The Secret of Knowing
Except from The Secret of Knowing copyrighted by Laurence De Rusha
This is the first blog post in a series related to intuition. This post focuses on how western societies understand the brain as an electromagnetic-chemical-mechanical organ with amazing capability. We next post on what intuition is, and followed by a post on the types of intuition. This is a multi-post subject.
Although using intuition doesn’t require any understanding of the mind, clearly our Western culture has become fascinated with the mind and thrives on intellect. The evidence is the myriad self-help and mind/brain science books, magazines, and DVDs sitting on bookstore shelves.
The brain is not the mind. According to Karl Pribram, M.D.:
I don’t like the term the mind, because it reifies—that means it makes a thing of—something that’s a process. We pay attention, we see, we hear. Those are all mental processes, mental activities. But there isn’t a thing called the mind. There might be something you want to call yourself, but the mind sort of makes something concrete out of something that’s very multifaceted.
Psychological studies during the early nineteenth century opened the doors to this newfound science called psychology. Cognitive (how we think) experiments in the late 1800s were taking place in the field by William James at Harvard and Sigmund Freud in Europe.
But in the late 1920s, the study of the mind and cognition was considered to be nothing more than romantic illusions. According to the work of behavioral psychologists such as J.B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, human behavior as a function of environmental history and reinforcing consequences was more important than mental processes. These behavioral reinforcement processes were emphasized by Skinner and were seen as primary in the shaping of behavior.
This concentration on behavior didn’t really change until the 1960s, when the direction shifted away from behavioral study and toward cognitive psychology again.
Further growth was evident in the 1970s and 1980s as other branches formed in psychological research. Neuropsychology, for example, began the study of how the mind creates internal representations of the external world. It explored thought, memory, perceptions, learning, and reasoning, with less emphasis on behavior.
Although behavior was much easier to study because of the obvious external modeling, when various imaging systems and computers came into the research labs, neuro studies soared.
The biggest contribution to these studies over the last thirty years has been the ability to examine the brain with new and powerful tools such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scanners. Both allowed researchers to watch a person’s brain processes live, in real time. Within the last fifteen years, these systems have become so fast they can map brain activities scientists thought permanently inconceivable. The results were stunning and led to more exploration of the way the brain memorizes, reasons, and learns, with fascinating results.
Today these various types of imaging systems are yielding powerful maps of the brain and related electro-chemical-mechanical reactions. These advances are providing links that demystify the operation of the mind and its correlation to our strange gray-matter, Jell-O-like mass called the brain.
Brain mapping has been around since the early 1800s, but today, with the remarkable new equipment, our brain maps are much more complex.
The brain is the physiological three-pound bio-mass inside the head, whereas the mind consists of subjective mental processes. Rather than give you a detailed breakdown of the biological gray matter, I want to summarize the main parts and correlate their functions, so later, when we discuss intuitive types, you will have some background for understanding them.
The lower brain is also known as the brain stem, reptilian brain, or action brain. This is the oldest evolutionary part of the brain—perhaps the first brain of the human species. The mental processes of this part of the brain are unconscious. Its function is related to instinct.
The lower brain is the biological operation center of the brain. It controls the breath, heart rate, and digestion, and includes the cerebellum, which coordinates senses and muscle movement, hence the title “action brain.”
Another area found in higher primates is the midbrain. This is actually a group of brain structures that contain links between the lower brain and the hypothalamus; it also manages certain drives and actions through the hormone system.
The limbic brain is also known as the emotional brain and controls the hippocampus portion of the brain. It is through the hippocampus that memories are managed. Without the hippocampus, there would be no memory; we could only live in the now. Without the rest of the limbic system, we simply would not be able to determine which emotions are important.
The thinking brain, or cortex, is about 80 percent of the brain’s mass, although that doesn’t mean we use 80 percent of it. It is still the most mysterious of this amazing Jell-O like thing and plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. The area known as the prefrontal lobe of the cortex is responsible for most of our high-level executive functions (as they are called by psychologists): judgment, planning, and morality. These functions relate to our abilities to determine good and bad, better and best; differentiate among conflicting thoughts; and project future consequences of current activities, to name a few. This is the area of the brain we call conscious.
Changing Your Brain
Train Your Brain
Martha Curtis plays an amazing melody from a Beethoven symphony. Thirty minutes later she awakens from a grand mal seizure. Martha is a thirteen-year-old musically gifted violinist who began playing at age nine. Although she began suffering convulsions shortly after she was nine, she managed, with medications, to graduate from music school and play with various orchestras. After years of medication, she suffered four grand mal seizures, some while she was performing onstage.
