Monday, July 21, 2008

The "Do It again" thing in the brain

I enjoy the variety of things I learn about in my transcription job. Sometimes there are meetings at a brain institute. Lately it was a meeting at a hospital. I learned something, really very little, but enough to set me to thinking, about the locus acumbens. This is a deep part of the brain and probably not identifiable on the above MRI of a brain. From what I heard it seems to be not as deep and old as the reptilian brain, but probably only a few million years younger.

The psychiatrist who mentioned it called it the "do it again" part of the brain. She was speaking of drug addicts who use, go into rehab, relapse, go into rehab again, relapse, again and again. I thought she was trying too hard to explain something physiologically because she, nor any of her colleagues, could do anything to cure drug addiction. So if they can't talk it out and can't behavioristically reprogram the impulses, it must be somewhere very deep in the brain. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps some humans are especially susceptible to drugs -- it seems that shamen have always been around and always used various substances and practices to go into an altered mental states. Logically as a nonscientist it seems to me one doesn't need a "do it again," part of the brain. The pleasures are too immediate to need to be so deeply embeded. I would guess that if the locus acumbens controls repeated habit, they would be life preserving like the urge to migrate. The basic impulse that when it starts to get chilly and the berries are all eaten up, it's time to move south.

The brain is perhaps the last greatest mystery in this still sizable mystery called human biology. We nonscientists tend to think our "self" exists somewhere in the brain. We are afraid that when things go wrong in the brain we will stop being "ourselves." We think every self must have a brain -- that's a we I include myself in. The above picture is a drawing of a brain superimposed on the Michaelangelo "David" -- making him not just a marble hunk [pun totally intended] but a thinking person, as indeed the original David was, and so were and are all the many namesakes since.

As we get older we have fears about destruction of our brains -- this may be part of why I am always so fascianted, even with doubtful bits of information as above. I take my blood pressure medication faithfully because I have a horror of a stroke, of being locked in a body that has been paralyzecd by an accident in the brain, a brain that, it seems, can still think normally but cannot speak or control physical actions. Few things seem worse to me, even dementia which embarrasses one's relatives doesn't seem to be so self-conscious as I believe stroke victims to be. Just writing a short paragraph about it, is very painful and I really can't bear continuing to think about it. I'll have my blood pressure checked in a couple of days. That's one of the few tools we have to fight what my internist learned in med school to call a 'silent killer." Enough already.

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