Help Your Brain, Challenge Your Assumptions

Health writer Barbara Strauch of the New York Times recently reported on what adults can do to help train and develop their brains.

Of the interesting factoids found throughout the article, which you can read here, the most interesting concepts touched upon helping the brain develop greater complexity and deeper understanding.

Strauch writes that adults should work hard to challenge the assumptions they accumulated while young because when adults do that, adults can “jiggle” the synapses of their brains.

Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, and a source for the article, is quoted saying this about the brain and established thoughts.

There’s a place for information. We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.

Jack Mezirow, another professor, this time from Columbia Teachers College, says that for adults to remain sharp, they must look at their insights critically.

He made this conclusion after ending a study he completed 30 years ago about women who had gone back to school. He found that the women in the study had only decided to go back to school after having many conversations that challenged their own ingrained perceptions of the time of what women could and could not do.

So help your brain and “bump up against people and ideas” that are different; challenge your assumptions, your brain will benefit.

Psychedelics and Your Brain

Can psychedelics make an academic comeback? Ever?

This spring, NPR ran a short 5-part-series on the brain science of spirituality. The series features short snippets about science’s latest discoveries and adventures into how the brain interprets spiritual events.

The series is based upon the work in the book Fingerprints of God. NPR religion correspondent, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, wrote the book and is also responsible for producing the series.

In the first part of the series, Haggert covers a peyote ceremony conducted at a Navajo reservation in Arizona and the recent psilocybin (the psychedelic ingredient in mushrooms) experiments that were conducted at John Hopkins University.

You can read the first part of the series — with links to the audio, here. Or you can go NPR’s interactive landing page for the series. The landing page features interactive maps of the brain and links to all stories in the series.

And for the Buddha-inclined

The hosts of Buddhist Geeks, a weekly podcast show about Buddhism, interview American Zen Master, Denis Kelly. Kelly is the abbot of Hollow Bones Zen School and a teacher at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado.

In the podcast, Kelly talks about the interesting path he took in Buddhism to get where he is now and how it was influenced by LSD. Kelly also talks about his new form of Koan practice that utilizes Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques. You can find that podcast here.

Oh but wait there’s more

The non-profit research and educational organization, MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), is working towards more research being done in the name of psychedelic medicine.

Currently the non-profit is sponsoring two clinical trials that are using MDMA – also known by the street name Ecstasy, to treat PTSD (Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is caused by psychological trauma. Wikipedia writes this about psychological trauma.

A traumatic event involves a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. The sense of being overwhelmed can be delayed by weeks, years, even decades, as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances. Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of events, but there are a few common aspects. There is frequently a violation of the person’s familiar ideas about the world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. This is also seen when people or institutions depended on for survival violate or betray or disillusion the person in some unforeseen way.

The disorder is commonly seen in survivors of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and survivors of  dangerous life-threatening events such as physical assault, rape, and accidents. Most recently, an increasing amount of soldiers coming back from the Iraq War have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Because of their involvement in these trials, the non-profit has produced a therapist manual of standardized methods for treatment of PTSD with MDMA. Which you can view here.

MAPS has also produced a 20-minute educational video for helping others sort out psychedelic drug users having a difficult trip. You can watch that video here.