When I was 5 years old, my Quaker grandmother told me to be careful of the thoughts I think. Thoughts turn into words, words turn into actions, actions turn into habits, and habits define a life.
Before the end of the 20th Century, neurobiologists believed that the brains of humans reached full development around the age of 25. Neurosurgeons were taught that once certain parts of the brain were removed, the functions controlled by that part would be entirely lost. Neurobiologists by the end of the 20th century began to understand the concept of “plasticity”. Instead of the brain being static, portions of the brain grow and contract. Just like muscles that respond to exercise by getting bigger and stronger, the brain when stimulated and through a process called recruitment can grow in response to mental or emotional stimulation.
Three classic studies reported by British Neurobiologist Eleanor Maguire showed that when people disciplined themselves to learn a difficult task the portion of the brain that controls those actions grows in size. London taxi drivers have proven to be model for psychologists and educators because their qualifying exam requires memorizing streets and addresses and locations without addresses in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. The exam they take takes many years of study. In 2011 using MRI scans those taxi drivers that passed the exam were compared with those candidates that couldn’t pass the exam using MRI’s of the brain and metabolic brain scans. What scientists found was that an area in the brains limbic system called the hippocampus—and to be specific the posterior portion of the hippocampus that initiates memory circuits in the brain was significantly larger in those that had trained themselves to learn the information. Other areas of the brain including the amygdala that is very important in controlling emotions also change in size depending on thoughts and feelings that are being experienced.
So watching the fake news over the past 500 days and listening to the Mainstream media meltdown made me think of Dr. Maguire’s studies. Have these people been “recruiting” parts of their brain that have become overdeveloped and other portions of the brain have involuted?
All liberal arguments lately seem to be emotional. There is very little overriding cortical input on the less primitive portions of the brain. These portions of the brain seem to be more developed in conservatives as a result of strict disciplined learning, listening, and discerning complex situations.
In my 41-year medical and surgical career, most of these ideas were never taught to us. I did have too many occasions when I had to deal with a tragic situation—a trauma, cancer or the death of a precious child, where my every instinct directed me to become emotionally involved with my patient, but what my patient needed was disciplined thinking and discernment to persist to try to find a solution to a complex situation. I needed to act in my patient’s best interest and not allow myself the luxury of being part of the emotions that were so much a part of the day.
Medicaid, immigration, allocation of scarce government resources require disciplined complex thinking as our hearts go out to each individual person in need. So let us not let our amygdalae get overdeveloped at the expense of our cerebral cortexes.
We control and are responsible for what we think and what we feel. Thinking and feeling are great gifts that should be developed and utilized and leveraged appropriately at the right time and place.
So my grandmother’s advice was correct. Be careful what and how you think and be careful about what, how and when your feel.
I think the entire MSNBC News crew along with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi need an MRI. Something seems to be missing.
Better yet, why not require all journalism majors to get an MRI their freshman year of College and then at ten-year intervals. By the time they become major reporters or national anchors there may be nothing left to scan!