by Danielle Graham: SuperConsciousness Magazine interviewed Dr. Nancy Andreasen…
Psychiatrist and Research Neuroscientist for this issue on the topic of “Nature/ Nurture”. Acknowledged by her peers as one of the leading researchers in her field, Andreasen is a standing member and fellow within her professional organizations, as well as the recipient of many awards, including the President’s National Medal of Science (2000).
During our discussion, she stated that it is commonly accepted within her field that our brains are continuously changing:
NA: … Something that we know from neuroscience is [that] the human brain is this magnificently plastic organ, and in neuroscience when we use the word plastic, we mean something that is continuously adapting and changing as it’s exposed to new kinds of information.
SC: So that would mean the brain is actually changing continuously. As it receives [new information], it changes, and then it generates [new] thoughts [from the input received], changing again. Thus, it’s a continuously transforming organ.
NA: That’s exactly right. Yes. So, if you are the parent of a child you need to look at that child and understand that his or her little brain is constantly taking in stimuli. As the child gets older, [they take in more] information, use it, and then transform it into ways to interact with the world around him or her. You know, the more enriched the environment, the nurture, if you like, that the little brain is developing in, the better the brain is going to be. And so, parents really can help their children build better brains.
Related to Dr. Andreasen’s insights, our previous interviewee, Centre of the Mind Director Professor Allan Snyder stated that through his extensive research it has become quite clear that the brain innately possesses an extraordinary and not yet fully understood capacity for unlimited functional potential. (See SuperConsciousness Magazine Premiere Issue, September-October, 2007).
Further, research Molecular Biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton provides a logical, evidence-based argument that we are NOT controlled by our genetics. Certainly, protein production is directed by our genes, which then instruct the sequencing for the manufacture of all our protein-based structural components. However, our DNA, in fact, is not the source of their own instructions: our genes are not self-directed. Lipton clearly shows the “environment” as the source of the instructions to our DNA, and our “environments” include emotions, visual and other sensory input, and other outlying ambient environmental conditions.*
So, let’s look at these perspectives. It is generally accepted that our brain’s structural components, our neurological connectivity, is continuously adapting, changing, and that the structural elements themselves are ‘plastic’. Every input into our brain affects and even alters neural connectivity, whether that input is a television show, music, a loving and kind conversation, an experience of violence or even a religious ritual. Thus, the brain is continuously adapting to that which it is exposed to, adapting even to its own thoughts.
Concurrent to this continuous adaptive state is an unlimited preexisting capacity of our brain’s neuroconnectivity: we have the ability, already pre-existing in our neurological processes for anything, everything; the mundane or the outrageous. So, on one hand, we have an unlimited capacity, and at the same time, what we expose ourselves and our children to has a demonstrable effect on those neurological structures of unlimited potential. It would seem, then, that, as individuals, we have much more control over the quality of our lives than is commonly thought and that what we allow ourselves exposure to can and does have a significant impact on the quality of our lives. Seemingly, then, it is the responsibility of each of us to accept or reject what we choose to expose ourselves to.
Now, despite the insights provided us by these leading researchers from their respective and divergent fields, our scientific schools of thought still operate with an underlying and almost unconscious premise, that somehow it is our bodies that are responsible for the quality of our lives. This stronghold of thought, carried down to us from the early molecular biologists like Cairns, Stent and Watson, continues to underscore an erroneous logic still accepted today by even the best and brightest of scientists and researchers.
However, as the shroud of ignorance is being lifted from these antiquated precepts through the systematic work of brilliant biological mechanists like Lipton and neuroscientists like Andreasen and Snyder, new systems of thought do emerge.
We truly are in the dawn of a new scientific era, a time when the ultimate responsibility for our lives is being laid squarely at our own feet. The more we challenge our cultural assumptions, (like the inferiority of women), the less indentured we are to live within the ‘environmental influences’ of those societal presumptions both physically and emotionally. And by releasing ourselves from our past complicity with such limited thinking, we embrace new thoughts, thus generating a greater neurological functioning and subsequent protein production, improving the qualities of our lives. It is innate within us, our human potential to command a greater implicit as well as explicit environment of joy, health and hope for our lives. As we transform as individuals, so, too, do our scientific schools of thought, creating the science of the future.