Saturday, August 2, 2008

The brain on the press circuit

(I wrote this post long after I took my bedtime meds and it came out a little bit messy. I have edited as necessary.)

Twice in one day the brain and its capacities are in the media. Both discussions are engaging and provactive. One is controversial.

First up, a story from NPR. Author Virginia Woolf eloquently described the constant stream of consciousness that eventually becomes cohesive thought from which we draw conclusions and take action. From the on-air story:

Woolf thought, and thought hard, about how a mind processes all that it sees, hears, feels, tastes, remembers. "The mind receives a myriad of impressions," Woolf wrote. "From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms," and she wanted to describe that process.

And so, Woolf created minds in action. Clarissa Dalloway in her novel Mrs. Dalloway, and Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse are portrayed from the inside out. They are all mind — jumbles of thoughts, memories, faces, objects, peeves, joys — all disconnected and incoherent. And yet, out of all that blabber there emerge very distinctly, real personalities. How did that happen? "If the mind is so evanescent," Lehrer writes, "how does the self arise?"

It's a fascinating interview and story. The text is on the NPR site, but it is well worth the five minutes it takes to actually listen. For anyone who has experienced racing thoughts, the story is absolutely enlightening. One of the most interesting facts to emerge from the research is that there is no command center for the brain. The work is done in separate but connected areas where it figures how to work with all of the other departments. Sounds like a good management strategy to me, unless the hippocampus wins and puts the temporal lobe in a key position, and then we're all going to be taking medication and pondering the meaning of life or how to just end it.

The second media blast of the day was Larry King talking to people who think we can just choose happiness and there it will be. Uhhhh, yeah. The metaphysics guy (from "What the Bleep do we Know?") wasn't so strict about considering other possibilities, but the other people, including a pharmacologist, would not be swayed from their if-you-can-dream-it-you-can-become-it view.

Still, they say we can change our moods, our thought processes, our emotions and our chronic poor health with a simple decision to be different. I say, Have you met me? I can be perky and positive, for sure, but it hasn't done a thing for my multiple health problems. Anyway, you can link to, the website of Candace Pert, pictured here. She has written two books on the subject. Her main philosophy is that people don't need antidepressants; they just need a soul overhaul, better daily affirmations, and a more positive outlook and the brain will respond with health and bliss. She claims that because she is highly credentialed in pharmaceutical science, she is better qualified than any of us to make these claims. Obviously, Candace has never had a serious depression or she would know that all of the happy, happy thoughts one can muster are sometimes not enough to chase those blues away.

I would be more passionate and articulate about this, but I am about to be shut down hard by Ambien.


Lynn said...

I have actually done that. I chose to just be different and not have the problems I have. What happened is very interesting. I felt pretty good at first. When it started to crumble, I had to get my ass in gear and work like you wouldn't believe to stay busy. All the while I was telling myself in my head, "It's all good! Think positive! What a great day, I'm getting things done." Talk, talk, talk myself up in my head. If I got too tired, I would sit back and let my mind do some work: crosswords, bills, plans, lists, etc. When my mind got tired, too, panic attacks came. I tried not to pay too much attention to that, though. After all, I had chosen not to have them anymore and they were no longer important, so I wasn't about to let them run my life. I could even rattle off my nice long lists of positive affirmations DURING the panic attacks. Bizarre, but my body would even have panic attacks without me sometimes (so much for the mind-body connection). There were times when I was SURE I felt much better and was so grateful the panic attack was over, but... my pulse was still 110 and I was still sweating and my fingers were still trembling a little. I decided I was sensitive to the heat and that must be why. :-) Then I started having nightmares, too. Now that was just sneaky and no fair at all. I can't keep the happy chant going while I am sleeping because I am... sleeping. That was when I moved on to the pills. Then I started getting sick all the time. That wasn't going to make me too unhappy, either, though. Remember, I had *chosen* happiness. Then things got to the point where I would bolt up out of a sound sleep because of panic attacks. Before long, I couldn't even fall asleep until 4 am and my crotch was on fire with an undiagnoseable mystery illness and I swear I was on the verge of a psychotic break with reality. So... now you know why the happy police turn me into a homicidal madwoman. Realizing what had happened there was the beginning of my hatred for all things polyanna (and some other bullshit things, too). I'm glad I didn't listen to that guy go on about choosing. I would be furious right now.

Laurel said...

Candace Pert is one of the "experts" in What the Bleep Down the Rabbit Hole, which I think I recommended to you. The whole philosophy of the movie (I think, it's a bit hard to follow at times) is that quantum physics has proven that the observer can alter the observed by, well, their observation -- so if you have a perky attitude, perky things will happen to you? I watched What the Bleep with a lot of eye rolling about the spirituality and -- this will shock you -- Michael the cynical cranky critic loved it. Anyway, I recognized her photo right away. She's actually one of the more sensible people in it but of course I'm comparing her to that lady who calls herself Ramtha because she's the embodiment of some 10000 year old Egyptian spirit. Or something like that.

May Voirrey said...

I actually loved the movie, but yeah, the Ramtha thing was beyond me. Why is she making money where anyone else would be under forced hospitalization?

And as for Candace Pert (how can that be her real name?), I agree that mind-body connections are important, but they don't fix everything, which is what she's spouting.