Connectomics: Reshape the Brain

Charismatic computational neuroscientist (no, it’s not an oxymoron!) Sebastian Seong is leading an innovative new field at MIT: connectomics.

He and his crew of uber smart brain ninjas are inventing technologies to identify and describe the connectome, the totality of connections between the brain’s neurons. View the TED vid here! By creating this elaborate cross-section, we’ll have the first detailed map of the brain, showing us in much greater detail just how our neurons are intricately and uniquely connected, on an individual basis.  They’re still in the beginning stages – mapping out rat brains and whatnot – but the discoveries so far have been groundbreaking.  (Check out the syllabus for the connectomics course at MIT – pretty rugged stuff.)

One of the most intriguing discoveries emerging from this study, and many other studies in psychology and neurobiology departments across the globe, is that our very thoughts actually shape the physical structure of the brain.  The best analogy for this, as you’ll see in Seong’s TED video, is that of a mountain river.  The water that runs through the river bed is our thoughts, as expressed through neurons firing across a multitude of intricately connected synapses.  But if the water’s speed, content, or temperature is changed, the bed of the river is also transformed – such is the case with our brain.

Scientists are finding that the nature of one’s thoughts is actually a huge determinant in the way our neural patterns are formed, and over time, create observable physical changes in the brain.  These changes then influence the pattern of thoughts in future.  So what you’re thinking now, could color how you perceive and process related ideas in future.  Sounds pretty simple, but the ramifications are big time.

Say, for example, you’re at work and one of your colleagues rubs you the wrong way with a comment.  If you choose to record this interaction as ‘annoying’ or worse yet, imagine some fictional violence between the two of you in your mind, you’ll be much more likely to perceive your next encounter as a threatening act.  And the more your internal monologue hammers into your brain that these exchanges are means for anger, the angrier you’re likely to become, increasingly so with each future meeting.  Like one big snowball of negativity, repetition gives the concept power.

See a demo video on how this actually goes down in yer noggin’.

Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. Using logic, meditation and practical applications of philosophy in life, monks have actually changed the wiring of their brains and the kinds of waves (delta, beta, alpha, theta) emitted throughout different experiences in the day.  These findings hold exciting implications for personal transformation.

It looks like mantras, affirmations and even all that canned advice about thinking positively and faking it til ya make it, just may have some scientific backing.  So bust out your inspirational quotations, whether it’s Aurobindo or Levine, and shape those river beds to lead where you like!

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