“Imagine for a moment that we are nothing but the product of billions of years of molecules coming together and ratcheting up through natural selection, that we are composed only of highways of fluids and chemicals sliding along roadways within billions of dancing cells, that trillions of synaptic conversations hum in parallel, that this vast egglike fabric of micron-thin circuitry runs algorithms undreamt of in modern science, and that these neural programs give rise to our decision making, loves, desires, fears, and aspirations.” - David Eagleman
In the previous articles , we discussed the main ingredients of the human brain and how they work together in broad strokes. This was due to both the complexity of the topic and the fact that we do not know better yet. Despite great advances in neuroscience during the last century, it is safe to say we are still only scratching the surface, and it is important to keep this in mind when we start discussing the effects of drugs and diets on brain function.
This article attempts to explain how external molecules interact with our brain physiology in such profound ways as to change how we process information, the decisions we make, and the feelings inside us. If the explanations seem vague or the examples too circumspect, it is because they are. The best we can say as of now is that drugs and diets change brain neurochemistry. Their mechanisms and the full extent of its effects, however, remain largely obscure.
“Even though it is common knowledge, it never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life - all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love lives, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards as his or her own intimate private self - is simply the activity of these little specks of jelly in our heads, in our brains. There is nothing else.” -V.S. Ramachandran
Brain cells. Source:University of Rochester
Some organisms are nothing more than one cell. These tend to be microscopic like bacteria, have short lives and a very restricted repertoire of behaviors. In comparison, multicellular organisms can reach thousands of mets (honey fungus), live virtually forever, (lobsters) and pilot space shuttles (humans). To achieve this complexity, they have to overcome one particularly daunting task: coordinating all their cells.
[Source: Nicholas Wright]
Imagine you sign up to a university experiment and are subjected to the next two protocols:
After you tried both, the researcher asks you to repeat one of the two, at your choice. Which one would you chose?
If you are anything like the participants from the original 1993 experience, there is a 69% chance that you would choose the second option (after which you would be informed that there is no need to actually repeat it).
More than forty years ago Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi posed a simple question: “How does it feel to master something?” To figure this out, he interviewed hundreds of people who had demonstrated excellence in their chosen field. They included rock climbers, painters, chess players, basketball players, athletes and surgeons.
The short answer to his question was: joy.
“A strong relaxation and calmness comes over me. I have no worries of failure. What a powerful and warm feeling it is! I want to expand, to hug the world. I feel enormous power to effect something of grace and beauty.” - professional dancer describing a sense of control experienced while dancing.