Mind Power -- The Brain
It is fascinating to think that essentially the same ingredients that make up a liver also create a brain out of which we have a thinking mind. One of the greatest mysteries of humanity is that man is a conscious thinking being. The computer that I am typing this on can recognize my key strokes as input, but it cannot be conscious of what it is receiving. It cannot react to my input. Man can perceive and process and he is conscious that he is doing so.
Our brain is made up of neurons, cells. These neurons grow axons and dendrites. The axons reach out to other cells to distribute information, and the dendrites receive information from other cells. All of this is done through chemical communication over the synapse between one neurons axons and another neurons dendrites.
When we are born, we have 100 billion neurons. Each of these neurons has made or will make connections which help our body to perform actions or our mind to receive input. As we grow, our neurons map their connections based on the experiences we have. Our DNA is not extensive enough to determine our mind mapping. It takes time and repetition for our brains to learn what connections are necessary for us to function and thrive. For instance, a newborn baby cannot tell where it is being touched on its body. It takes experience for the mind to map each speck of skin so that the baby can perceive when it is getting a kiss and when it is feet are being tickled. Yes, that is correct, our mind is mapped based on experience.
Try to move your right big toe, and only your right big toe. Can you do it? Most likely you cannot move your right big toe without moving the adjacent toes. This is because your mind has mapped those areas of your feet together. Through repetition of walking your mind has associated your toes as one entity and connected the neurons that control your toes together.
As our minds form synapses between neurons, those connections are strengthened through repetition. A baby younger than 6 months old can perceive all vocal inflections of any language in the world. It is through the experience of hearing the language of the household that the baby learns which sounds need the strongest synapses. After a year of age, the baby loses the ability to recognize sounds in other languages. The brain trims out the neural connections that are not repeatedly used so that valuable brain real estate can be used for more important, frequent, uses. This phenomenon was demonstrated by Patricia Kuhl when she tested Japanese adults on their ability to perceive distinctions between phonemes in the English language. She had the study participants listen to a tape that repeated: “rake, rake, rake,…”, and told them to listen for a sound change. The participants leaned forward expectantly, but when the tape changed to “lake, lake, lake,…” the change went unrecognized because in the brain of the Japanese adults, they did not have the ability to distinguish between the English “r” and “l” sounds as that ability was not used as a child and the potential to perceive that sound weeded itself out.
Twice in our lifetime we go through a stage of growing and weeding out neural connections. The first is from age 0 to 3 and the second is during puberty. These two periods have the greatest potential to affect our brain chemistry which manifests as our propensity toward certain habits.
The more a neural connection, synapses, is used, the stronger it gets, the greater mind power we have behind that connection. For a visual analogy, think of a car that has gone down a dirt road so many times that is has made permanent groves. The groves compel the car to travel in this spot on the road each time it passes by. This is the basis of habit formation. Our tendencies are groves worn into our minds by our life experiences.
As children, our environment, our parental beliefs, the movements we made, all of it created the physiology of our brains. That is why many of our habits and beliefs can be traced back to our childhood. The next logical question could be argued to be…”Is it hopeless?” Am I fated by my brain to the life I lead?” Fortunately the answer is no.
Mind Power -- Rewiring
Scientists were amazed when they realized that the brains of amputees rewired based on the absent limb. When the mind of Victor Quintero was examined, the concept of phantom limb pain was explained. Quintero lost his left arm at age 17 in a car accident. When scientists swiped a cotton ball past Quintero’s left cheek he not only felt the movement on his cheek but also on his missing hand. The mind power in his brain had rewired the real estate devoted to his left hand to his left cheek, called cortical remapping.
Cortical remapping has also been used to help improve the mind power of stoke victims. When a stroke patient loses use of his or her limb, sometimes the limb can be rehabilitated by repeatedly compelling the patient to use the lifeless limb until their brain realizes that it needs to establish real estate for the input it is receiving. When this remapping happens, remarkable recovery has been demonstrated and the patient has full use of their previously useless limb.
The mind power of creating new neural connections has been remarkably observed in people with focal hand dystonia. Focal hand dystonia occurs when hand movements are repeated over and over again, as would been seen in concert musicians. As they repeatedly practice fast complex musical passages for hours on end, their brain begins to rewire and combine the signals is receives from each of the individual fingers. The mind sees the digits as one. In focal hand dystonia, a person loses the ability to move their fingers individually. Just as we cannot move our big tow independent of the others, people with focal hand dystonia cannot move a single finger without moving the others. This is a devastating diagnosis to someone who has dedicated their life to music. The treatment? To remap the brain through forced individual finger movement.
Our minds are constantly in flux. Science has seen brain maps change based on what we are doing, what areas of our body and life needs the most attention. In the examples above, physical movement changed the mind, as does mental movement.
Mind Power -- Mind Remapping
In 1995, Alvaro Pascual-Leone performed an experiment that would form the basis for affirmations and visualization. Pascual-Leone had one group of pianists physically practice a 5-fingered piano exercise and another group only think about practicing the 5-fingered piano exercise. Each group put their full attention on the exercise, one note and finger at a time. As expected the group physically practicing the exercise experienced changes in their motor cortex. The clincher, the group only visualizing the exercise also experienced changes in their motor cortex and to the same degree as the group physically practicing. Our mind power can physically change our brain state.
We do not have the brain of our youth. Our brains, not just our minds or our thoughts, but our actual physical brains are in flux and responding to our environment and sensory input continuously. This is where we get our mind power!
