By Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., is the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
How many of us grew up believing that the brain we are born with is the brain we get for the rest of our lives? How many of us still believe that the brain consists of a set number of nerve cells that we slowly lose as we get older, never to be replaced. And, how about the notion that we only use 5 to 10 percent of our brains? Most of us were raised believing these things. But, guess what? They are not true. The modern age of neuroscience research has taught us that the brain is a much more powerful and adaptable organ than we have ever imagined possible.
Your brain consists of hundreds of billions of nerve cells making hundreds of trillions of connections (synapses) that make up your neural network. Placed end to end, the connections in the brain’s neural network extend over 100,000 miles– enough to wrap around the Earth over four times! As you experience and interact with the world, your brain is at once recording, interpreting, and creating your world. And with every new experience the connections of your neural network are rewiring themselves! The way you choose to experience your world determines how you rewire your own brain!
This incredibly powerful three-pound mass of gelatinous material we call the brain sits in the deep dark silence of your skull, yet brings you an incredible world of light, color, music, joy, and curiosity. Your brain creates your entire world, which is entirely different than the world created for a honeybee by its version of a brain. In our book, Super Brain, we propose that relating to your brain in a new way is the way you can change your reality. The more neuroscientists learn, the more it seems that the brain has hidden powers. The brain processes the raw material of life, acting as a servant to any desire you have, any vision you can imagine. The solid physical world cannot resist this power, and yet unlocking it requires new beliefs. Your brain cannot do what it thinks it cannot do. But, your mind can tell your brain what you want it to do. The brain changes every minute you experience life and you are in charge.
Five myths in particular have proved limiting and obstructive to change. All were once accepted as fact, even a decade or two ago.
The injured brain cannot heal itself.
Now we know that the brain has amazing powers of healing, unsuspected in the past.
The brain’s hardwiring cannot be changed.
In fact, the line between hard and soft wiring is shifting all the time, and our ability to rewire our brains remains intact from birth to the end of life.
Aging in the brain is inevitable and irreversible.
To counter this outmoded belief, new techniques for keeping the brain youthful and retaining mental acuity are arising every day.
The brain loses millions of cells a day, and lost brain cells cannot be replaced.
In fact, the brain contains stem cells that are capable of maturing into new brain cells throughout life. How we lose or gain brain cells is a complex issue. Most of the findings are good news for everyone who is afraid of losing mental capacity as they age.
Primitive reactions (fear, anger, jealousy, aggression) overrule the higher brain.
Because our brains are imprinted with genetic memory over thousands of generations, the lower brain is still with us, generating primitive and often negative drives such as fear and anger. But the brain is constantly evolving, and we have gained the ability to master the lower brain through choice and free will. The new field of positive psychology is teaching us how best to use free will to promote happiness and overcome negativity.
It’s great news that these five myths have been exploded. The old view made the brain seem fixed, mechanical, and steadily deteriorating. This turns out to be far from the case. You are creating reality at this very minute, and if that process remains alive and dynamic, your brain will be able to keep up with it, year after year. Think about it. Your entire world, all that you see, hear, taste, touch, and feel is conjured up for you by your brain. And this world is, of course, similar to that of others with similar brains. Every species experiences a world created for them within the limits of their brain and nervous system, from human to dog to mosquito to bacteria. Once you truly appreciate and realize that your brain brings your world, you can make choices about the type of world you wish to live in. Why? Because you, the “ true you” that is self-aware of having a brain, is in charge of your brain. As the master, leader, and user of your brain, you get to make conscious choices about the world your brain will produce for you. Even when the world outside is in total turmoil and chaos, your gift of self-awareness and a “super brain” always keeps you in charge of how the “outer world” becomes the “inner world” of your brain. And guess what? The outer and inner worlds are actually one and the same world, one of which only you are in charge.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., co author with Deepak Chopra – Super Brain (Harmony, November 6, 2012)