The human brain is a complex organ that allows us to think, move, feel, see, hear, taste, and smell. It controls our body, receives information, analyzes information, and stores information (our memories).The brain is a highly specialized organ. It is vital to our existence.What we have learned about the process of brain development has helped us understand more about the roles both genetics and the environment play in our development.Scientists have worked for many years to unravel the complex workings of the brain.
"From the evolutionary perspective, one might be led to conclude that our brain in all its striking adapted complexity is an inherited legacy of biological evolution. That once evolved it is thereafter provided to each individual by good old natural selection, specified in all its fine detail in the genome and transmitted through the generations from parent to offspring.How this unfathomably complex organization allows us to perceive, behave, think, feel, and control our environment presents us with what may be the most striking puzzle of fit we have yet encountered. The puzzle actually has three aspects. First, we must consider how over millions of years the primitive nervous system of our early ancestors evolved into an organ that has made it possible for the human species to become the most adaptable and powerful organism on the planet--living, thriving, and modifying the environment (both intentionally and unintentionally) from the tropics to the polar regions, and perhaps soon in outer space and on other planets. Second, we must understand how it is possible for the intricate structure of the brain to develop from a single fertilized egg cell. Finally, we must try to comprehend how the mature brain is able to continue to modify its own structure so that it can acquire new skills and information to continue surviving and reproducing in an unpredictable, ever-changing world. This capacity for increased environmental control is nowhere more striking than in our species. Using the advanced perceptual-behavioral capacities of our brain together with our culturally evolved knowledge of science and technology, we can visit ocean floors, scale the highest peaks, and set foot on other worlds." Source:http://faculty.education.illinois.edu/g-cziko/wm/05.html
"Consciousness and The Mind
The mind is a function of our brain. When people talk about “the mind”, they are usually referring the conscious mind. Consciousness is that sense that we all have that we are awake, aware and alive. It causes us to notice the passing of time. We lose it when we are asleep or unconscious, like when we faint or are in a coma. Conscious thought has such a dominating influence on us that we naturally overlook the fact that most of what goes on in our brain actually happens unconsciously. Other functions like breathing are mostly unconscious, but can also be controlled consciously. Memory and emotions operate subconsciously, until specific memories and feelings are brought into conscious awareness. Our subconscious has a massive impact on the way we think and act, without us being aware of it. The more developed the brain, the more deeply they are likely to experience consciousness. Apes certainly have it, bacteria probably don't; in between is a spectrum.
At all levels, our brain is as a massive pattern-matching machine. The way our neurons are wired together, the way they fire in response to input from our senses and from other neurons, and their ability to learn from previous input creates a pattern-matching system which operates at all levels in the brain and the central nervous system. This pattern-matching ability is going on both in our conscious mind and our subconscious all the time. It is key to our survival, and is particularly attuned to identifying danger. Subconscious pattern-matching filters the massive amount of information from our senses down to a manageable level so that our conscious mind isn't constantly overwhelmed. For the most part, we don't notice this. Our conscious thoughts are capable of pre-programming our subconscious pattern-matching abilities to look for danger or opportunity. Co-incidences have a profound effect on us because they make it through the pattern-matching filter all the way to our conscious mind where they take precedence over our current train of thought. This leads us to infer a connection between co-incidental events simply because the occurred together. We end up believing that unrelated events are connected, which can have unfortunate consequences. The flip side of this is our ability to ignore patterns which don't match, without even noticing. Our brains are wired to alert us to things which are dangerous or interesting, and to let everything else pass us by unnoticed; when in fact there is an overwhelming amount of stuff going on around us constantly.
