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by Gerald Epling

The human brain is a busy place.  Most of our thoughts and lots of our experiences are combined over time with the help of the brain.  Our brain engages in huge amounts of unconscious activity, and some consciousness thought as well.  Whatever the brain is called to do it will try.  Regions will work together to obtain clarity, understanding or a specific experience.  With all of the cooperation between various elements of the brain, it is easy to loose sight of the specialized functions of distinct areas of the brain.

Every part of our brain has a purpose.  It is a challenge for the mind to select ways to use the brain in such a way as to optimize our human potential.  The mind and brain are intimately linked.  However, it is arguably not the case that the mind and the brain are the same thing.  To be the same, there would have to be a one-to-one relationship between everything in the mind and everything in the brain.  Next, there would have to be a mapping of every element of the brain to every element of the mind.  The relationship of sameness requires these one-to-one and “onto” aspects.  Because the mind has the capability of engaging in activities that are not explained by the brain alone, there is a difference that makes the mind something other than the brain.

The placebo effect is a good example of the mind influencing the brain.  The way that we feel about life, and the expectations we have influences the growth of new brain cells.  Psychology, and medicine have shown that pleasing people can lead to effects that go beyond chemical explanation.  The placebo effect can lead to many positive experiences including an actual improvement in health.  Learning that one has been taking a placebo can lead to a low as one begins to perceive the experience as a sham.  The power of the mind to change the attitude, health, and physical characteristics is legendary in the placebo effect.

Fortunately, we can use our mind to enhance brain health.  What we do affects the size of specific areas of the brain.  Parts of the brain that support making new memories grow larger when we engage in making new memories.  Areas of the brain that support social thought are larger in people with larger social networks.  The brain is like a key.  The key that you use the most tends to be the brightest.

Growing new brain cells requires a series of events.  These events are thought to involve naturally occurring primitive cells.  Primitive cells grow and change to become new brain cells.  These primitive cells may be found circulating in the blood.  The exact source of primitive cells that support replacement and increases in areas of the brain is not well understood.  However, the fact that new neurons arise in a region of the brain associated with making new memories is well established.

Beyond what we do with our brains, there are effects outside of our control that affect brain health.  Disrupting social settings can reduce the number of new brain cells that are available to replace lost brain cells.  Social networks are an important part of brain health.  In no particular order, nutrition, rest, exercise, quality thought, social network, and a stable environment are important parts of making new neurons.  Disrupting social and environmental stability leads to fewer new neurons to support healthy brain activity.

Meeting new people and staying involved your a social network are important for brain health.


Relevant Reading

Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure.