When we discuss our brain, we usually focus on the brains ability to think. That task alone is extremely complex and involved, but the brain also has many other tasks. Most of the time the brain is on autopilot, meaning that most of the activities preformed are just automatic. Our five senses; sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, are automatically preformed in our brains. We don’t have to think about how something sounds, we just hear it and we then interpret that sound. The largest area of our brain is the area that is set aside for vision, it is located in the occipital lobe.
Dr. Gerard Guarniero has been blind since birth, a defect in which he has never been able to fix. Recently, he has signed up for an experiment to test whether our eyes actually do the seeing, or is it the brain which puts the images in our head. He was hooked up to a machine that had a type of pad on the back of the chair in which you sit in. That pad contains tiny little bumps that move to trace the way an object would look. A type of camera is also connected to this chair, and that captures the images that are then transferred onto the bumps.
When the camera processes an item, it will then trigger the bumps, thus putting pressure on the person sitting on the chair. The whole point of the experiment was to try to find the answer if we can visualize objects though touch. The experiment was a success. Not only was Dr. Guarniero able to visualize an item, he was able to tell exactly what it was and the details of it. The most amazing thing that he noted was a flame. He stated that he has never imagined that a flame would have a definite shape, because of the fact that he wasn’t able to really touch a flame, the heat always got to him first.
Dr. Gerard Guarniero is living proof that our vision and our brain is flexible and can be trained. From this experiment we are able to conclude that the brain is able to substitute different sensations for sight. So what is the real purpose of our eyes? Eyes are simply sensors that send information to our brains. The eye itself is quiet interesting. The way that we process sight is this: first, the eyes’ lens turns everything we view upside down. Then the all the impulses are cris crossed in the optic cyasim.
After that, the information is passed down the optic nerve where it finally reaches the primary visual cortex, or strenual cortex, where all of the transformations take place. Dr. Russell DeValois held experiments in where he took a few monkeys as his subjects, he then showed them pictures, and as he was showing the pictures to the monkeys, he tried to see what the monkeys actually saw in there visual cortex. He has pointed out that there is precision on what our eyes see and what we perceive we see.
Dr. David Hubel and Dr. Torsten Wiesel both received awards for there outstanding accomplishments in their study of the primary visual cortex. The primary visual cortex is about the size of a credit card, it lays on the posterior part of the brain. When cut out, we see that it is a layering structure that has certain loose ends and certain tight ends to it. In the late 1950’s, many experiments were tried to see what sort of pictures had an effect on the visual cortex. They were for the most part unsuccessful, until one day, accidentally, they move a glass slid over the projector, and a line appeared one the screen.
That line was just what they were looking for. So they classified the visual cortex to be associated with lines, edges, and bars. However, reducing the visual field to bars and lines isn’t enough, there are many more different and more complicated tasks to be preformed and to be seen. DeValois stated that some of our visual neurons deal with light rays and the strength of the light rays; however, Hubel disagrees with DeValois on this subject. In the 19th century we see different shades and different dots being used by impressionist artists for their paintings.
They would put together a mixture of different colors in the forms of dots. When these paintings are viewed up close, they seem to be a blur, a person really isn’t able to tell exactly one thing from another. But when the person viewing the picture moves back, the whole painting fits together and we are able to see what the artist wanted us to see. As much as the visual cortex has been studied, laws for this part of the brain are extremely hard to lay down. Our eyes turn all of the images we see upside down. Now what if we were to reverse that, meaning what if we saw everything upside down.
Susan was a volunteer who agreed to have a certain pair of glasses be put on her that would make her se everything as if it were upside down. The reason of this experiment was to see if our brain truly is able to change for our surroundings. At first everything was hard for her, she had difficulty walking, sitting down, even pouring a liquid became a complicated task. After 3 days, she was able to write her name perfectly while looking. Then after several days, she could draw a picture and sign her name on the bottom right-side-up.
