October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.



Entries in brain (11)


At Home in the World, Thanks to My Brain

There’s so much exciting press about brain research recently, it makes me “think.” 

         My brain is up there in my skull:  In the dark.  In silence.  No touch, no taste, no smell.  It receives information about the outside world via neurons, in the form of electrical signals, from my eyes, ears, skin, tongue, and nose.  It uses these electrical signals to build pictures of my world, both immediate and long-term. 

         This makes my brain seem to be a remote pilot, somewhat like a space explorer, sending probes here and there in the universe.

         But that’s not how I feel.  I feel entirely immersed in my environment.  I see, hear, feel, taste, smell an immediate, integrated world.  So somehow, along with all its other miraculous capabilities, my brain makes me feel right at home amidst all my sensations. 


Better News on the PTSD Front

Last week I posted about an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine concerning the US Army and soldiers' brain injuries. The news was discouraging regarding both concussions and PTSD: denial, delays in treatment, callousness.

But I heard this from writer Tena Russ about a treatment program that is just the opposite, attentive, caring, serious:

          "I volunteer with my therapy dog at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Facility in North Chicago.  My dog Cami and I visit active duty soldiers and veterans who are in the the locked wards at the mental hospital.  Many of them have PTSD and are being treated for it.  In addition, on the campus there is a residential program for soldiers who have been in battle and have PTSD.  From what I gather, this particular VA (at least) is doing the right thing by the wounded warriors.  They are not denying that PTSD exists."

Thanks, Tena, this is wonderful news!  I'd be happy to hear more from anyone out there who has had similar experiences.


The Opposite of a Spiritual Awakening

I had already gotten it through my head that the Army wants not to believe in PTSD.  But now, according to a very disturbing article, "War Wounds," in last Sunday’s New York Times, they also want not to believe in concussions and the brain damage they do.

         It's as if the Armed Forces had gone to sleep decades ago, and were fighting the last few wars while unconcious.  Even the NFL knows about the new research on concussions.

         Judging by the painful and damaging slowness of the Veterans Administration in taking care of all veterans requests for medical help, the Army doesn’t believe in any injuries.  But the brain stuff really is qualitatively different. 

         Here’s an example from the Times story about Maj. Ben Richards.  He is often unable to think clearly or in a connected way.  His wife Farrah can’t even get the Veterans Administration health personnel to include her in a civil way in her husband’s care:

         Countless spouses, parents and children of returning troops are struggling with similar challenges. Spouses often complain that the military treats them particularly poorly, and rarely communicates adequately. “They’ll be like, ‘your husband was briefed on that.’ ” Farrah said. “And I say, ‘well, my husband can’t remember that briefing.’ ”

         It’s like a conspiracy to ignore the human brain in suffering soldiers.  My own experience is that when people are in such vigorous denial, it’s usually because they’re trying to hide from something frightening.  Denial is the human psyche’s way of acting out “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.”

         Trouble is, in this case, the saying means, “What the Army doesn’t know can’t hurt the Army.”  But in this case, it sure can hurt our soldiers. 

         We have to do better.


Two Halves Make a (Complex) Whole

In my last post I mentioned that Jonah Leherer’s new book, Imagine, had brought up the teamwork between our left and right brain hemispheres.          

        In biology, we learn most when something is missing.  If all parts of a brain are participating, it’s hard to tell what each part does.  But if some parts aren’t working, we notice the problems.  We can assume the damaged or missing parts are connected to the problems.  So brain researchers frequently recruit volunteers with brain damage.

         When people have lost some right brain function, some strange things happen.  Asked to draw a house, such a person may draw scattered details: a disoriented roof, individual bricks, a window sill.  But these details are scattered and don’t make a real “picture.” 

         On the other hand, people with left brain damage may draw the shape of a whole house, minus its details.

         People with right brain damage often don’t get jokes, or don’t comprehend metaphors.  People with left brain damage may lose names, or words, or the ability to speak.

         Clearly, we need both hemispheres to function fully in a number of ways.  The cooperation of both halves has a lot to do with what adds zest to life! 


Two People in One

Heard an interview with Jonah Lehrer on his new book, Imagine.  It's about how creativity arises from our brains.

         The discussion veered to the two brain hemispheres and whether indeed the right hemisphere is the creative side, the left, the down-to-earth side.

         Lehrer said that we misunderstand the separation of the two hemispheres.  We need both in order to think well.  The left side is good at details.  The right side good at seeing the big picture.

         It’s as if there were two people up there in my head, talking with each other.  Suppose I’m driving to visit a friend somewhere I’ve never been in my home town of Chicago:  My left brain pays attention to the streets I must travel, which way to turn when I reach one of them, the number I’m looking for on the target street.  My right brain holds the big picture of Chicago: which neighborhoods I’m traversing, whether I am near or far from the Lake, whether the neighborhood I have arrived at is attractive.  For instance do the restaurants look interesting?  Or are the buildings architecturally harmonious?  Or is my friend lucky to live here, or unfortunate to live here?

         In fact, the two brain halves need each other to have a complete experience, to tell the story of the experience, to store it away for later reference.  What a wonder!

         And how do we know this?  Some answers next time…