Tag Archives: mind and brain

How to Free Yourself from Your Brain

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

On many fronts people feel the urge to change their lives–so why don’t they succeed? We live in therapeutic times. Advice surrounds us about achieving success. Yet when we set our minds to do something seemingly simple–losing weight, giving up a bad habit, acting nicer to people, and so on–something intervenes between the intention and the goal. This “something” exists in the relationship between the mind, which issues a desire or intention, and the brain, which is the physical apparatus for carrying out desires and intentions.

If you assume that the brain is the mind, which is the working assumption in 99% of neuroscience research, there is little room for solving the problem. It’s as if you hear a piece of music you don’t like on the radio, so you try to rearrange the radio’s parts. Obviously a mistake is being made there, but the relationship between mind and brain is subtler. It’s like a conversation between two people, where one person is dominant one moment and the other person is dominant the next. In the dialogue between mind and brain, most of the time the mind is automatically dominant. If you want to raise your arm, the brain sends the appropriate signals without obstacle of interference.

But sometimes the brain interjects its own feedback, and then the signals become confused. In the last post we discussed how brain-trained responses can make us virtual robots obeying old conditioning, habits, memories, and so on. The mind trains the brain to do X, and then without benefit of new training, the brain does X all the time. If you look at your own life, you can find endless examples of how brain-training limits your freedom of choice. For example, Continue reading

How to Stop Being a Biological Robot

robot

By Deepak Chopra, MD

 

Most people are too busy, or otherwise distracted, to think about how the mind works, much less about the vexed problem of connecting mind and brain. This includes neuroscientists. They run their experiments and publish new data without addressing the most fundamental questions. Their field runs nicely by simply assuming that the brain is the mind. After all, without a brain there cannot be any mental activity, QED. Why bother to go any deeper?

One reason is that human beings are clearly not brain-defined. We need the brain the way a musician needs a piano or TV news needs a television set–to carry the mind into the physical world. The belief held by 99% of neuroscientists is that with sophisticated enough brain scans and various other measurements, the mystery of thinking, feeling, sensing, and imagining will one day be solved. It’s a futile dream, however, because even the most basic issues, such as why the color red is red, how we hear sounds in a brain that is totally silent, and where a thought comes from are nowhere near being understood.

Leaving theory aside, there is a huge practical problem involved. What do we do when the brain makes us its victim? If we are brain-driven, this implies that the brain is in charge of daily habits, decisions, reflexes, and responses. In many cases this is clearly true. When you reach for ice cream at midnight telling yourself that it’s the wrong thing to do, who is making you act automatically, against your best interests, and without your ability to break the habit? Continue reading

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 6)

In the DistanceClick here to read Part 5!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

In Eastern traditions the purpose of subjective states is to be useful, to aid inner work. What kind of work? The ancient texts give various answers. There is control of the involuntary nervous system, as demonstrated by the extraordinary feats of yogis and swamis who can consciously slow down their breathing and heart rate. There is balance, achieving conscious control over homeostatic mechanism and thus promoting health. There is the pursuit of enlightenment – a vast area beyond the scope of this post – and also the same curiosity to explore nature (in this case, inner nature) that drives mainstream science in the realm of materialism.

The fact is that Zen students and practitioners in other traditions routinely move their minds out of their heads. The experience has been replicated for centuries; it isn’t accidental, haphazard or hallucinatory. Having learned how to do it, you discover by playing around with the practice that you can move your mind into your little toe, your shoulder, your elbow, perhaps even across the room. The immediate reflex of most neuroscientists is that such a subjective sense of “moving mind” is the result of neuronal activity, and even if we cannot quantify such subtle and intricate activity today, we will one day be able to as our tools evolve.

The best rejoinder to this claim is that a whole host of subjective experiences in the domain of medicine are self-reported and cannot be measured without asking the patient what’s going on. Statements like “I feel a bad pain here,” “I’m depressed,” “I’m confused,” and “I’ve lost my balance” can sometimes be traced to distorted brain activity on an fMRI scan, but only the patient can relate what is actually happening. The brain scan can’t tell someone he’s in pain when he says he isn’t. To say “I see my fourth chakra” isn’t less valid; it just has far less brain research devoted to it. (When a bacterium avoids a toxin in a petri dish or is attracted to food, can we claim to know that it is not feeling some primitive form of repulsion or desire?)

The Zen practice of placing the mind in the hara is only a minor example, a step along the way to deeper, more profound experiences. There comes a time in nearly all contemplative traditions when one’s sense of mind and even the ordinary self changes fundamentally, for a moment or a lifetime. In Vedic and Buddhist traditions these experiences are called forms of Samadhi, where a connection is made with pure awareness at the deepest level. In Hebrew mystical practice this might be understood as D’vekut, in Christian practice, Cleaving to God. The thinking mind is left behind, and one arrives at consciousness without content.

