Where Did My Mind Go?


(Originally posted 12/31/16 on Read With The Gringa)

The next time you hear the snarky comment, “It’s all in your mind,” be sure to tell them, “But I’ve LOST my mind!” That’s right. The mind is a crazy place and the truth is that we have all lost our minds. Well, to be more precise, it’s just not in the place you think, your brain. In fact, your mind might not actually be located anywhere in your physical body! Say what?! Yep, the gringa agrees. The mind, or consciousness to be exact, is a mystery without an address.

Medical professionals have traditionally considered the consciousness to be the product of brain activity and chemistry.  They have historically given it an address located at the end of neurons, when it fires off “something”.  But, about 20 years ago, a Psychiatry Professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine turned the medical community on its head (pardon the pun) with the idea that the mind is not confined to the boundaries of the skull.

Dr. Dan Siegel astounded about 40 medical professionals and social scientists at a meeting where he announced his groundbreaking theory. In the end, he won them over. As a result of this brainstorming session of scholarly elites, they came up with a definition of the mind/consciousness:

“emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within us and among us.”

The gringa’s first question is, “What the heck do all of those words mean?” So, the best thing to do when a jumble of important words confuses you is to break it down bit by bit. Let’s go:

  • Emergent: Medically speaking (which these guys were),  it means a comprehensive neural network that creates and analyzes complex models of reality in order to create simulations. Basically, what this means is the brain’s ability to visualize. If you can close your eyes and still see the form of the rose in the vase on your table, you have just performed an “emergent” brain exercise. In short, creating memories.
  • Self-organizing: Spontaneously creating order from disorder. We are constantly surrounded by information and stimuli. Our brain automatically processes every single iota of information and organizes it. We don’t even have to exert ourselves. The brain just does what it does. It’s a processor and vast self-filing file cabinet.
  • Embodied: Within, or having, or giving, a physical form to something non-physical. Happiness is “embodied” in a smile, fear in a scream.
  • Relational: The way in which 2 things, or people, are connected.
  • Regulates: Controlling the speed or activity of a function.

Let’s put all of that together. The human consciousness simulates everything that we experience in the physical world as well as emotions. It organizes all this stimuli and creates a visual/audio/experiential recording within our brain, a memory. Once the memory is filed away in the brain, this memory becomes embodied through different body functions but it originated in the consciousness. This memory is then the resource used to determine our responses to stimuli and how we interact with the physical world and other people. Our consciousness’ are us.

What this means is that our brain is the computer. Our body the different systems commanded by the brain. However, the consciousness is the user that is separate from the computer and operating systems. The consciousness is what controls the computer and decides which operating systems are put to use. So, then, what and where is this consciousness?

The What: Our consciousness is not an experiential function. It is not the reaction of the human to an experience. The consciousness is the experience itself. The consciousness is pleasure when eating chocolate. The mind is fear when watching a horror flick. That means that the bodily responses are our mind manifest in the physical world. It may sound confusing but think about this. Is the shoreline the sand or is it the water? It’s both. One does not exist without the other. Is the smile the happiness? No, of course not. It is the emergent emotion embodied in the lips. The mind is the experience but we cannot share the experience with others unless we are able to have the consciousness emerge through the physical.

The relational aspect of the mind/body connection is key to sound mental health. Modern society may be seeing a rash of mental illness because we are so disconnected with regard to relationships.  The reason for this is based in mathematics. In order for the mind to self-organize the influx of information that bombards us every moment of every day, the brain must be able to determine links and correlations between ideas, feelings, and events. Then it is able to integrate everything in a coherent, stable fashion.

If a person is routinely exposed to relationships that are dysfunctional or, perhaps, not even real (isolation from society and immersion into cyberworld) they will not be able to create healthy order out of chaos. Our consciousness learns by example. The order a person creates who has been chronically exposed to relationship dysfunction, or deprived of relationships altogether, will not be “normal”. The connections they make between stimuli and response may be based on link examples that are downright horrendous or even false.

