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What's Under the Hood?

Humanity is capable of encompassing great beauty and wonder. Conversely, it is also capable of atrocities on a grand scale. There have been many times where I simply scratch my head and wonder "how/why would someone do this?".

It's easy to play the blame game and point fingers. The problem, however, is that this notion accomplishes nothing. It's certainly easy to do, but it fixes nothing and provides no basis for resolution. It's not surprising, however, that our species often reverts to this pointless strategy. While on one side, we are capable of monumental feats; on the other side of the coin, humans often avoid things that are truly difficult. Our ego does not like the prospect of failure, so we often grasp on to the path of least resistance.

So, where do many (if not all) of the answers lie, which can help explain the actions (both beautiful and ugly) of our species? Well, it's not some grand, expansive notion. The answers actually lie within 3-pounds of matter in our skull: the human brain.


Let's investigate, shall we?


Now, let's do a little assignment. Think to something either beautiful or ugly (your choice) that our species (or an individual) has done.


Whatever you choose . . . 'to do' what was 'done', whether wonderful or horrific, a multitude of machinations would take place in those 3-pounds of matter to the left.


And that my friends, is where the answers lie. How are these components within the brain working/functioning? Is the brain healthy and vibrant; or is it damaged and/or inhibited in some manner? THAT'S THE HARD WORK (mentioned earlier) to figure out.


Let's break it down a bit.


Our brain has four lobes: frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal.


Frontal Lobe - the frontal lobes are important for voluntary movement, expressive language and for managing higher level executive functions. Executive functions refer to a collection of cognitive skills including the capacity to plan, organize, initiate, self-monitor and control one's responses in order to achieve a goal.


Parietal Lobe - the parietal lobe is a key part of your understanding of the world around you. It processes your sense of touch and assembles input from your other senses into a form you can use. Your parietal lobe also helps you understand where you are in relation to other things that your senses are picking up around you.


Occipital Lobe - occipital lobes sit at the back of the head and are responsible for visual perception, including color, form and motion.


Temporal Lobe - the temporal lobe is most commonly associated with processing auditory information and with the encoding of memory. The temporal lobes are also believed to play an important role in processing affect/emotions, language, and certain aspects of visual perception.


Our brain also has three key components: cerebrum, cerebellum, occipital, and the brain stem.


Cerebrum - The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain. It is divided into two hemispheres, or halves, called the cerebral hemispheres. Areas within the cerebrum control muscle functions and also control speech, thought, emotions, reading, writing, and learning.


Cerebellum - The cerebellum controls balance for walking and standing, and other complex motor functions.


Brain Stem - The brain stem is the lower part of the brain that's connected to the spinal cord (part of the central nervous system in the spinal column). The brain stem is responsible for regulating most of the body's automatic functions that are essential for life (i.e. breathing).


Now, let's investigate a little. I asked you earlier to choose something on your own. I shall do the same.


-The Beautiful-


I'll begin with something/someone beautiful: Jadav Payeng. Jadav Payeng has spent most of his life giving back to the world by planting a forest. To date, this lush forest is 1,360 acres! Every bamboo tree on this land was selflessly planted by Jadev after he witnessed the local wildlife population suffering due to a lack of shade.


To make the choice/decision to take on such a task, the brain had to function in a variety of matters. Obviously, he needed to be living (i.e. the brain stem is functioning). But beyond the obvious, what brain components had to be operating in a healthy manner to do such a wonderful act? I would argue that the following were at play:


Frontal Lobe - Jadav had to plan, organize, initiate, and self-monitor himself to achieve such a wonderful act of kindness!


Cerebrum - Jadav not only had to learn and understand what to do, but he had to have the emotional acuity to carry out this selfless act.


-The Ugly-


History has had no shortage of Megalomaniacs. These are the people (men usually) who are obsessed with control and power. Take your pick of these folks: Caligula, Adolf Hitler, Jozef Stalin, Mao Zedong, etc. While these men were in the past, we certainly have no shortage of these types in current society. You don't need to look far.


As an example, Jozef Stalin created a famine to starve millions of people to death. He was also notorious for annihilating anyone who dissented against him, which became known as "The Great Purge" in history.


Now, while I cannot scientifically prove any of this, it is certainly worth postulating. It's known that at a young age, Jozef had a father who, in Stalin’s own words, “thrashed him mercilessly.”. Who knows what damage these beatings caused? I'd argue the following were not functioning properly, possibly even damaged in some capacity.


Frontal Lobe - Stalin's ruthless behavior and actions could have something to do with damage in this area of the brain. A damaged or ill-functioning frontal lobe can lead to personality changes and impulsivity.


Cerebrum - As part of the cerebral cortex (frontal lobe), damage in this area of the brain (as noted above) can lead to impulsivity, poor decision making, poor problem solving and behavioral/personality changes.


The bottom line is understanding the brain and its functioning/health plays a crucial role in the decision-making processes. The brain is responsible for processing information, weighing options, and evaluating potential outcomes, all of which are essential for making decisions. Here are some ways in which brain health can affect decision making.

  • Cognitive Abilities - A healthy brain is vital for cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. These abilities contribute to effective decision making by allowing individuals to gather and process relevant information, recall past experiences, and assess potential risks and rewards.

  • Emotional Regulation - The brain's emotional centers, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, influence decision making. A healthy brain can regulate emotions effectively, enabling individuals to make rational and balanced decisions. Conversely, compromised brain health may result in impulsive or erratic decision making due to difficulties in managing emotions.

  • Executive Functions - Executive functions, governed by the prefrontal cortex, include planning, prioritizing, organizing, and inhibiting impulsive behaviors. These functions are critical for decision making, as they help individuals evaluate options, consider consequences, and choose the most appropriate course of action. Brain health influences the efficiency of executive functions.

  • Information Processing Speed - Brain health affects the speed at which information is processed. A healthy brain can quickly analyze information and arrive at decisions in a timely manner. In contrast, impaired brain health, such as cognitive decline or neurological conditions, can slow down information processing, leading to delayed or suboptimal decision making.

  • Risk Assessment - The brain's ability to assess and evaluate risks is crucial for decision making. A healthy brain can weigh potential outcomes, consider probabilities, and make judgments about the level of risk involved. Brain health conditions, such as anxiety or cognitive impairments, can distort risk perception, leading to overly cautious or reckless decision making.

Essentially, it is important to note that various elements, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors, can influence brain health. By learning more and understanding more about those 3-pounds of matter in our skull, we are not only empowering ourselves, we can gain some clarity on why people may do what they do. Moreover, understanding brain functioning can enhance self-awareness and personal growth. It helps us recognize patterns of thinking, emotional responses, and behaviors, leading to greater self-understanding and self-regulation. By understanding how our brains work, we can cultivate healthier habits, manage stress, and make choices aligned with our values and goals.


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