When the day came to take the glasses off, her brain now had to go back to normal so to say. At first everything felt weird, but the transformation process back to normal took only about an hour. From this experiment it is safe to state that our vision and even our brain is very adaptable to our surroundings. But we must keep in mind that seeing is a very small part of perception. Dr. Mortimer Mishkin says that the visual cortex sends information through two parts of our body: one is the parietal lobe, the other is the ventricle part of the temporal lobe.
The parietal lobe has the role of telling use where things are, in other words, how far away we have to move our arms to reach a glass. The temporal lobe helps use explain what objects really are. The most stimulating objects would have to be faces. One theory exists that our grandmothers light up certain neurons, which in turn are called “Grandmother cells”. These grandmother cells are commutative cells, meaning that they need other cells in order to preform a task. We truly have no real explanation to how this works, but damage to this part of the brain will cause difficulty recognizing familiar objects.
Now the process of seeing something and then processing it takes about three tenths of a second. Movement of the impulse first starts at the back of the brain, then it moves its way forward to the frontal lobe, and when it gets there, that is where it is decided on what we exactly saw and how to act towards it. Now normal everyday movements occur vertically, unlike vision, which occurs horizontally. We must master both in order to survive in this world, therefore cooperation between the two senses is very necessary.
Things like walking and sneezing have been discovered not to be learned, but inherited through genes. They are both reflexes, and we don’t learn them, we just inherit them and execute them on almost a daily basis. Dr. Rodolfo Llinas has been visiting Cape Cod for quite some time now in order to study the sea squid. The sea squid contains three neurons, but the two main neurons that we are going to be explaining are huge. They are so large in fact, that you can see the synapses between the two with your naked eye. A synapses lasts for just about one thousandth of a second.
Neurons pass information through three parts of the brain: 1)primitive brain stem, 2) cerebellum (fundamental for movement) 3) visual cortex. If a disease is acquired in the cerebellum, the person will have difficulty with the depth perception of an object for the rest of their life. The Phazel Ganglia is the unthinking and automatic response area. If this fails, a person has now gotten Parkinson’s disease. The main reason for getting Parkinson’s disease is that the chemical Dopemine isn’t being produced anymore in the Phazel Ganglia. Terry Thomas has received Parkinson’s disease.
His life has drastically changed right before his eyes. He doesn’t sleep well at night, and when he does he has a yearning for chocolate. A person with Parkinson’s also has difficulty crossing streets or even walking through a doorway, they have to be given small goals in order for them to do such a big task as doing through a door. In 1970, a new miracle drug come on the scene, L-Dopa. The way that this drug works is that it produces Dopemine in excess, now allowing the brain to function somewhat normally. The drug gives a gradual relief of the difficulty, but it isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s.
Another type of medication that has been considered is brain cell implants. The first brain cell implant was in 1982. It was given to a patient with Parkinson’s, and he survived the operation with a visible improvement. One positive idea to note about brain cell implants is that the brain doesn’t reject tissue as easily as the rest of our body does. But the critics started writing that taking brain tissue from one person and inserting it into a stranger is completely unethical and immoral. So a alternative had to be found. The alternative would come from our adrenal gland, which lies next to our kidneys.
The makeup of the adrenal gland neurons is very similar to that of the original brain cell, and there weren’t any rejections either when the experiment was preformed on mice. This procedure offers hope for the future. The doctors in charge of the operations have already completed two such operations, the first on in a male, didn’t help much, because not to long after the operation he had gone back to the same stage of Parkinson’s as he was before the operation. One thing is that he says that if he would be offered another operation, he wouldn’t hesitate.
The other patient was a female, and her changes stayed with her. She has slightly improved, and now she is leading a better life because of it. What the future awaits us, no body knows, but the doctors are already planning patient number 3, 4, even 18. What does it mean to be human? The answer to this question can have many meaning. One answer might be that our whole existence as human beings is based on our animal instincts. We are of course animals, and we have evolved over the hundreds of years to be what we are today. The foundation of our basic human life would probably have to be the cerebral cortex.
