The new neuroscience, combined with the insights of clinical psychology and contemplative practice, gives you an historically unprecedented opportunity to shift your brain — and thus your mind — toward greater happiness, love, and wisdom.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
neuropsychologist, health reporter
Posted: July 16, 2010 08:00 AM
Have you ever seen a real brain?
I remember the first time I saw one, in a neuropsych class: the instructor put on rubber gloves to protect against the formaldehyde preservative, popped the lid off of a lab bucket, and then pulled out a brain.
It didn’t look like much, a nondescript waxy yellowish-white blob rather like a sculpted head of cauliflower. But the whole class went silent. We were looking at the real deal, ground zero for consciousness, headquarters for “me.” The person it came from — or, in a remarkable sense, the person who came from it — was of course dead. Would my brain, too, end up in a lab bucket? That thought gave me a creepy weird feeling completely unlike the feeling of having my heart or hand in a bucket some day — which gets right at the specialness of your brain.
That blobby organ — just three pounds of tofu-like tissue — is considered by scientists to be the most complex object currently known in the universe. It holds 100 billion neurons (see the schematic illustration just below) amidst another trillion support cells. A typical neuron makes about 5000 connections called synapses with other neurons, producing a neural network with 500 trillion nodes in it. At any moment, each node is active or not, creating a kind of 0 or 1 bit of information. Neurons commonly fire 5 to 50 times a second, so while you’ve been reading this paragraph, literally quadrillions of bits of information have circulated inside your head.
Your nervous system, with its control center in the brain, moves information around like your heart moves blood around. Broadly defined, all that information is the mind, most of which is forever unconscious. Apart from the influence of hypothetical transcendental factors — call them God, Spirit, the Ground, or by no name at all — the mind is what the nervous system does. So if you care at all about your mind — including your emotions, sense of self, pleasures and pains, memories, dreams, reflections (and who doesn’t?) — then it makes tons of sense to care about what’s going on inside your own brain.