by Tim Brunson, PhD
In 1762, French philosopher and author Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Cress, 1987) said, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." No statement has ever as eloquently summed up the continuing saga of humanity's struggle between an ever-unfolding potential and limitations imposed by the inheritance of an animal-like nature. Thanks to its massive frontal lobe, the unparalleled ability of the human brain to self-direct continually confronts the instinctual resistance that permeates the neuro-physiological patterns that serve as the "source code" of our existence. Nevertheless, there is a feature in our pattern-driven nature that may also offer our higher-order volition opportunities if we are to grasp its full power. This is the fact that our protective nature – with its competitive and adaptive corollaries – provides us with the capability to continually reinvent our minds and our bodies to address our environment. Should – or when – we prove capable of using our minds to direct this "shape-shifting" ability, just maybe we can increase the likelihood that mankind can finally be free of the chains that Rousseau described.
The external environment and even the most subtle nuances regarding the mind can affect what is now being called use-dependent cortical reorganization – which is a fancy term for the concept of brain plasticity. For those whose cognitive rigidity insists on the fixed, never-changing nature of the human mind, this apostasy is hard to accept. Nevertheless, when neuroscientists find that after a stroke destroys parts of the somatosensory cortex, unexpected areas of the brain begin enabling recently lost abilities, then the firm grip of the localization theory loosens. Indeed, hard-to-believe facts like the retina supplying data to the auditory cortex or sensations from finger tips being processed by the visual cortex begin opening up possibilities that the brain's ability to reorganize is probably its strongest attribute.
Even though respected authorities like Jay Giedd, MD, (Evans, 2007) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are still saying that brain circuits not used by age 25 are lost forever, a queue of respected neuroscientists (Begley, 2007) are lining up to present irrefutable evidence that the brain regularly creates new neurons and its functions can reorganize even throughout old age. In fact, much to the surprise of many scientists and clinicians, neuroscientists are saying that substrate organization is effected by both genetics and the environment. Like every cell or physiological substructure (Lipton, 2005), the substrates of the brain are adapting to changes – such as caused by stroke or trauma. Even mentally created alterations – due to anticipation or imagination – if coupled with attention, will cause reorganization.
While vitally important, an understanding of neurological structure, neurological energy economics, and the implications of inhibitions alone fails to provide a clinician an actionable appreciation of the brain's true potential. What is missing is an appreciation that the brain has a dynamic characteristic, which allows it to practically reinvent itself when the situation warrants it. Even though Bandler (2008) insists that pattern-preservation is one of the primal realities of human existence, as just mentioned, Lipton's focus on adaptation (2005) has to be superimposed over that confrontation if the complete picture is to be obtained. From the time of Broca and Warnicke, neo-phrenologists (i.e. the followers of the localization concept) have congratulated themselves as they continue to find which brain substrate – or even miniscule collection of neurons – relates to a particular sensation or behavior. However, their discoveries are constantly refuted by empirical evidence, as clinicians and researchers find that the perceived rules of neurology are challenged by patients who remarkably recover from various forms of neuro-pathologies such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), strokes, tumors, or genetic problems. These patients not only defy all odds concerning the collective beliefs regarding the probability of their survival and recovery, but they also present scientific researchers, clinicians, and academics with the need to appreciate the dynamics of the brain's ability to adapt.
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.
Bandler, R. (2008). Richard Bandler's Guide to Trance-Formation: How to Harness the Power of Hypnosis to Ignite Effortless and Lasting Change. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc.
Begley, S. (2007). Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Out Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves. New Your: Ballantine Books.
Cress, D. A. (1987). Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Basic Political Writings. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company.
Evans, S. (producer). (2007, November 14). Accidental Genius. [TV Video]. New York: National Geographic Channel.
Lipton, B. (2005). The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, and Miracles. Santa Rosa, California: Elite Books.
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