The brain, the mind and life in the 21st century
What a brilliant opening for Mind & Its Potential 2009 with keynote speaker Baroness Susan
Greenfield, described by the Guardian newspaper as a bit like electricity “shocking but illuminating” and arguably the most glamorous neuroscientist around (just check out those heels). As a young girl Susan went to the butchers and bought a whole rabbit so she could take it home and dissect it to look at its brain – and so began a lifelong fascination with the brain. One of the questions she posed at the conference was how can a brain – this grey, slimy thing that you can hold in your hand and get under your fingernails – how can this be you? How can a memory, a thought, an emotion be trapped under a fingernail? Something fundamental about the brain was encapsulated in a 5 day experiment she described which involved three groups of volunteers, none of whom could play the piano. The first (control) group spent the five days just staring at the piano doing nothing, the second group learnt five finger exercises and practised them for five days, the third group imagined they were playing the piano. Brain scans revealed that the brains of the control group were unimpressed – nothing much was happening in the brain, the group playing the five finger exercises showed an astonishing change in the functional brain territory relating to digits, but most amazing were the brain scans of the third group who had only imagined they were playing – the changes in their brains were almost identical to those doing the physical exercises. What this tells us is that imagining something is almost as good as actually doing it – the physical contraction of the muscles is almost incidental. As the Baroness pointed out, this experiment clearly shows a thought transmuting into something we can see and measure physically and challenges the old dichotomy of mind versus brain and physical versus mental. Must try this with stomach crunches and bench presses – a whole new me is only a thought away!
To hear more about the place of neuroscience in the 21srt century as we strive for increased personal wellbeing and a better world , hear Baroness Greenfield’s full presentation by visiting the Mind & Its Potential 2010 website http://www.mindanditspotential.com.au/ and registering to view the video.