Dr. Siegel has continued to be a pioneer in psychiatry, authoring many books, instructing medical professionals and practicing innovative medicine at the clinics he has established. His focus is on how relationship experiences shape our emotions and behavior, eventually molding us into who we are. In essence, relationships form our consciousness. Our consciousness controls our brain. Our brain drives our body.

The Where: Who knows? Our mind has nothing to do with our physical body. If that’s the case, does it survive the death of our bodies? If the mind is not dependent on the body for survival, but only needs the body to embody in the physical world what is created through the emergent process, what happens to it after death? What are the possibilities?

Dr. Siegel offers no answers yet on that front. So, the gringa is going to have to get hot on the trail of those answers because it is bad enough that I’ve lost my mind in the here and now. I certainly don’t want to lose it after my body expires! Where the heck is my mind?

Sources:  www.drdansiegel.com

Dr. Dan Siegel Video Clips

Image Credit:  huuhaablog.wordpress.com

 

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What Should We Fear? I Forgot!


The gringa is more than happy to cheer on Obama’s goal of getting the U.S. space program to Mars within the next 15 years. I should still be young and vibrant enough to don a space helmet if the call to serve my country arises! In fact, considering the latest news on expected conditions for Mars destined astronauts, someone like me might be the astronaut of choice.

Whereas, before, the gringa always believed that epilepsy would probably be a big disqualifier for space travel, turns out a bit of brain damage is probably just par for the course for a Mars trip. Heck, then, maybe I’ve already been there and didn’t even know it! Could be those alien abduction conspiracy theorists have been right all along!

Doctors are still mystified about what causes epilepsy. Maybe all of us epileptics were abducted by space aliens, taken to Mars in an instant through a wormhole, had all kinds of crazy medical studies performed on us, then returned home in the blink of an eye. All that radical space/time continuum dazzle frazzled our brains!

Or… maybe us epileptics are all originally FROM Mars! Now wouldn’t that be something. The brain damage expected to be experienced in a flight from Earth to Mars may have the same effect in a reverse course from Mars to Earth. Maybe I was switched at birth with a real Earthling by Martians who took my doppleganger to Mars! Wouldn’t THAT be something!

So how does travel between Earth and Mars, regardless of which direction you’re headed, end up casing brain damage? Two words… cosmic rays. It’s a long journey from the Big Blue Marble to the Red Planet and then back again. The effects of being exposed to cosmic rays for about one year would be neurological impairments that would affect an astronaut’s judgment and cognitive abilities. In addition to the space brain effect, prolonged, long-term exposure to radiation is pretty much a guarantee that Mars bound astronauts are going to end up with some form of cancer and a weakened immune system that couldn’t even fend off a bout of sneezing.  But how do researchers know this, or suspect it, if no one has traveled between Mars and Earth (that we know of… the gringa is still musing the possibilities of her origins…)

Studies have been conducted at the Brookhaven Laboratory in New York. Leading the research is a team of scientists from the University of California Irvine. They used the particle accelerator at the laboratory to simulate the Earth-Mars travel condition scenario on rats. What happened is that the rats suffered serious neurological damage. They became dumber… unable to remember which meant unable to learn. Even worse, as far as the gringa’s concerned, they lost their natural ability of “fear extinction”.

“What is “fear extinction?” the dear reader asks. Well, the gringa’s gonna tell you. From the time we are babies all sorts of things happen to us that traumatize us with fear. The human brain is an amazing thing. It has a powerful survival instinct that triggers all sorts of protective measures and responses that are automatic. Sometimes we don’t have to try at all when it comes to saving ourselves. Our brain automatically performs an extinction of the fear reaction to certain stimuli.

You see, when something scary happens, like a mom or dad that jumps out and yells, “Boo!”, scaring the baby, the first time the baby probably cries like the dickens, scared to death. However, as mom and dad continue to do this the baby’s brain learns that nothing really bad happens even though the fear response is automatically triggered when startled. Eventually the baby no longer cries when someone jumps up and says, “Boo!” In fact, the baby may even learn how to laugh.

As we grow and have all sorts of life experiences, this happens all the time. That’s how we are able to actually enjoy fear, like watching scary movies or telling spooky tales at campouts or visiting haunted houses or pranking loved ones. But a trip to Mars destroys this capability.

