Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Personal Philosophy - part II

I propose that the concept of the brain as being at the epicenter of the human experience is the foundation of my philosophical world view.  In order to clarify this further, I would like to delineate the various functions that establish this organ as central to my philosophy.

The brain as the central organ of the nervous system resides within a bony skull and has little or no direct connection with the world external to it.  All the data that it receives and processes regarding the external world is delivered to it via the neuronal pathways that come from the senses.  From birth, these data are collected, certain portions of the information are stored and, from these, the individual begins to shape conclusions regarding the nature of the external environment.   Even at birth, however, the brain is not a blank slate.  Circuits, essential for survival, have already been established; these include pathways for pleasure/pain as we have previously discussed and language to name two examples.   In addition, the organizational architecture of the human brain crafted through the long process of evolution is evident from the beginning of the life of the individual.

I will begin by identifying brain function in two realms – the internal world of the body and the external world through which individual humans communicate and interact with others and with the natural world.  It should be kept in mind that these are artificial distinctions established for the purpose of discussion.


Internally, the brain functions as the control center for many essential processes that allow the body to function as an integrated whole.  It accomplishes this through a number of diverse mechanisms.  Residing near the base of the brain is what is referred to as the pituitary gland.  This gland functions as the control center for many of the hormonal processes that establish and maintain homeostasis throughout the organism.  In addition, the so-called lower brain maintains such key life-giving functions as heart rhythm, breathing, blood pressure, human sexuality, procreation, child birth etc. through both the involuntary or autonomic and peripheral nervous systems.  These are just some of the complex mechanisms that the brain monitors and controls in order to sustain a viable organism.


Of course, humans are essentially social and gregarious creatures; we tend to thrive within communities of other individuals.  The complex interplay between individuals that is required for successful living and the ongoing preservation of the species requires a unique set of functions presided over by the functioning brain.  These capabilities have been crafted over millions of years during the evolutionary development of the species. 

Foremost among these is the ability to communicate effectively between members of the human community.  Language, of course, is the key component in this regard.  The brain is organized into two discrete sections of the neuronal architecture – each with a specialized function.  One area controls the mechanics of speech and the other processes what is heard.   Discoveries made within the discipline of linguistics have clearly established that at birth, individuals have the ability to recognize and utilize certain basic sounds that are universal to all known languages.  It is these sounds are perfected to coincide with the language that the newborn actually hears during the early stages of development.

Another area of immense importance within the human social environment is that of processing incoming sensory data and storing this data in both short and long term memory.  This is essential for learning and moving effectively through the human world.  So-called higher order brain activity presides over these functions.  Traumatic brain injury and neurological degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's that impact short term memory seriously compromise the quality of life of the individuals so afflicted.

For humans, the ability to act upon the external environment and to react to situations and events that reflect individual experience requires many attributes including the capacity for emotional responses and the ability to arrive at reasoned judgments.  The former is a product of the lower brain – the unique area of the brain responsible for emotional responses is the limbic system and the latter is a product of the activity of the cerebral cortex and the frontal lobes.  Damage to these areas of the brain, results in predictable outcomes in terms of human behavior.

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