Einstein and New Brain Research
by Wil Horton, Psy.D.
In keeping up with the research on neuroscience and how the brain works both physically and psychologically, I came across information that is not only fascinating but could be potentially useful to us in the mind/body field. I feel it is important for Hypnotists/NLPers, if we want to be considered scientists of the mind, to not only have a working knowledge of the brain/mind but to stay up on some of the "hard research" that is being done in medicine (neuroscience) and psychology (psychobiology). Let me share with you two recent findings; and then I will share with you how we can use this information.
In the June 19, 1999 issue of Lancet (the Journal of the British Medical Association), Sandra F Witelson, Ph.D., Debra L Kigar, and Thomas Harvey, M.D. of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, of McMaster University in Canada have reported that the differences in the brain of Albert Einstein may explain his genius in mathematics. When the Nobel prize-winning physicist died of a ruptured abdominal aorta in 1955 at the age of 76, his brain was removed and preserved within 7 hours of his death. His medical history was well documented, and biographies show he was mentally adept doing research to the end of his life. There had never been a report describing the anatomy of his brain until now.
In the McMaster University study, the researchers compared anatomical measurements from Einstein's brain with the brains from 35 men and 56 women who had normal intelligence. These researchers also studied the brains of 8 men over 65 so they could take into account changes that normally occur with aging.
Einstein's brain appeared similar to the others except for two areas found on each side of the brain called the inferior parietal regions. Einstein had extensive development in these regions on both sides of his brain; his brain was almost 15% wider than the control group.
It is thought that the growth of this region seems to have occurred early in the development of his brain, because it appears to have blocked the development of a groove in the brain called the Slyvian fissure. In most people, the Slyvian fissure runs along each side of the brain reaching about three-quarters of the way to the back. In Dr. Einstein's case the fissure does not reach as far back as normal but instead it turns upward to join another grove that normally runs down the side of the brain, called the post central sulcus.
The confluence of these, the Slynian fissure and the post central sulcus, forms a C shaped groove on the surface of each side of his brain. "This morphology found in each of Einstein's hemispheres was not seen in any hemispheres of the 35 control male brains or of any of the 56 female brains, nor in any specimen documented in the published collections of post-mortem brains", write Dr. Witelson and her colleagues.
The area of Einstein's brain that appears to be overdeveloped is thought to be involved in the creation and manipulation of three-dimensional spatial images and the mathematical representation of those concepts, the researchers write.
Therefore the unusual anatomy of Einstein's brain may explain why he tended to think about scientific problems visually. "Einstein's own description of his scientific thinking" the researchers write "was that words do not seem to play any role, but there is associative play of more or less clear images of a visual and muscular type."
There were other differences that might explain Einstein's abilities. Because of the differences in the grooves along the side of his brain, the neurons (cells) of a particular area of the parietal operculum are not divided by one of the grooves, but are kept together instead. The researchers speculate that the absence of this groove may have allowed more neurons in this area to establish better connections between each other. They further think that this may have created "extraordinarily large expanse of highly integrated cortical network".
It is thought that when large, well-integrated networks form in an area dedicated to certain mental tasks it may make the person much better than normal at doing those tasks. In Einstein's case it was visualizing solutions to difficult mathematical problems. (Could this be a key to why some people have difficulty in visualizing?)
"Einstein's exceptional intellect in these cognitive domains and his self-described mode of scientific thinking may be related to the atypical anatomy in his brain", the researchers concluded.
Remote Brain Control
John Chapin of the Hahnemann School of Medicine report in Nature Neuroscience that they have trained 6 lab rats to move a robot arm with the power of thought alone. First the rats were trained in the classical S-R way to press a spring-loaded lever (which moves a robotic arm) using their paws, to get a reward (water or food). This allowed the researchers to ascertain which brain cells were involved in the task. Thus having their target cell-groups (parts of the brain in the motor cortex and the thalamus) the researchers implanted arrays of electrodes into these groups to study the role of individual neurons in them. They now had a detailed outline on the neuronal activity that gives rise to the bending, pushing, and stretching movements that constitute pressing a lever.
Through analysis, over many hundreds of trials, of the firing patterns that make up such a movement, the researchers located the neurons responsible for every stage of the action: Preparation, flexing the forelimb, extending it, pushing it, and so on. Then the team harnessed these neurons for their own by wiring them so that they could fire them directly and move the arm without the animal touching the lever. With this new set-up, the rats quickly learned that there was no need to physically push the lever in order for a reward. Within a few tries they were able to reconfigure their brain activity so that it alone moved the reward bearing robotic arm.
This is the first time that brain activity, so high up in the motor pathways, has been used to drive a machine. Older devices used cruder signals from the stumps of amputated limbs, or the surface of the skin. This new technology will offer far greater speed and precision.
Putting it Together - Conclusions
When you look at these two diverse studies, I am drawn to the hypothesis that, if rats can learn to control brain activity, can we, as a somewhat higher developed animal, use our conscious thought to direct energy to the parts of our brains that do different tasks; and could we stimulate growth and change in the actual structure of the brain itself? There are studies that show that with conscious attention, you can cause physical changes. This is the basis of biofeedback. There is some research using MRIs to map brain activity, and again it seems to be able to be controlled by conscious attention. Once we become aware of how to do it, it seems possible.
We therapists who use altered states to effect mind/body changes could use our skills to do the same things. This could be our next big break through, using conscious, and subconscious thought to alter our physical brains, to improve them with mental exercises (hypnosis and NLP) the way an athlete uses physical exercise to alter their bodies. Is not your brain a physical organ capable of change and growth much like a muscle?
Try to develop ways to use your skills to bring advances in this exciting field, and let me know how it works. In my programs, such as Designing Your Destiny, second edition, tape series, much of this type of work is done.
Until next time, use the Force to spur growth in your own developing brain.
Sandra F Witelson, Debra Kigar, T. Harvey, The Exceptional Brain of Albert Einstein, Lancet 1999, vol 353 2149-53 June 19, 1999
Deary IJ, Carl PG, Neuroscience and Human intelligence differences, Trends Neuroscience, 1999 #20 365-371
John Chapin, Nature Neuroscience, June 1999
For more information visit: http://www.nfnlp.com.
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