Mind Power -- Quantum Physics
Quantum theory pivots around the idea that reality becomes real once it is observed by an observer. Our world consists of “superpositions” which are probabilities of finding a particle at a particular place at a particular time. It is only when the particle becomes observed that its location is definite. The wave of superposition collapses into a definite reality. In this respect, the observer plays into the equation of what is real, or stated another way, we can no longer determine ‘what is’ we can only determine ‘what we know.’ We live in a world of potential. Everything around us is swirling energy that comes into being once it is observed.
This principle of quantum physics operates in our brain also. At any given moment there are an uncountable number of superpositions present. A number of probabilities exist: this chemical could communicate with this axon, this synapses could form, that one could breakdown. We have a brain full of possibilities. In quantum physics of the mind, we are the observer. We have the free will to decide which possibility we want to put our attention on, we decide what questions will be asked, which thoughts we will pursue. There is no certainty, only possibility and free will.
Have you ever contemplated where a thought has come from? Sometimes, they seem to literally pop put of our subconscious mind. We did not necessarily choose to have the thought, it just arose. Actually, it probably arose as a result of the environment which made the ruts that this thought can travel easily. It came out of your brain physiology which has been determined from your past experiences. At this particular moment, thought is potential. Using mind power to change your life and free will comes into play as two possibilities: you can use your will to ignore the thought, you can let it go, or you can use your will to place your attention on it. If you place your attention on the thought, just as with the piano players practicing in their minds, you are using mind power to change your brain to keep the thought present. You are turning the thought into an actual physical reality in your brain.
The second principle in quantum physics that speaks to the mind power and affirmations is the Quantum Zeno Effect which states that rapid frequent observation can hold a state stable for longer than it normally would. In fact, if observed long enough the state can become permanent. Our minds, our thoughts, are in constant natural flux. When we choose to hold our attention on a specific thought, we generate the mind power to keep the thought present, permanent in our minds. We have the power to create new default neural connections in our brains. If we can hold a thought long enough and with conscious attention, according to the Quantum Zeno Effect, we can permanently alter our state of mind.
Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz has seen dramatic demonstration of free will of the mind while working with OCD patients. In the brain of someone with OCD, their orbital frontal cortex and anterior cingulated gyrus are overactive and create a constant sense that something is wrong. This feeling then compels the sufferer to carry out a compulsion that they feel will dampen the feeling of dread. Brain scans actually show that something is physiologically different in the brain of someone with OCD. Schwartz taught his OCD patients to consciously recognize when the obsessive thoughts were bubbling up and instead of instinctually playing into them and carrying out a compulsion, he showed the patients how to willfully refocus their thoughts onto more positive behaviors and recognize the obsessive feelings as being false, a symptom of faulty brain wiring. Done frequently enough over a period of months, the OCD patients were able to actually physically dampen down their overly active orbital frontal cortex and anterior cingulated gyrus as measured by brain scans. The Quantum Zeno Effect created a new default in the OCD brain by a new frequent observation of a healthier thought and behavior.
It is in our prefrontal cortex that we derive our mind power, the power of our will to consciously observe what we choose to. Our thoughts may arise from our past mind ruts, but our future is determined by our attention. Attention is what heightens our neural connections and turns down the volumes on distractions. Yes, it takes repetition, and conscious attention to change the adult brain, but change is possible. Think of frequently driving down a different path to create ruts there. Our biology does not determine what we are destined to think and act on. We have the power of the mind which molds our brain. If your default brain biology is producing thoughts that are negative, thoughts that are keeping you stuck in your past patterns and results, you have the scientific power to create and strengthen new neural connection which will shift your default state of mind to become positive and life affirming.
This is why affirmations are vital to get where we want to go. It is the mind power of repetition of the affirmative thought that will shift your brain. No, it is not necessarily quick or easy. It takes focus and effort to get yourself out of your mind ruts, but your brain can change. Quantum physics shows us that there are a number of possible outcomes; you are the one with the power to choose.
Do you think that if you choose to have thoughts that you have the knowledge and power to be successful, to lose weight, to be in love, you will form habits and behaviors that will support and create a new reality? I do.
Mind Power -- Entanglement
The last scientific exploration that I would like to leave you to ponder is the quantum physics idea of entanglement. Years ago, Einstein and some of his buddies, Podolsky and Rosen proposed that particles that come from the same source become entangled such that the observation of one of the particles affects the reality of the other particles it was associated with, no matter the distance. In several experiments, particles from a single atom were scattered and as the movement of one was measured, the movements of the others could be determined. It was previously believed that there was a principle of locality, only things that were local to each other could affect the reality of the things they were near. Well, entanglement, blew this idea out of the water. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance” because it was eerie to think that an observation at one end of the galaxy can affect the reality at another.
The larger view of entanglement is astonishing, could it be that when you use mind power to shift what you put your attention on (observe) you shift what is real in the entire universe. How entangled are we in the world that we live in? Can our thoughts change what we perceive as reality outside of ourselves?
To find the answer to this, do the ultimate scientific test. As the spiritual practice of Science of Mind proposes, scientifically test these theories in your own reality. Use mind power to change your thoughts and observe what changes around you. Do some experimentation. Science is ever evolving. If there is one thing that quantum physics is teaching us, it is that nothing is set in stone. We know what we know and that is it. Test something new, change your brain, change your life!
Schwartz J.M., M.D., & Begley, S. (2002). The Mind and The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Noe, A. (2004). Action in Perception. Boston, MA: The MIT Press.
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