It basically does everything we need done to survive on a daily basis: governs body temperature, heart beat, respiration, when we have to eat, sleep, our sexual drive, and it also triggers our aggression. If we were to remove it, or even damage the cerebral cortex, we would be in fact killing our very existence. One very interesting thing about the cerebral cortex is that it is automatic system, meaning it functions without us knowing it. There are three parts of the brain: first is the Brain Stem, then the Hypothalamus, and the Pituitary System. The brain stem is basically an extension of the spinal cord.
The hypothalamus contains both the very important Limbic System and the chemical Melatonin, which is most usually released at night. The pituitary gland releases a variety of hormones, it controls many aspects of body function. Pat Moore is a female that suffers from severe winter depression. During the winter time, she is very depressed, she is throughly disgusted of herself, she cry frequently, she tends to stay away from people, sleeps a great deal, and just basically stops all normal activity. She has difficulty starting different tasks, and if she ever does start them, she never finishes.
She doesn’t see a future at all for herself. The handicap she has completely interferes with her ability to function as a normal human. She also explained that she felt like a bear, she went to sleep all winter, but then when summer hit, she was like a butterfly, she had all this energy, the will to go out and do things. So one day Pat went and participated in an experiment. The object was to try to rid the depression from her. So they set up huge flourescent lights in her living room, and for 3 hours a day she sat in front of the lights.
After a short while of this, there was a drastic change. Pat Moore almost seemed like a completely new person. She had lots of energy, she started writing, reading, painting, and lots of other things she loved to do. She is very grateful of this, and we are too. Now we understand that the lack of light will make us depressed and it will make the world seem to drag on forever. Another way to get rid of depression would be also sleep. The less sleep you get, you usually lose your depression. One thing is though that sleep is only a temporary changer.
There are some drugs that you can take to get rid of depression, but they may take as long as several weeks before the effects are seen, but when it does kick in, the change is for good. Our brains are closely linked to nature. The beat of the earth is almost like the beat of our brain, we do everything hand in hand. One of the best times the see changes taking place in our brain would be at night time when we are sleeping. We sleep almost at ninety minute intervals. One of these intervals is realm, or the time when we dream. During this time, we can notice rapid eye movements, the brain is at its peak with activity.
Most of this activity is experienced in the frontal lobe. Then the other interval is deep sleep, or the time when we get the most rest. Michel Siffre is a French scientist who lived in a cave in Texas for several months. He took part in an experiment to see that when you change your environment in order to see the way the brain would react. His quarters were simple, but he had some of the best equipment available to him. His behavior and data was monitored; such as, blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves. The whole cave was absolutely clear of any natural light. Which meant that he decided what time to get up, what time to sleep.
He also decided when it was daytime, and when it was night time. We have an internal alarm clock so to say that decides for us when we are supposed to do all those things, including eating and many others. Michel found out that our body doesn’t really live off the normal Circadian Rhythms that it’s supposed to, but that we have a twenty five hour clock that we should be living by. This experiment has helped many business decide on shift work. About one forth of men and one sixth of women work shift jobs, but working a shifting job causes temporal chaos in our bodies.
If, for example, we try to sleep during the day and work doing the night, we completely rearrange our bodies and our body’s internal clock. It is so bad that our body doesn’t exactly know what to anticipate and when. Rotating shifts also cause a number of other problems, such as: sleep disorders and eating disorders. So Michel was called in to Utah to a processing factory to create a alternation to the normal one week shift changes. He proposed that shifts be changed ever 3 weeks in a clockwise rotation; so that if you worked the night shift one rotation, the next you’ll work the morning, and so on.
He also held classes on how to use your free time to the best way you can and he also taught the workers about their bodies. At the end of the three weeks, there was a drastic and positive improvement. The workers health got better, workers felt better about themselves in general, and also productivity rose. So we learned that you can not ignore the part of the brain that controls when we sleep and when we wake. The Hypothalamus controls all this, and we have to keep that in mind when we are making work schedules.