The Brain & Its Mysterious Ways
Ever had Déjà vu and felt totally creeped out? Ever experienced a random mind blank and didn’t know why? Have you ever found something intensely painful without any external impact? Many scientists believe that these 3 mysterious and almost other-worldly things are due to the magnificent brain. In this article we explore these mind-boggling mysteries and uncover the science behind each.
“My mind has gone blank”
Neuroscientists from Rikkyo University, Japan have just published their research findings on one of the most mysterious things the brain can do. Ever said the phrase “my mind has gone blank!” when thinking about a topic you thought you knew by heart, or forgot the name of the road you’ve lived on for 10 years or even forgot your daughter’s name?
In their study, Kawagoe et al., explored this type of mind blanking, where the mind is seemingly “nowhere” where your attention “calls no perceptual input into conscious awareness.” You’re there physically in the moment, but your brain isn’t consciously aware.
Kawagoe explains that mind blanking hasn’t been investigated until now because of the difficulties detecting these mysterious periods. Amazingly, they found that their participants could intentionally produce a state of mind which was blanking thanks to a deactivation of their Broca’s area (an area which is in relation to the language and speaking parts of the brain). The hippocampus (part of the limbic system, a region of the brain that regulates emotion, learning and memory) was also active during mind wandering, a similar mental state.
From the neuroimaging data they retrieved they surmised that, “we cannot define the content of our thoughts during mind blanking because our inner speech system does not work at that time. Another possibility is that we actually think of nothing in the mind blanking state.” The ultimate meditative state perhaps? However, they could not conclude what this mysterious state of mind truly was. And it’s still an extremely mysterious area that researchers are keen to explore further.
“I’ve just had Déjà vu”
“Déjà vu is a fascinating and mysterious human experience that has attracted interest from psychologists and neuroscientists for over a century.” A new 2019 study by Nigro et al., explores this phenomenon which remains one of the most mysterious things the brain can do. They took 33 healthy volunteers who all completed a personality evaluation which included “an extensive neuropsychiatric and neuropsychological element.” After taking part in memory learning tests and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which monitors neural activity in response to certain events, the participants were asked to rate old and new pictures as new, familiar, very familiar, or recollected.
They concluded that “fMRI results provide evidence that the physiological Déjà vu experience is associated with the employment of different neural responses of brain regions involved in memory and emotional processes.”
Different levels or ways of processing emotions could explain why some people experience Déjà vu far more than others. Another study found that a man’s severe case of constant Déjà vu may have been triggered by intense anxiety, because he was unable to process his emotions in a normal way and as a result Déjà vu happened on repeat.
On the other side of the couch, people also link Déjà vu to a past life. Dr Brian Weiss says that one of the most common signs of a past life is déjà vu. Getting the feeling you’ve met someone or seen a place before can all be connected to your previous life and reincarnation. We’ll leave that one with you.
“Ouch! How did you not feel that?!”
Pain and the brain have been an area of neuroscience deeply explored by researchers. The idea that humans have different pain thresholds has been accepted, especially when it comes to acute pain, but when it comes to the brain and chronic pain, this is still an area mysterious to most scientists.
“Chronic pain syndromes, which are often characterized by severe pain associated with little or no discernible injury or pathology, remains a mystery,” says Melzack of McGill University, Canada. To try and make sense of the brain-pain connection Melzack and his team proposed that a neural network named neuromatrix was pretty much in control of this pain region: “Pain, then, is produced by the output of a widely distributed neural network in the brain rather than directly by sensory input evoked by injury, inflammation, or other pathology. The neuromatrix, which is genetically determined and modified by sensory experience, is the primary mechanism that generates the neural pattern that produces pain.”
They put forward the notion that you don’t need a physical cause of pain such as a knife wound or a brick falling on your foot; instead, these same feelings of pain can be mimicked and created from within the neuromatrix in the brain. Could this section of the brain be tweaked to stop those suffering with intense pain? Some scientists think so and have suggested manipulating or even removing this section of the brain to stop further chronic pain. Watch this space as many studies are currently underway.
With more than 7 million scientists worldwide, it’s incredible to think that parts of the brain and how it functions are still such a mystery. Neuroscience is growing in popularity each year because scientists are realising that the brain has such an important part to play in the functioning of the body, mind and a person’s lifespan. Luckily for us brain obsessed lot, neuroscience studies and findings will be coming in thick and fast over the next decade, which will undoubtedly uncover some awesome findings.
Tune into our future articles on the brain which will reveal…
Sorry, just having a mind blank.
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