Here we’ve reached the shadow zone where “my mind” dissolves into mind itself. In this zone reality shifts dramatically. Instead of sitting inside the space of a room, the person sits inside mental space (Chit Akash in Sanskrit). Events that take place are not strictly mental, however. The inner voyager witnesses time, space, matter, and energy being born here. If such an experience is valid, the implications for physics – and for everyday life – are immense. Consciousness is no longer the elephant in the room, the thing science prefers not to talk about. It becomes the only thing to talk about if you want to know where reality comes from. Starting with the undeniable fact that the brain shares mind with the rest of the body, we are on the verge of showing that mind must be shared with everything in existence – going outside the box extends to infinity, a possibility we will unfold as this series continues.

(To be cont.)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 4)

Arrival on my WayClick here to read Part 3!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

The skull is not an impermeable barrier, nor is the famous “blood-brain barrier” that served to keep the brain in splendid chemical isolation. So the boundaries between brain and not-brain in the body are not clear cut. The brain is permeable to the rest of the body, signals streaming in and out, including from electrical connections by nerves, signaling molecules such as hormones, and cells trafficking in and out. In fact, there is no brain without the body and therefore no mind without the body, either.

To say the brain creates the mind is at best incomplete. In a simple analogy, every automobile needs an engine in order to run. But an engine by itself goes nowhere. Conversely, without an engine, a car body and wheels go nowhere. The functions that make a car a car require every part acting in concert. Likewise, the functions that our dynamic minds carry out are created by the body-brain complex, not by the brain alone. The brain has always been out of the box; it’s just been waiting for science to catch up.

These issues are culturally complicated because of unspoken rules about what is legitimate in science and what isn’t. Many of the experiences that people relate where the mind does not stay put in its box are often labeled as unscientific, if not illusions, hoaxes or superstitions. For any number of scientists and philosophers so-called out-of-body experiences (such as the now famous reports of a near-death experience) are considered off-limits, with automatic denigration of research that might validate them. Indeed, this is part of what makes the field of consciousness studies so controversial in the first place – it flouts some of science’s iron-clad assumptions.

Other, more common experiences, however, are not off-limits. Such diverse things as depression, love, dreaming, and remembering are being “explained” by examining brain activity through new forms of brain imaging. Even some uncommon, very exceptional experiences are also permitted for study: the feeling of “being in the zone” reported by high-performance athletes, for example. But no one argues that the study of this experience is unscientific or based on magical thinking just because it only happens in highly trained athletes. Similarly, when the mind doesn’t stay put in its box, this deserves to be investigated if only because, to begin with, everything human is worth investigating.

One final interesting fact, for now, to help us think outside the box: It relates to the electrical activity of the heart. It’s true that the pacemaker cells of the heart are modulated by the brain. Yet as doctors know, some patients with little brain function can still have reliable heartbeats. The pacemaker cells of the heart, in its conduction system, are the heart’s own little brain, as we’ve already discussed. Your heart, being an electrical organ, also creates an electromagnetic field – the strongest of any tissue in the body – and its pattern of beats is responsive to other electromagnetic fields, even those outside the body. Here’s the fascinatingly evocative part: the strength of the field created by one heart appears to be strong enough to influence another person’s heart when they draw near to each other. Then the nervous systems of these two hearts perceive and respond to each other. Does love have its own physiology, shared by two “thinking” hearts?

So, where does the mind come from? Just from your brain or across the wider landscape of the brain-body complex? Even that expanded definition of mind must expand further; for the body is just another box that thinking is eager to go beyond, as when two lovers match their heartbeats. A loving parent consoling a child with a hug or a spouse sleeping soundly next to you night after night, year after year, is expanding the mind.

We hope we have begun to break down the walls around your own thinking so that you can imagine other cogent and, yes, scientific possibilities for explaining the nature of mind other than simply the brain as a computer doing what computers do. In Part Three we will discuss situations where people have repeatedly described their minds going outside the box of their skulls – and even beyond their skins – using examples from deep meditation and elsewhere that science should explore with fresh eyes and not consign to some unscientific Siberia.

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium 

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 3)

TransitionClick here to read Part 2!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

Thinking outside the box has become such a cliché that it tends to be meaningless. Advertisers want to convince us that eating granola instead of Wheaties or buying skinny jeans or switching to an electric razor is thinking outside the box. What’s actually radical is to see that we are thinking outside the box in every moment, if the box in question is the skull.

In the first post of this series we offered abundant research findings to show that “thinking” takes place in the intestinal tract, the heart, and elsewhere in the body. Thus the brain, commonly taken as the undisputed locale of the mind, is scientifically and medically acknowledged to be sharing its powers. More and more it looks as if every organ is the locale of its own version of mind.

The ongoing discovery of self-contained networks of nerves in various organs is backed up by finding the ganglion cells that act like their own local brain support. In sum, there’s high-level nervous system activity distributed throughout the body, some of it feeding into the brain’s networks, some of it receiving outputs from the brain, and some of it functioning quite well without the brain at all.

