Saturday, September 25, 2010


Looking inwards is not in fashion.

Unless you are so discouraged by things happening around you, that you think your bodies have something to teach you.

And time and again, one comes across information , that enforces belief, that life in current society and the way we conduct it, could learn a lot from observing how our brain handles things.

Mathematicians, at the Case Western Reserve University, have recently published findings that suggest that "doing nothing" also costs the brain some energy . While various activities, such as reading, singing, practicing sports, plotting a revenge , planning to steal, cursing, etc could have various neurons clamouring to participate and fire in your brain, it turns out that even if you decide to give up all these exciting things for a while, relax and maintain zero activity, it costs your brain some activity. And you sometimes remember tension stuff from your office hundreds of miles away on a beach.

There are what one could call excite neurons and inhibit neurons. The excite neurons cause a generation of something called glutamate which tends to flood across, opening up gates for the excited neurons. In order to control all this we have something in the brain which are called astrocytes, which arrange for the production of a chemical acronymized as GABA, that creates "inhibiting" neurons. The astrocytes , like a responsible mother of two wild children arranges to mop up excess glutamate, manage the action of the inhibiting neurons, and this uses up a huge amount of oxygen and hence blood flow. Many mental problems in humans are caused uncontrolled glutamate flooding, and random firing of "excite" neurons in the brain.

Then there are ways in which newly formed neurons or brain cells are treated by the brain system. Unlike what we observe in the real world, where overnight leaders happen by virtue of their birth, new neurons in the brain are nurtured by this GABA. Like a new mother, initially GABA dedicates itself full time to the new neurons, as they develop connections . This changes to a pulsed attention from GABA, sort of like intermittent encouraging attention from a mother, who is encouraging a baby to walk. And the final steps, are when the neuron learns how to behave with its connections in a sea of glutamate, somewhat like an active child doing exploratory movements now across his house.

The neurons are then released as full time members of the brain. Yale scientists have reported that new neurons or brain cells, are actually on probation for close to 21 days, before they join the mainstream. Unlike the overnight heroes that routinely spout on our political horizon, the baby neurons are supposed to listen around before they first open their mouths. There are no shortcuts , and these 21 days are spent in getting messages, developing connections, and listening and observing the older adult neurons.

And just in case you think, that all the neurons are top class, firing around, acting smart, MIT scientists have found that it doesn't matter whether something useful is happening with the neurons , so long as they are doing something, and not lying dormant , playing dead. Earlier it was believed that useful neurons survived, and the non performing ones got rejected . But as in today's world, the system supports a decent amount of what we call non-performing assets . Sometimes , the neuron activity goes out of hand and we have instances of epilepsy.

It seems to me that we have a lot to learn from this .

Like the glutamate and excite neurons, we have people who make it their life's vocation to excite and influence the population. Sometimes, and under false pretences, this does get out of hand. Like GABA and inhibitory neurons ,we do have inhibitory actions possible, in the form of attentive parents, good teachers, our law enforcement agencies, and well meaning folks. But the astrocytes or managing .monitoring entities of the real world, unlike those of the brain, cheat.

As in the brain ,there is energy required to inhibit something . That means, resources.

And that's where we , the so called homo sapiens move along ill advised paths. Reeking of corruption, and self aggrandisement. And so there is the scourge of uncontrolled epileptic behavior in society, be it terrorist related, or family-violence related, or self inflicted.

The nurturing on new neurons is a lesson in nurturing those not as abled as us. Today we want answers immediately, if possible even yesterday. We have no patience to wait. There is a technique in each case, of fully dedicating your time, and then slowly letting someone face the real world, bit by bit. Like the neurons, the intervening period is spent in observing and imbibing from those around you.

And just in case you think the brain is one perfect place, with 100% dedicated neurons doing their thing, think of those noisy truant neurons the MIT fellows looked at. We have so many such folks around us, doing nothing specific, wasting time, just hanging around. We continue along our busy paths, ignoring them. If we don't want these idle types to get into troublesome epileptic mode, we need to do something.

I don't really know whether the smart neurons in the brain try and teach these noisy neurons some thing. May be they teach by example. Maybe a few idle carried-away epileptic neurons get treated by some medication, that the doctor gives, that improves their behaviour. Maybe they then learn to observe the industrious ones and improve the nature of their activities.

I wish we had a "doctor" for those who are black spots in an otherwise useful society. Not necessary an MD, but someone who can impress, encourage, teach and modify the behaviour of these wasteful members of our society, who are prime target for those who encourage criminal activities.

We too have our glutamates and GABAs in society, trying to do their thing. But unlike neurons, we are stupid, obsessed with our own existence, and so it takes a long long time before some change is seen.

At a larger macro level, the brain even delegates certain activities to some systems that operate on their own, with assistance from the spinal cord. These systems even learn from experience. And incorporate their learning into their actions and reactions. Continuously in life.

Yet, our brain keeps an overall track of things, and is an excellent manager .

I doubt it has done an MBA. It probably never gave a Civil service exam . Its not even on Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter. Or the PM's business advisory committee. Or the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.

Maybe that is the secret of its success.


  1. The human body is so beautifully designed right? Amazing. And it the very organ ( brain) that either gives you the MIT graduate or the terrorist. Right now I am nursing a mild headache and am wondering what could possibly be happening in that area!

  2. 'Doing nothing also costs the brain some energy'
    good point.

    Just as i feel more upset watching and observing corruption seeping into every nook and corner of our system and do nothing about it.

    Like the astrocytes of the brain we should have astrocytes in society to mop up the excess of excitement and thrill that the youth get out of defying law and disobeying rules. But as you say the astrocytes in society prefer to look the other way till a national shame like the CWG mess takes place.By then a considerable damage has been done.

  3. >> if you decide to give up all these exciting things for a while, relax and maintain zero activity, it costs your brain some activity >>

    That means in laziness one is active, in not doing one is doing .. sounds like Zen!

    Interesting readinig as usual.