Posted by: whatrosewrites | July 8, 2010

The Brain: Powerful, Fragile and Preconceptions

A most misunderstood organ, the brain, and I see one reason why: who’d sign up for an invasive scientific experiment conducted on their own living brain? Controversial studies involving prison-like degradation and inhumane treatment (never to be repeated) were done in the past, with lasting and even fatal effects. And yet, medicine (merely seeing a doctor) can have a placebo effect. Double-blind studies are the accepted norm for studying the effectiveness of new drugs – simply to rule out bias and placebo effect on behalf of both investigator and patient. I will admit, when I have a migraine, it gets better within the first few seconds of downing pills for it, before the medicine has even entered my bloodstream. In terms of caring for someone, knowing about the placebo effect, however deceptive, does underscore how intensely our belief system is tied to our physical health. Our brain is extremely powerful.

Our brain is also fragile and easily influenced. The dogma of marketing and how to sell people anything is..make them feel inadequate or lesser without a product or service. Designers of virtual world games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) or Final Fantasy know how to hook users by gratifying the reward or feel good pathways of the brain – thought to be related to dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine, similar to adrenaline, affects movement, pleasure and motivation, cognition and frontal cortex function. Psychologists have seen video game addiction or MMA (massively multiplayer addiction) starting to become serious. Other acronyms similarly used are: MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), CRPGs (computer role-playing games) and MUDs (multi-user dungeons). A child even died of neglect due to the inattentiveness of her WoW playing parents and there are publicized reports of people in their 20s and 30s dying after numerous hours and days of playing these games. China has set limits on how many hours a person can play WoW and treatment facilities already exist in Washington, Beijing and the Netherlands. But wait, don’t these games improve eye-hand coordination and sharpen reflexes? Yes they do, but so does playing tennis and actually living in the real world – driving, walking the dog, playing with the kids. In my teens, I was drawn to a game called Q-Bert and spent lots of quarters on it, happily distracted from reality. Hey, we all need a break from reality…like a couple hours spent at a movie once a week or playing golf. It saddens me, however, that one person I know has already spent (or wasted) an entire year of his life playing Final Fantasy (this game tracks the time spent playing it). When I asked around, almost everyone I knew also was aware of someone potentially “addicted” to one or more of these games. Research about MMA is fairly new and by definition, anything can become addictive if done to the point that a person’s self worth becomes reliant on it or it inhibits their ability to function in the real world.

Our preconceptions about “brains” (or, who has ’em and who doesn’t) represents one of our most enduring, socially acceptable prejudices. And yet, psychologist Howard Gardner outlined seven to nine types of intelligence. Recent studies have aimed to link mathematical ability as a predictor of “success” and in the mid 90’s Daniel Goleman’s E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) gave rise to comparisons of what makes someone a great leader (suggesting that intelligence, or I.Q., is not as predicative a factor as E.I., emotional intelligence). What fascinates me in our society is the preferential or “special” treatment one receives if thought of as being “smart”. In my family, if you didn’t attend university, you were a lesser person…I suppose my father, having lived through the depression, didn’t want any of us to be impoverished. True enough, it seems most higher paid jobs require a higher education. Yet, why do people “look down” upon those with say musical or spatial intelligence – as if they don’t deserve to be paid or treated well. And yet art and music has been shown (even with algorithms) to be mathematical in many respects. Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” touches on the very idea that we cannot see, nor appreciate all that makes up a being. So why do we judge and set a value on someone based on one or two things, like title or salary?

Some quotes that stick out in my mind include Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” But the one I love most (and I still can’t find out who authored it) goes something like this, “When a child looks at something for the first time, s/he will ask, “What is it?” – man asks, “What is it good for?”

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