CHAPTER III: OUR PLANET’S POTTER

How complex is the mind? Will we ever find a complete and working model to describe and explain our emotions and physical sensations? We have deciphered the human genome; sent a man to the moon, and invented the drive-through pharmacy. Yet the mind is still a source with many unexplored frontiers. How do we know what we know? What can we learn about thought and its formation? Can we understand what is called thinking?
Among the amazing discoveries we have made as a species, things we have began to understand, such as the theories of relativity, the uncertainty principle, natural selection, the creations of planets and stars–all of these discoveries have had an enormous impact on our view of the natural world. Now, we are beginning to understand the mechanics of thought and concept of identity, intrinsic properties and structure, and other mechanisms of the brain.
We have mapped the parts of the mind responsible for happiness, anger, and even the lobe (the occipital parietal) that affords our cognizance of time and space. This was discovered by studying people undergoing ‘religious experiences.’ In each case, a Buddhist monk, while in deep contemplation, was seen to have a dramatic decrease in activity in the occipital parietal. Those familiar with Buddhism could tell you, when one meditates, the concept of space and time, and to some degree, identity, washes away. By the simple expedient of mapping patterns of the brain of people in meditation, we were shown the areas of the brain that contain the concept of self, of space, and time.
This is something we should be genuinely proud of. However, it must be acknowledged, that, the most intricate and complex object we have yet to encounter is the brain, an organ weighing three to four pounds and found everywhere in nature. It is with this mechanism that we form our picture of the world.
Martin Heideggar, a German philosopher, in his treatise, What is Called Thinking?, concluded, in one of his lectures: ‘…Still, any such remarks will take us step by step, sentence by sentence, into a difficult landscape which is remote, however, from the almost airless spaces of dead concepts and luxuriant abstractions. This landscape is in a land on whose grounds all movements of our modern age take place. The fact that we do not see or rather do not wish to see these grounds, much less this land, is no proof that they aren’t there.’
There are vast landscapes of the mind, full of odd and ridiculous concepts, luxuriant abstractions. And it is this difficulty of which Heideggar speaks that keeps us at arm’s length when we come to the brain. It may be a difficult landscape to travel through, but at the end of it is understanding. We should embrace what we as of yet can’t understand on the grounds that someday we will. We shouldn’t be so eager to toss away an unknown under any circumstances, religious or scientific. We should see Heideggar’s difficult landscape of airless space and view, in their physical manifestations, these delightful forms of dead concepts and the movements of our modern age.
I will give reference to the different segments of the brain in passing, and later develop the more complex concepts of their interaction. The brainstem, at the top of the spinal column, controls your heartbeat, your breathing, swallowing, and mostly involuntary, rash reactions. Beside it is the cerebellum and under its protection we are afforded coordination. Sitting on top of the cerebellum is the temporal lobe: the temporal lobe is responsible for intellectual and emotional abstractions. This is the part of the mind that is active when you hear your inner voice.
Above it is the frontal lobe, and, this is one I think that, by now in our evolutionary development we could do without, as it responds to smells. Broca’s area is one of the most fascinating areas of the brain. It’s primary function is speech; but that’s not all that happens there. Speech that is processed by Broca’s area, remains there. In a sense, it ‘echoes’ within it. This is memory, space, and time. Above this is something that is often lacking in graduate students: the frontal lobe: with it there is foresight, voluntary movement, and analytical judgment.
Above is the motor cortex (movement) and in between the motor cortex and the cerebrum is the sensory cortex (pain, heat, cold; physical sensations.) There is the parietal lobe, which is to be labeled that of a comprehending mechanism, though it’s comprehension is specialized as we’ve already discussed. There remains Wernicke’s area, and it is responsible for speech comprehension.
This is what I believed Heideggar was alluding to. There’s a lot going on inside this four pound mass between our ears. There are concepts we weren’t programmed to understand. This landscape is highly populated. Within the brain there are billions of nerve cells, called neurons, and these neurons are receptive of electrochemical signals, signals which the neurons relay to other parts of the brain, it is these signals that our thoughts, feelings, and concept of the physical self depend.
These neurons signal to various parts of the body chemical signals which provoke stimulus based response. The amount of neurons which can be found within the brain isn’t as interesting is how they are organized; how neurons communicate depends on structure.
There are different types of neurons but most of them share features, (See figure 5.1) The cell body contains the nucleus of the neuron; this nucleus, containing the complete set of genetic information, is surrounded by cytoplasm. The cell also contains organelles; this is essential to the functioning of the neuron and metabolism; in this manner, neurons are similar to different types of cells, the difference between neurons and other cells is that they seldom divide and therefore rarely reproduce.
Neurons are specialized to carry out communicative function. This is made evident by the appendages they sport, their dendrites and axons. Dendrites are, in a manner of speaking, rather like a disorganized antenna receptive of signals from other neurons. Dendrites, when stimulated in a certain way, causes the neuron to which it is attached will change
its electrical polarity and fire a signal along its axon to be picked up by the dendrites of other neurons. The neuron is relatively small, although the length of an axon can be considerable; the firing of a neuron can influence the firing of another despite its distance.
One neurons influence over another is dependent on their connection; these connective junctions are called synapses (figure 5.2) Synaptic junctions connect the axon of a neuron with the dendrites of another, a neuron in the cortex of the brain, having near 10,000 synapses, constitute a complicated system of interconnection within the skull, the complexity of which is far beyond the most advanced supercomputers. The humble earthworm has a computative capacity beyond that of the modern computer.
The organization of connections within the skull, and to distant sense organs and muscles, give the brain its baffling ability. Neuroscientists and psychologists, even philosophers, now believe that of all the knowledge our brain contains–from being able to walk erect, perform complicated mathematics and daydream–is a function, all of the functions in essence, is the result of connections existing between neurons.
This organization allows us to interpret stimuli, behave, feel, think, and use our abilities to interact with our environment. To come to terms with this outstanding complexity, not to retreat to the non-answer of ‘intelligent design,’ we must look to the long history, millions of years, to the primitive nervous systems present in our ancestors which, over time, evolved into a complicated organ that has made it possible for our species to adapt to almost any natural condition–from the snowcapped mountains, to the most arid deserts, savannahs, marshes, even in space–we have become the most successful expression of organism evolution; we can live, thrive, and subdue, physically, mentally, or through our technology, the environments which we live in and explore.    How is it possible for such an unlikely structure of the brain, especially in maturity, to be able to continue to, not only modify the worlds around us, we are now venturing, through medicine and genetic engineering–we are beginning to see a clear horizon of self-modification through technology. What reasons would necessitate the modification of something that has brought us to where we are now, a conscious, sentient, intelligent being, to consider altering the work of our planet’s potter, Natural Selection? Some believe that the structure of our minds can be changed to learn new skills and better process information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s