The Role of Neuronal Activity In Affecting Physical and Mental Function

ddl's picture

The brain and nervous system as a whole exist as the gateways to consciousness, existence, and the ability to perceive, rationalize, and develop the world around oneself. The brain with its vast capabilities allows an individual to experience things both physically and mentally. It possesses the unique ability to generate intangible notions, (such as love, justice, and peace) without an individual ever needing to physically experience these concepts in his or her reality. However, what might occur if an individual had the ability to utilize the brain to its fullest potential? Is there, in fact, more that a person can accomplish with the mind that composes their being? What is the capability of the average human brain and how much of this organ do people use for everyday functioning? Are there ways in which a person can expand the limits of his or her traditional mechanisms which generate thoughts and actions, thus harnessing increased amounts of brain activity to enhance personal, overall functioning/performance? If this is possible, what capabilities would an individual with this ability to develop higher intellect possess? These are all questions which I hope to address and explore in more depth within the contents of this critical thinking analysis.

So, what does it mean to use one’s brain to its highest potential? A common misconception is that a typical human being uses no more than 10% of his or her brain at any given time (2, 3). Studies conducted where damage has occurred to even a small part of the brain lead us to believe that this organ in its entirety is essential for overall function (2, 3). This has been referenced by the severe reduction in function caused by inhibiting or removing any portion of this organ. People whose brains have been damaged or do not function properly show increased inability to exceptionally perform in certain ways (3). However, does the fact that we use our whole brain to think and act mean that we use 100% percent of its neurons and signal transmission pathways at any one instance? I believe the answer is most assuredly no. Since different portions of the brain have been shown experimentally to be responsible or specialized for different functions, not every neuron which dictates a function such as walking would be active during performance of an activity such as reading. However, is every neuron responsible for a given function being used each and every time that function is being carried out? For example, are we able to simply perform a given activity as complex as critical thinking without using all of the ‘critical thinking neurons’ and available capacities that are specific for that action? If this is the case, then by uncovering ways in which to dedicate all of one’s mental faculties to a given function, there may be ways to consciously optimize one’s performance of that activity (such as being in the zone) or even transcend what are perceived to be the limitations of human function in that particular regard.

It is evident that certain individuals excel in various tasks or activities more so than others. For example, there are many different skill levels in certain sports, varying titles exist in the world of academics, and people can occupy different trades depending upon their skill level with certain duties. Here, the question that can be raised is whether or not some individuals have the capability to call upon more neurons and maximize their signaling pathways to enhance performance of a given task in comparison to their less sufficient counterparts? For instance, does a world-renowned musician such as Yo Yo Ma have the capability of harnessing more of his brain’s musical capacity in order to play the violin as painstakingly perfect as he does? Likewise, is there a difference between the amount of neurons firing in Barry Bond’s brain at bat than an average collegiate baseball player or even an average Joe off the street for that matter? I believe the answer may be yes, as function is ultimately a product of the nervous system. Therefore, by possessing a more efficient system of neuronal interconnectivity and by increasing the amount of neurons existing within a particular pathway, a given activity could very well be enhanced.

The above questions address the capabilities of those that excel in the physical realm of activity; however, it is important to note that this distinction may also be applicable to those within the academic and philosophical world. If the neuron is smallest possible unit responsible for producing brain function, would an increase in active neuronal volume also be capable of generating increased ability to critically think. If so, were great minds such as Confucius and Freud able to utilize a higher level of thinking due to an increase or maximization of active neurons within their brains? Were these individuals simply inherently hardwired with this higher capacity or did they develop this ability over time through diligent and critical thought?

Another interesting notion relating to these concepts is the idea what factors may dictate increase or decrease in active neuronal firing for a given function. A prime example which elucidates this particular issue would be famous physicist and scholar Albert Einstein. Although extremely gifted in the field of scientific thought, he lacked the ability to perform simple remedial tasks, such as tying his shoes. A reasonable explanation for this perplexing situation would be that Einstein selectively was able to dedicate the active neurons within his brain in certain ways as to maximize the activities and types of thinking that he desired to pursue and enjoyed while find ways to not expend mental energy (via generating limited neuronal usage) for other simpler tasks that he did not excel in. No one brain is exactly like another (as referenced by the vast amount of personalities which exist throughout creation), and for this reason it is reasonable to assume that each person is predisposed to contain an innately different system of interconnectivity within their neuronal pathways and mental structures (1). This may explain this situation to some extent. However, this observed disparity could also very well stem from the fact that people have differing abilities to focus and expend their mental capacities in the various ways of their choosing, thus elucidating a viable means of increasing neuronal activity for certain functions.

In conclusion, the various perceived differences in both thought and action among the human population may be caused by the idea that varying amounts of neuronal capacity are being utilized and dedicated to particular areas of concentration by each and every individual. Interestingly, this ability may be linked to an inherent predisposition or a readily adaptable and personally manipulatible process. Only future research and analysis on this subject matter will tell.

References

(1) Biology 202 home page, on the Serendip web site,

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro03; accessed 23 February 2009

(2) Briley, PaShawnda, Do Humans Use 100% of Their Brains? Biology 202 200 First

WebReport, on the Serendip web site, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1848; accessed 22 February 2009.

(3) Chundler PhD., Eric H. Do We Only Use 10% of Our Brain?

http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/pdf/tenper.pdf, 2005. Accessed, 22 February 2009.

Comments

Paul Grobstein's picture

The 10% story

My bet is that people differ not in how much of their brain they use but rather in how they use what they have. If so, what are the implications for how people could "expand their mental capacities"? how they might do it? when/whether they should try?

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