Category Archives: Neuroscience

What is Neuroscience?

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. It involves investigations into the biological workings of the nervous system and how its activity produces thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

It is made up of the ‘neuro’ part of fields like:

  • Anatomy, giving rise to Neuroanatomy – study of the structure of the nervous system
  • Physiology, giving rise to Neurophysiology – study of the function of the nervous system
  • Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence giving rise to the fields of Neural Networks – using artifical neural networks, modelled on biological neural networks, to process data
  • Computational Modelling, giving rise to Computational Neuroscience – the modelling of biological neural systems
  • Psychology – study of mind using the study of behaviour gives rise to Neuropsychology – the study of neurobiology relating to specific psychological processes and behaviour
  • Medicine giving rise to Neurology – branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the nervous system
  • Zoology focusing on the nervous system enables comparison of animals nervous systems
  • Linguistics, giving rise to Neurolinguistics – studying how neural mechanisms enable comprehension, production and acquisition of language
  • Pharmacology, giving rise to Neuropharmacology – study of how drugs affect nervous system functioning at the cellular level
  • Molecular Biology, giving rise to Molecular Neuroscience – study of biochemistry and genetics related to the nervous system
  • Genetics, giving rise to Neurogenetics – study of genetics related to the development and function of the nervous system

That’s a large number of exciting interdisciplinary fields. This means, there’s a great chance, one can bridge one’s love for neuroscience, with another special area of interest.

The Most Important Thing To Study

Anything you ever learn in life occurs through a physical change in the wiring of your brain. The brain is the final processing centre of the streams of new information received through your senses. The books you read, the words you hear and the movements you make are converted into electrical signals which travel to your brain for processing.

Further, the brain has a top-down influence on learning too. Previous experiences which have shaped your brain and the current conscious state your brain is in, act to influence how new information is experienced and stored. In this sense, the brain is a true integrator of all our new knowledge.

Your creativity, reasoning, planning, debating and socialising are brain based processes too. Your motivation to study, whatever it is you wish, comes from the limbic areas of your brain – not some abstract, mythical place or entity. The decision you took to pick a particular career or area of study was carried out with your noggin.

The brain is where everything significant happens; it is the final determinant of your cares and decisions and is the main player in determining what you study and which career you choose. The brain is the tool you use to make any decision; its physiological state determines what motivates and interests you, simulates scenarios, balances pros and cons and outputs its decision. The brain decides whether you study Law, Computer Science or Spanish. However, surely there is no more interesting or beneficial thing to understand than the physical tool which determines everything meaningful about your life – the brain.

Not convinced? Other reasons Neuroscience is the most important thing to study:

1)      Neuroscience is the final frontier. Humans have mapped the earth, much of nearby space, deciphered the human genome and understood the workings of most of our biology. However, it is the most fascinating organ of ours, the brain, which remains most mysterious.

2)      Neuroscience offers huge benefits in medicine for many. Estimates suggest, over 1 in 3 people will suffer from a mental illness at one point in their lifetime. Treatments remain in their infancy and predominantly treat symptoms, not cause. Often, researchers do not fully understand why treatments which work, do. Also, dementia is on the rise with ever-increasing lifespans. By 2050, the incidents of Alzheimers are forecast to quadruple worldwide. Advances in neurological therapeutics have not kept pace with advances in some other areas of medicine.

3)      Neuroscience research helps us improve our own brains. From the non-invasive processes of changing the way we think by becoming aware of an improved way of thinking, to installing biological neuroprosthetics which may enable a ‘memory upgrade’ or a ‘pattern recognition enhancer’.

4)      Neuroscience understanding will advance Artificial Intelligence (AI) research. Understanding how we are intelligent enables us to make machines intelligent. Advancing machine intelligence has the potential to solve many of man’s problems, with machines performing many tasks for humans and speeding up human development.

5)      Understanding neuroscience, helps you understand yourself. Who are you? I would say you are a puddle of thoughts, memories, goals, feelings, sensations, cares and conscious awareness. All of these phenomena are the result of brain based physiological processes. If you understand how these work, you will understand yourself better.

6)      Any drive you have is the result of how your brain is currently wired. This, neuroscientific enquiry can help understand. Studying neuroscience may provide an avenue to look into your own drive and psych and, in the distant future, possibly tamper with it for your own good.

Hence, to spell it out, I believe neuroscience is the most important thing to study.

Your Brain Is You

Francis Crick, Co-Discoverer of DNA and Neuroscience ResearcherYour brain is what creates your reality. It receives information fed to you through your senses and forms a model of your world. It produces your perception, creates motivations and defines your personality. This biological organ is the final determinant of your loves, your wants, your desires, your sorrows, your ambition, your priorities and your entire existence. Perhaps no one sums this school of thought better than the late Francis Crick in his “Astonishing Hypothesis”.

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules” – Francis Crick (Co-discoverer of DNA and Neuroscience Researcher)

It was a significant moment when I first fully understood and believed the concept that my brain was everything I am – my very being, my reality. Little bits of the puzzle which I had been gathering through the years were all sort of fitting together. Physical changes in brain tissue resulted in different psychological subjective experiences. That cup of coffee which elevates ones mood is not doing anything mystical when elevating your mood – it is simply increasing the activation of specific brain circuitry related to uplifting ones mood and making them talk faster. Additionally, I came across a host of evidence which showed that physical, structural changes in someone’s brain had profound affects on their personality and subjective experience of the world. Some evidence was even centuries old – the classic case of Phineas Gage having a complete personality transformation and the lose of many higher human like behaviours as a result of frontal lobe trauma. Such evidence has been backed up through brain imaging analysis with certain brain areas found to be responsible for profound characteristics, such as those thought to be uniquely human, such as moral behaviour and spirituality. Previously these were believed to be part of some abstract, and potentially supernatural phenomenon.

It meant, all I had wondered and questioned about the world, human complexity, consciousness and my reality was the result not of some mystical abstract concept, but understandable physiological processes in a biological organ, taking place on an immensely vast scale.

Questions for truth, meaning and understanding took on a different meaning. Questions like: why we’re here? What is one’s purpose? Why do we care about the things we care about? What is the most important thing to do? How can we become content? These questions were to now have radically different answers.

After stumbling upon neuroscience, together with an increased understanding of evolution, I believe one can look to scientific pursuit of these and associated fields to answer these questions. We do not have to look down the paths of religion or philosophy.  We have not found the needle, but neuroscience is the haystack.

This haystack includes: everything I think, everything I feel, everything I do is a result of trillions of meticulously arranged, enormously complex cells, harnessing a combined computing power we have not been able to replicate (at this time). And when we have developed our technology a little further, and understood the brain a lot more, we have the ability to replicate and improve brains and with that, solve many of man’s problems.

How extraordinary and valuable is that?