More frightened and exhausted, she looked for epilepsy experts. By the time she saw the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, her condition had become life-threatening. In the doctors’ opinion, the only way to stop the traumatic seizures was to remove the portion of the brain causing the problem.
The doctors told her they were hopeful about the operations but skeptical that Martha would be able to play the violin again. Finding no other options, the doctors operated immediately, removing one-quarter of her right brain in the area where scans indicated electrical disturbances were taking place.
Anxious to prove to herself and others that it was possible for her to play Beethoven following surgery, she scheduled and performed a concert for family, doctors, and friends. In spite of everyone’s fear she performed magically. The astonished doctors began wondering how this was possible and began further research into her condition.
The seizures continued in spite of the operations, and ultimately, Martha returned to the Cleveland Clinic where the puzzled doctors ran more tests. Again they found more electrical disturbances in the remaining areas of the right brain. Again they decided more of her right brain would have to be removed. After this operation more than a third of her right brain had been removed.
This time the recovery period was longer, and even though Martha was eager to play her violin, she was forced to wait. Finally she began practicing. And again, to everyone’s awe, she played as if nothing had happened.
Doctors were bewildered. Considering that the right brain accounts for musical ability, the question of how Martha could continue to play with seemingly little or no effect intrigued the brightest medical minds. After considerable research and family history, the doctors concluded that a fierce case of childhood measles Martha had contracted at age three had actually damaged much of her right brain. As the doctors continued their study, they recognized that the damaged three-year-old brain had reorganized itself. It had shifted responsibility of some right-brain functions to another area of her left brain. The mystery of removing so much of her right hemisphere without damaging her musical ability was solved. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., and Sharon Begley recounted this story in their book The Mind and the Brain.
The story above shows the mistaken long-held belief that the brain’s development is static throughout life. What we have thought was impossible might be a simple lack of information.
It was Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality that brought the idea of the unconscious mind to the forefront when he suggested it is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories outside of our conscious awareness. Although he suggested these were suppressed and negative in nature, current psychoanalytic theory does not support this view.
Defining the unconscious mind is touchy because there is very little agreement within the various scientific disciplines. That said, for our purposes, the unconscious mind can be defined as mental phenomena that a person is not aware of at the time of their occurrence. These phenomena include feelings, automatic skills, perceptions, thoughts, habits, beliefs, phobias, and desires unknown to the conscious mind.
In school I learned that certain areas of the brain are responsible for controlling specific parts of the body. The right brain controls the left side of the body, and the left brain controls the right body side.
The brain is a complex nerve center connected to a bio-physical mass called the body. It relays information to and from the body’s organs, limbs, senses, etc. In some scientific circles it is analogous to a transceiver, both sending and receiving data.
I have always believed, as others have, that the functions attributed to the right brain and left brain were hardwired. For hundreds of years, this theory that the brain develops in childhood and becomes static as you become an adult has pervaded scientific theory.
Science is changing. Recent research has given us a new term: neuroplasticity, the self-organizing ability of the brain to form new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity means the neurons in the brain compensate for injury, disease, and/or changes in beliefs.
A study conducted in 1990 by researchers Jenkins, Merzenich, Ochs, Allard, and Guic-Robles was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology. Their lab experiments demonstrated the programmability of the brain when damage occurred to the nerves of the thumb and fingers. This loss of electrical activity in the nerves caused a correlated segment of the brain’s cortex to go dark and lose activity. This brain area shut down because it lacked the sensory input from the thumb/finger.
The groundbreaking part of the experiment came by accident. The researchers had to stop their work, so it wasn’t until ten years later that they checked the experimental animals and discovered that the region of the cortex that originally had gone dark was then receiving input from nerves in the cheek! Here was evidence the brain actually reorganized itself.
Sharon Begley, in her book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, says: A brain with no special ability in sports or music or dance might be induced to undergo a radical rezoning, devoting more of its cortical real estate to the circuitry that supports these skills.
Change requires clear attention, intention, and discipline, as seen in Dr. Schwartz’s work with individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In The Mind and the Brain, he reported success in changing OCD patients’ patterns through a modified Buddhist process of awareness, or mindfulness. For ninety minutes a day, for as many as sixty days, patients focused their awareness or attention on the compulsive thought causing their problem and repeatedly said to themselves, “This thought is erroneous.” Dr. Schwartz found the patients had a decrease in those thoughts. The mind/brain was adapting.