When the gringa puts together the entire picture of an astronaut’s mental condition upon arriving to Mars, she’s not so sure they will survive. Think about it. A Mars team would be:

  • Physically ill (early stage cancer with little to none immunity)
  • Critical information would be forgotten related to their survival (impaired memory may result in no longer remembering how to operate complex technologies their lives depend on)
  • Even if they are in contact with Mission Control on Earth who could talk them through an important process, they are not able to understand instructions (cognitive abilities impaired)
  • In a strange place so far from Earth, unable to master the necessary skills to survive, the realization of their doom would trigger immense fear that would be uncontrollable (the fear extinction response is destroyed)

If anyone has read “Lord of the Flies” it is no big stretch, then, to surmise what might result from this accumulation of trouble… a mission crew that becomes unreasonably paranoid, dangerous and turns on one another. Until the world’s space programs come up with a way to effectively shield Mars bound astronauts from cosmic rays, the gringa has lost all interest in a manned Mars mission. Although my personal level of brain damage can be frustrating, at least I can enjoy a good helter-skelter horror flick without turning on the caveman with a butcher knife.

Sources:

newatlas.com

news.uci.edu

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Image Credit:  signalvnoise.com

NASA And Its Continuing Contribution To Medicine


Often, an off-world mission lasts about six months for an astronaut. The gringa wants to know just what happens to their body out there in micro-gravity. The thought of floating around weightless in space often sounds wonderful to me when I’m tossing and turning in bed trying to get comfortable because, being a side-sleeper, my darn hips are killing me. Also, are these effects just physical or is there any mental side effects, like gravity-mania or something like that?

When astronauts return to Earth after a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), they often have balance problems associated with muscle weakness, neurological responses to returning to gravity, and cardiovascular issues. Being epileptic, the gringa finds the neurological issues especially interesting. It seems the brain has a bit of a problem readapting to the concept of gravity. When I go up into areas of high altitude, my brain has problems readapting to the effects of atmospheric pressure when I return to the lowlands.

The last trip the caveman and I took up in the Andes, the day we returned to sea level my poor little brain went bananas and the neighborhood doctor had to come give me an anticonvulsant injection in the patootie with a humongous needle. The gringa says to herself, “Thank God doctors in third world countries make housecalls cuz there ain’t no ambulance and there ain’t no ER!” I can only imagine how my brain would react after six months in outer space. I would probably just decide it would be best to never come home. But, I digress, enough of me. I want to know about the other stuff.

Mars has enough gravity that, after traveling for six months to get there in micro-gravity, the crew is going to be in pretty bad shape when they arrive. What’s NASA doing about this problem? When astronauts return home, they often can’t even stand on their own two feet. Just take a look at the above photo. That is Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti needing assistance exiting the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft after her return to Earth June 11, 2015. How, then, are physically disabled astronauts going to land a spacecraft then emerge and get down to the hard, dirty work of survival on another planet?

The Functional Task Test (FTT) is being used to determine what mission critical tasks will be affected by the balance problems and impaired eye-hand control coordination that astronauts will be experiencing as they approach the Red Planet. The effects of long-term exposure to micro-gravity can create vision and perception changes that can contribute to things such as motion sickness. Pass the barf bag, please!

What the FTT studies have resulted in is a development of countermeasures that will be practiced before the astronauts even leave Earth and will also be performed while en-route to Mars. These measures are designed to “train the brain to become more adaptable”. I don’t know about you but the gringa knows lots of people who could benefit from a retrained brain!

All sarcasm aside, there actually are civilians who can benefit from what will help the astronauts arrive on Mars with their brain re-trained. People such as the elderly who are bedfast for periods of time after surgical procedures have difficulty getting up and around again. Stints of bedrest for the elderly often result in a loss of stability. Folks like this could use these same procedures to help them regain their mobility.

The gringa wonders if I could benefit from these same measures? Could I possibly retrain my brain so that I could enjoy Himalayan heights without fear of a seizure when ready to resume my beach-blanket bingo festivities at sea-level? It could happen! Just one more reason NASA needs to let me be the first gringa in outer space! So they can study my warped little brain for the benefit of epileptics all over the world!