Thinking is happening, in some guise or other, everywhere in your body all the time. This emerging view has the potential to rock our accepted understanding of mind itself. The brain looks more and more like an outcropping in a landscape that is permeated with varied forms of intelligence. Let’s explore the implications of this new model.

To begin, the immune system has been labeled a “floating brain.” In a very tangible way, your immune cells “decide” whether an invading substance is friend or foe, and if they decide wrong, you develop an allergy to harmless things – house dust, pollen, cat dander – that pose no danger and never needed to be repelled. Ask any allergy sufferer whether their allergy affects their thinking. The dullness, lack of energy, and depleted enthusiasm that many allergy sufferers experience leaves little doubt about how the immune system is part of a larger structure.

In the old model, nerves were like the wiring that brings electricity to every part of a house. But it’s not just the “wiring” of nerves that links brain to body. Hormones produced by all sorts of organs affect the way the brain works and how you experience your mind. Consider the mood changes experienced by many women around their menstrual period and menopause. Many mental events are triggered in similar ways. Ever feel sleepy after you’ve had too much birthday cake? Ever feel addled after you’re thrown accidentally from your bike? Hormones (such as estrogen, insulin, and cortisol) produced in response to internal and external factors, travel to the brain via the bloodstream, and then have profound effects on the nature of “your mind.” It’s not only the brain, then, that is creating your mind.

Looking at the brain itself reveals greater complexity to the mind-brain relationship. While people generally think of neurons as the particular brain cells that produce the mind (acting together in almost infinitely complex networks), there are other cells in the brain without which the neurons could not do their jobs – the glial cells, for example, which outnumber neurons and serve many essential tasks: conveying nutrients and oxygen to neurons, creating the myelin sheathes around the long axons of neurons to facilitate speedy signal transmission in some areas, stabilizing connections between neurons, cleaning up cellular debris from aging or injured cells. Indeed, while we conventionally think of glial cells as the servants of neurons, the truth is that neuroscience still knows very little about all the roles they play.

These cells themselves are not necessarily “of the brain.” Neurons mostly (though not always) derive from other resident cells, such as stem cells, in the brain, but some neurons and many glial cells arrive in the brain via the circulatory system – they are like nomads who eventually find a place to live permanently. Questions abound about how much this happens, by what mechanism for each cell type, and in which different regions of the brain it is taking place. All these questions are still being debated. (The production of some brain cells might happen by circulating stem cells that directly become neurons and glial cells, or by fusing with pre-existing cells.) It’s clear, however, that cells are trafficking between the body and the brain all the time.

To be continued!

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium 

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box, Part 1

Dzogchen
photo: h.koppdelaney
 Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH),Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York

When someone asks, “Where is the mind located?” most people will automatically point to their heads. Why? Is it because we experience our thoughts in our heads? That seems the case most of the time, though when dreaming, one could argue that it gets a bit more ambiguous since we feel that we are “inside” our dreams. But for most of us, most of the time, “my head” is where “my mind” is located.

However, this may simply be because so many sense organs are located there: eyes, ears, nose, tongue. With so much information flowing into one part of the body, it might merely be habit that gives us the sense that the mind is in our head. (For example, you feel your ears sitting on either side of your face, but when a car backfires behind you, the sound can’t be felt entering the ear canal, being processed in the inner ear and then in the brain’s auditory center. Quite clearly the sound of the car comes from behind you. One could say, conversely, that hearing shoots out from the head into the world. This in fact was the view of some ancient cultures. We casually use this model for vision when we say that someone “shoots a glance” at someone else.)

Babies, we are told, have a much more diffuse experience of the senses, perhaps mixing them up in what are called synesthesias (e.g. experiencing sounds as colors or tastes as shapes, an experience reported from hallucinogenic drugs and in deep meditative states). Some researchers contend that babies have a poor sense of the boundary between themselves and the world. But infants turn into toddlers, and the separation between self and other starts to harden, as does the habitual experience that “my head is where I think.” Society and family reinforce this habit as the toddler grows up, and eventually the mind takes its seat in our heads, or so it seems.

This dovetails nicely with another cultural consensus that our minds are in our brains. Mind and brain have taken up residence together in a box called the skull. In this series of posts, however, we ask that you set aside your habits and assumptions to consider quite literally “thinking outside the box,” a process that goes on outside the skull but is still mental. Is the brain actually so closed up in its box that it makes sense to speak of it as though it were a machine for making mind, the way a laser printer makes documents? Is it possible that one could have a fully functioning and thinking brain sitting in a pan on a lab bench as in some 1950’s science fiction movie? (Successful head transplants have been performed in laboratory animals, but since there is no technique for reattaching the spinal cord, the animal was left a quadriplegic. Such procedures are controversial, for obvious ethical and humane reasons.) We should be open to asking some culturally radical questions, including the most radical of all: Is a brain even necessary for “thinking”?

(To be cont.)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium – August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com

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