Emotions and Thoughts
Emotions are deeply wired into our brains and have a powerful effect on us. They exist in our subconscious, and are our its way of notifying our conscious mind that there is something we need to pay attention to. We don't think our emotions; we feel them. Their impact on our thoughts and behaviour is enormous. They are key to our survival, our social success, and our ability to reproduce. Our brains' ability to think analytically is a relatively recent evolutionary development. It's what sets us apart from other animals, and has led us to the top of the food chain even though we're slower and weaker than some of our potential predators. This rational ability is built atop a more primitive and powerful emotional brain. Our thoughts are able to suppress our emotions to some degree for short periods. Do this consistently, and we end up repressing our feelings. But emotions are more primitive and ultimately more powerful than thoughts. Emotion will always win over thoughts in the end. Powerful emotions can arise spontaneously and often unexpectedly from our subconscious. They are poorly understood and their effect can be overwhelming. This is why some people attribute their effects to “energy” forces that don't really exist, or give a supernatural or spiritual interpretation to strong emotional experiences. Strong emotions like grief release natural narcotics in the brain which can lead to hallucinations, causing people grieving after a death to think they see their loved one everywhere. We tend to feel an emotion first, and then think of a reason why we feel that way. The process happens so fast that often we think it happens the other way around, and in fact both reinforce each other. The way we think influences the way we feel, and fundamentally changing the way we think about an event can have a huge impact on how we feel about it. We make all our decisions on an emotional basis, then come up with a rational justification for them. This is why effective salespeople give their sales pitch in terms that appeal to our emotions showing how buying their product will either make you feel good, or stop you feeling bad. Emotional repression is at the root of a great deal of mental suffering. The solution is to learn to feel and express the emotion that has been repressed.
Fear is one of our most primal emotions, and deserves special attention because it's so powerful. In fact, there are specific circuits in our brain for dealing with it. The purpose of fear is to alert us to danger. We can easily became afraid of things that represent no danger. We're also prone to fear and anxiety about things that represented dangers to our ancestors, but no longer do so in the modern world. Fear is paralyzing because it activates our brain's fight-or-flight response, which affects every organ in our body. We lose the ability to think clearly and to remember things, which is what happens for performers during stage fright. We can learn to become afraid of things by experiencing traumatic events, and we can undo this learning by dissipating the emotional charge that these events leave in our brain. The most powerful way of doing this is to systematically desensitize ourselves by exposing ourselves to a weak version of the stimulus that causes only mild (but not overwhelming) anxiety in an environment where we get a positive reward; then gradually increasing the stimulus. Fear is a good thing because without it we would kill ourselves off almost immediately without it, but we generally notice most the fears that bother us by holding us back.
Mind and Body
The mind is a function of the brain, and the brain is an not only an organ of the body, it's also massively interconnected with every other part of our body via the central nervous system. There are as many neurons connecting our brain to our body, as there are in our brain itself. Our brain has a controlling influence over every part of our body, and again this is mostly unconscious. The connection between them is two way: what happens in our body effects our brain, and what happens in our brain effects our body. This is why chronic stress, which is an emotional condition generated in our brain, can cause physical disease in our body. When we are stressed, our fight-or-flight response activates: Our body tenses up physically and systems which are not essential to escaping a predator, like our immune system, are shut down or suppressed temporarily. That's fine in the short term to escape a predator, but leave yourself in that state for an extended period, and you'll have a problem.
There isn't any one centre of memory in the brain; memory is distributed throughout every neuron in our brain and central nervous system. All neurons have a simple biochemical mechanism for remembering what stimulus they fire in response to, and this mechanism is reinforced each time they fire in response to the same stimulus. The way our neurons are wired together creates our capacity for subconscious memory, and our ability to bring memories into consciousness. Memory and emotion are tightly linked: Heightened emotional states cause memories to be reinforced more strongly. The association between memory and emotion is two way, which is why a particular memory of the past can evoke an emotion even in the present, and why experiencing any particular emotion can bring back memories of other times when we felt the same way. Emotional baggage from prior experiences can colour our reaction to new situations and cause us ongoing grief and frustration.
When we are first born, our brain is like a mostly-blank slate. It is pre-loaded with only basic survival instincts compared to other animals, primarily the ability to learn what we need to know from other people and from our interactions with our environment. Our brain is literally wired to learn. Our first 5 to 7 years are a particularly rapid time of learning. During this period our brains are still developing at a rapid rate, and the interconnections formed between our neurons depend on what we learn from our interactions with the environment and people around us. Neural plasticity is at its highest during these early years, and what we see, hear, feel and experience literally shape the structure of our brain. This is why childhood trauma has such a long-lasting effect on us. After this time, our rate of learning slows down, but we continue to learn by experience throughout our whole lives. We tend to feel good when we're learning something new, provided it seems relevant and interesting to us, and builds on a foundation of something we already know. We need enough of our brain's existing pattern-matching circuitry to be firing in order for us to incorporate the new knowledge.
