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Sunday, April 21, 2024

The human brain

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With Aicha

Some days I doubt that there is a brain up there when my head feels empty like a dry coconut shell and all I hear is an echo of some thoughts that has passed away a long time ago. If you are upset and tell someone that you have an empty head that is actually true. All of us have empty spaces in our heads (some more and some less – joke!) and they are there for a reason. Have you thought about when you have got a cold, and your nose is running, that your voice sounds differently? Even if you don’t hear your own voice as others hear it, you can still hear that it has a different sound. This is because your cold has caused an infection and the mucous membranes in your nose are swelling. Snot is running and after a while it feels like the whole head is filled with it.


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The empty spaces in your head are inside your nose, inside your mouth, the throat and the sinus. The sinus is placed in your forehead and on the top part of your cheeks. Every time you speak or sing the air in these empty spaces begin to vibrate and this is what is making the sound stronger. If you ever have played the guitar, or kora, you have seen that the large part of the instrument, the body, is hollow. The air inside the instrument is strengthening the sound. If you have played the djembe and have put it directly on the ground, with no opening at the bottom for the sound to come through, you have heard that the sound is very different and weak.
Now you got a small lesson about anatomy and music and I will go on from there.


The human brain is amazing and it has evolved during the evolution so even if we have the same functions as our ancestors from the caves, we have more functions now because we need them.
Our world is much more complicated than our ancestor’s was and we get so much more stimuli than they got.
The brain is not a muscle, even if some people say so, but in a way it works like a muscle so the ”Use it or lose it” principle applies on both.
When you stop exercising you lose your muscle strength, size and endurance. That’s called atrophy and it applies on your brain as well. Exercise your brain every day and you will keep its capacity and even evolve it.

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So, what can we do to exercise the brain?
Here are some tips that are easy to apply on our everyday life:

1. Start a good conversation, not only about the weather or the last episode of your favourite TV-show. Challenge yourself and your conversation partner and speak about something that really matters. Solve problems together instead of complaining about them and your creativity will evolve and by that your problem solving skills.


1. Read a good book, it stimulates your brain by forcing it to analyze words, sentence structure and storyline. It also stimulates our imagination because when we read our brain is creating pictures to help us to understand the story.

1. Play games that require problem solving, like chess and crossword puzzles. It forces the brain to consider various solutions and is also helping us in problem solving in other occasions in life.


1. Work with numbers. If it has been some years since you left school you might have forgotten most of the math you once learned but you can freshen up the basics anyway. Most of us need to keep an eye on our budget when we go shopping. Try to count in your head before you use the calculator. See how much money you have, keep on counting as you are shopping so at least you have a inch of how much everything will cost. This is a good exercise and at the same time it saves you from unpleasant surprises.

As I wrote, in the beginning of this article, the human brain has evolved, we have got more functions when the world has changed and that is why our species is still existing.
We have older parts of our brain that controls our emotions, they were created long before our logical ability and has existed much longer than that.
We also have our instincts, the reactions we have when we neither think nor consider, instead we react more as a reflection.
The parts of our brain that controls our automatical, instinctive, reactions are even older.


To simplify the functions of our brain we can say that it has 3 basic parts:
· The part that controls our instincts
· The part that controls our emotions
· The part that controls our logics
The older the part is, the stronger it is.

It has been with us and evolved for so long that we unconsciously trust that its reaction will save our life as it has done many times before during millions of years.
In our modern society, where the logical thinking is sitting on its throne, the older parts of our brain can unintentionally cause problems for us.
We can be stunned by our reactions or emotions when we really didn’t want to act that way.
When we meet people whose actions are controlled by the older parts and they go to attack, flee or are very emotional we can get confused, upset and not knowing how to respond to that.


This is leading me to our oldest brain function that kicks in automatically when we feel threatened somehow;”the fight or flight response.”
This is also called ”acute stress response” and it kicks in whenever you feel terrified, either physically or mentally. This response is triggered by hormones and the purpose is to prepare your body for either stay and deal with it (fight) or to run for your life.


There is a term frequently used here in Sweden, I will give you a direct translation as I don’t know the term in English: ”the burnt out syndrome.”
If you have been living in constant stress for a long time your body and mind are cooperating, trying to tell you to either deal with it or to leave it as you get sick because of the stress. It is not always easy to change one’s life situation but if that situation is giving you more sorrows than joy you need to begin considering if you can change it somehow.

Even a small change can be for the better but sometimes it can be hard to figure out what to do. We need to stop sometimes and let our souls catch up with our bodies, I have told that before, it is an ancient Chinese expression. Making changes is never easy, sometimes it is even scary, but why not stop for a while and consider yourself as your best friend. What would you tell yourself? Would you tell yourself that you should keep quiet and work even harder? Would you tell yourself that your opinion doesn’t count? Would you tell yourself that your hopes and dreams are childish and by the way you are not worth more than what you have got? No, I don’t think so! I think you would tell your best friend that you have been working so hard so you deserve to relax for a while. You would tell your best friend to speak up for her-/himself, that his/her hopes and dreams are great. You would try to encourage your best friend to try to make at least some of the dreams come true. You wish the best for your best friend so why don’t you feel that you deserve that yourself?

So what happens in the body when you get stressed, scared or even terrified?
This could be explained with a lot of advanced medical terminology that would make our tongues twist, so I will try to explain it a bit easier. I don’t think neither you nor I will remember the names of the hormones etc for longer than it took to pronounce them, so we skip that part.
We go directly to the part that is easier to understand – our reactions of severe stress.


· Rapid heartbeat and breathing. When we feel threatened the body needs fuel to give a rapid response to the danger. Increased heartbeat and respiration is giving us the energy and oxygen we need for that.
· Pale or flushed skin. The body is a clever mechanism so when we feel threatened it is using the blood in the parts where it is more important than other. The blood flow to the surface areas is decreased so the muscles, our brain, legs and arms will have more. The body’s blood clotting ability is also increased in case of an injury. Isn’t it amazing?
· Dilated pupils. The body prepares itself to be more aware and observant to the surroundings. When our pupils get dilated we get more light in to the eyes and our observation of the surroundings improves.
· Trembling. When we face stress or danger our muscles get tensed or primed for action. This can cause trembling or shaking.


Where will this lecture in biology end? You might ask yourself. It ends in a greater understanding for our physical reactions and by that also for the reactions of others. Body and mind always goes together, we can’t separate them because one part responds to the other.


In times of severe stress, either in your own life situation or when you actually feel threatened by someone or something the ”fight or flight response” kicks in automatically because this is how we are created. This function is our oldest but even if it kicks in an instant we can learn to control it somehow. By constant and eager training of the mind we can better control our physical reactions. We can learn to analyze the situation and not automatically trust our first reaction as the correct one. When someone approaches us in haste, screaming and waving his/her arms we need to very quickly be able to read the signs of that person’s body language. Is it an enemy or a person who is upset or scared for some reason? With the wrong reaction it might be too late to find out afterwards.
We need to use and exercise our brains so we don’t have to regret our reactions, maybe forever.

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