The Human Mind and Other Inane Ramblings

This post is going to be a break from the usual "I don't do anything but write code" kind of posts. Partially because that's not why I started blogging, and partially because, well, it's my damn blog so I'll write what I want! Danny can get away with posting obscure things on his blog - how about me? :D

I just managed to catch the 2nd episode of Professor Robert Winston's BBC Series, The Human Mind (on ABC), and some of it got me thinking.

The show was very interesting, especially if, like me, you have a fascination with how folks tick. This particular episode examined some of the fundamental parts of personality, including how the brain and personality are related, and how physiological changes in the brain through life lead to personality changes - things like why children can often have little control over their urges, and why all those angsty teenagers really are so angsty!

The first example to get me thinking was a demonstration wherein two identical twins were put in environments in order to stimulate certain moods in order to see their effect upon personality - one listened to happy music, watched a happy movie, and read uplifting comments; the other listened to sad music, watched a sad movie, and read depressing comments. The example went on to show the temporary change that this had upon their personality (in this case shown by shopping habits, which apparently is a useful way to gauge personality). Obviously the twin in the happy environment was happy, spent more, and was more outgoing, whilst the other twin did very little, and regretted her purchases.

What intrigues me is that providing that this information is true (and I'd be compelled to believe Professor Robert Winston if I believe anyone), this lends scientific credibility to the idea of positive affirmations having measurable effect upon the mind. For a long time these have been perceived to be "bad-science", in the realm of New Age crazies, or as a self-help trick for underachieving students and salesmen.

However - this suggests that the science is there, and that things such as affirmations may have a long term affect on the brain and personality. The idea is that the words invoke thoughts and emotions, which in turn invoke chemical responses that eventually lead to physiological changes in the brain - either by rewiring new pathways (learning) or by making parts of the brain more or less receptive to certain chemicals and hormones.

This is interesting to me - most of my family subscribes to beliefs and ideas that are very "New Agey", and so (perhaps as a consequence?) I tend to be more open to those sorts of ideas than most. However, I'm also a geek, and fiercely logical - I make a point of making sure that I can justify most of my personal beliefs with fact and science as much as I can seem to manage. That said, I'm certainly in the "New Agey" side of the chart - however I make a point to be able to justify what I believe in. In many respects, this information about affirmations represents a meshing of two parts of me - the purely scientific and the part of me that is prepared to entertain things that seem logical, but have no hard scientific basis.

Anyhu, the second thing that got me thinking was their examination of a dude with anger problems. They explained that what was happening (in his specific case) was that one part of the brain was overproducing the chemical associated with "anger" and his brain wasn't able to control his reaction to it. Effectively, when something triggered his anger, he really did lose control. Apparently, the part of the brain handling emotional control (which this man was lacking "strength" in) is the frontal lobe, which spurred the question from me - isn't that the bit that deals with things like language?

Well, I was partially on the right track. It seems that whilst much of language processing the brain does is in the Temporal Lobe there certainly are some elements of language processing done in the frontal lobe (such as Broca's Area).

Now I'm not at all medically trained (so I'd welcome anyone who knows more on the topic than me) but if that's the case, could that possibly support an idea that a lack of emotional control, and unregulated anger (if not a symptom of another, more complex condition) could be somehow related to the frontal lobe not receiving suitable stimulation during development? Could this mean that folks with problems with emotional control, or other "regulation" problems are a result of not being adequately stimulated as a child or teenager? Could this suggest that encouraging problem solving, teaching complex tasks and encouraging language development (as in expanding the vocabulary) might help to reduce the susceptibility to rage and anger later in life? Does this mean that education plays an even more vital role in building safe and happy communities than we might have thought?

I don't have any answers, but it's interesting to think about anyway. I don't even know if what I suggest about might "strengthen" the frontal lobe, or whether something like this might have an effect, but I find it something interesting to muse on regardless.

Regardless of my inane ramblings, I strongly suggest you check out the show if you get the chance - The Human Mind and How to Make the Most of It, Monday nights, 11:30pm-12:30am on ABC.