Repetition Feels Good
The biochemical mechanism that occurs when our brain matches a pattern causes that pattern to be reinforced. It also secretes chemicals that make us feel good. So doing some familiar task over and over is pleasurable, and as we build competence it feels better and better over time. Familiarity feels good to us, and makes us feel safe. This is why our brains are wired to reinforce our existing beliefs. It explains why people with an obsessive-compulsive disorder get some relief from their anxiety by repetitive tasks such as hand-washing; although it's not dealing with the underlying anxiety which returns once they stop. Learning something new requires repetition and building competence through practise makes us feel good too. Even our reflexes can learn by repeated training.
There are specific neural circuits in our brain that facilitate empathy, which make emotions contagious between people. Empathy gives us a subconscious sense of how other people feel, by directly triggering the same emotional response in ourselves even though our circumstances may be different. We evolved to live in groups and the capacity for empathy developed in our brain as a survival mechanism. Our brain is connected to the brains of every other person we interact with via our senses, actions, and behaviours. Empathy is a key social skill which help us relate to each other at a deeper level. Close relationships are based on the sharing of emotions and our capacity for empathy. Sadness, excitement and anxiety are all contagious due to empathy. It's not just emotions that are contagious either: Thoughts, feelings, ideas, and behaviours are all contagious. Peer pressure combines with empathy to have an enormously strong influence on us because it stems from a social survival mechanism in the brain.
The Need To Socialise
Our brains are wired for social interaction with other people because we evolved to live in groups, and we reproduce sexually. So we have an incredible drive to connect with other people where we feel safe and protected. If we don't socialise, our brains remind us to do so via the unpleasant emotion of loneliness, which is one of the worst experiences we can have. The deeper and more emotionally engaging our interactions with others are, the less lonely we feel. This is all part of our basic survival and reproduction instincts essential to our genetic survival.
Social Grouping and Prejudice
We evolved living in relatively small tribes who competed with each other, so we prefer to socialise with other people who are “like us”. Yet now most of us live in overwhelmingly large cities. We need to exclude the people who aren't “like us” in order to reduce the size of our tribe back down to a manageable level. The distinguishing factor between who is in and who is out doesn't matter, but our brain comes up with a reason to make it appear important: race, skin colour, religious beliefs, fashion sense, gender, sexual orientation, whatever.This causes our prejudice and racism.
We are constantly projecting our ideas, thoughts, biases, judgements and prejudices onto other people and situations in the world. We notice this projection least when it comes from our dark side; anything about ourselves that we haven't dealt with gets projected onto other people because this is easier than dealing with parts of ourself that we're ashamed of. Our brain only has it's own internal model to work on, so it assumes that other people are like us, or are like other people who we have encountered before. Our ability to project attributes of ourselves and other people who we have trusted in the past onto new people or groups of people helps us determine who we can and can't trust. We tend to distrust anything too new or different.
Our brain is inherently creative. When we understanding the things we fear, we tend to feel less fearful. In the absence of a good explanation for what goes on around us, we naturally tend to use our creativity to come up with an explanation. This makes us feel more in control, and more at ease in an uncertain world. Our brain is constantly active. In the absence of sensory input, we will create stimulus, thoughts, ideas, and even hallucinations to fill the void. Our nervous system turns up the volume until we hear something, even if it's just background noise. This is why we dream, why people in extended isolation hallucinate, and why amputees experience phantom sensations in missing limbs. The creativity of our minds is most powerful when it operates as a group process. Creative groups tend to be more powerful than individuals. Each person's creativity sparks something in the other people, which then sparks the creativity of other members. All great ideas in religion and science are the result of a group creative process. Theologians base their ideas on those who have gone before, and scientists base the hypothesis for their experiments on the current understanding of the scientific community. Both are ultimately attempts to assuage our collective anxiety about living in a sometimes-hostile universe, by trying to master our understanding of how it operates.
Our brain has inherent limitations based on the attributes that were important for survival in the environment that existed over the extremely long period during which human brain structure evolved. The modern urban environment has changed rapidly in such a short time that we haven't had time to fully adapt. This is another reason why depression, anxiety and stress are becoming increasing problems: we aren't particularly well suited to our new environment in some respects. We are well adapted to thinking of time scales that are not too short nor too long, like seconds, hours, minutes, days, weeks, months or years. But we have a poor intuitive feel of nanoseconds, milliseconds, centuries, millennia or epochs. These sort of time scales haven't been important to our survival until very recently .This is why many religious people discount the possibility of a complex system including living creatures such as ourselves evolving over just a few billion years. We don't have a good intuitive feel for just how staggeringly long such a period of time is." Source:http://grahamstoney.com/mindset/practical-guide-brain-works