look at the educational implications in the next segment.