Brain Fitness and Self-Evolution

file000894312228According to the theory of evolution, billions of years of survival-selected changes were necessary for us to reach this amazing peak of human development. Whether or not one accepts the premise of evolution one has to admit that the perspective of evolution gives much to be thankful for.  Imagine yourself surfing on the cusp of a 4.5 billion year wave without perceiving all that has transpired to raise you up to this magnificent level.

Evolution and creation theories of the origin of life are not really at odds with one another.   In a sense evolution is a creation theory!  In evolution the creator is the constellation of the laws of physics which appear to be unchanging and eternal. In the “creationist” view the creator is the great “I AM”  who is also associated with unchanging laws that reflect his/her character. The debate is not about whether or not there is a creator, but about the characteristics of the creator, that is, is the creator conscious or not.

High Speed Evolution

As humans we each possess the crowning achievement of biological evolution / creation, our brains, with over 100 billion neurons and over 100 trillion connections. Our brains are conscious super computers the likes of which have not been found anywhere else in the universe (as of yet).  One of the marvelous abilities of our brains is the ability to change, grow and morph. This is very exciting because unlike biological evolution discussed above which can take millions of years, our brains can “evolve”, adapt and change in the space of years, months, weeks and in some cases even a single day.

The process of change in the brain can be likened to the process of evolution because it is a competitive system in which neural connections are competing with each other for space in the brain. The connections that survive are fed through repetitive activation. These connections can then go on to reinforce other connections resulting in more new connections.  Unsuccessful connections are pruned away, and any existing connections that depended upon the lost connections may also wither away.

Thus the brain can be seen as a laboratory within which world simulation experiments can be performed at a high speed.  The potential of the brain when seen in this light is unpredictable, transformational and disruptive.

Self-Evolution

You are not limited to the you that you are now.  No one is. Your brain can grow or it can shrink today depending upon the choices you make.  It can also make positive or negative new connections.   Everyone knows they can learn new things, but what we don’t fully realize is that our brains create the world that each individual calls home.  Everything you perceive is a simulation being created in your brain.  Even the perception you have of yourself is only a simulation of the real self that remains hidden.   In order to grow your brain, you have to challenge its simulations.  Self-Evolution means you can change not only yourself, but also your brain’s simulation of the world.

Brain Wars

In his book, “Change Your Brain Change Your Life”, Dr. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist and brain imaging expert, warns that we are in a war for the health of our brains.  Some of the forces that are working against our brains are listed by Dr. Amen as:

  • Brain Injuries (sports, accidents, sleep apnea)
  • Drugs (including many medications)
  • Alcohol and smoking
  • Obesity and lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure and diabetes
  • SAD (Standard American Diet – neurotoxins)
  • Environmental toxins (air pollution / pesticides / etc.)
  • ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)

On the other hand are the weapons that we can use in the fight for our brain health.  Dr. Amen lists the following:

  • Improve positive social connections
  • The challenge of learning and trying alternate strategies
  • Brain healthy diet (careful reading of nutrition labels on foods)
  • Improving sleep quality and avoiding brain injuries
  • Exercise
  • A healthy level of anxiety to challenge our comfort zones
  • Meditation, gratitude and ANT killing

Dig deeper into Dr. Amen’s brain fitness strategies by following this link.

Cognitive Training

How can we do it?  How can we accelerate self-evolution?  Surely it is a good thing to begin with brain health.  Because of the extreme complexity of the brain its health requires a holistic approach that according to Daniel R. George, PhD, MSc, and Peter J. Whitehouse, MD, PhD must include increased social connectivity in the form of intergenerational relationships. The authors state the following:

“For decades, a widening evidence base of cross-sectional and retrospective research has demonstrated that older adults who volunteer in their communities may experience a range of biopsychosocial benefits from physical, mental, and emotional health to longevity.”

Thus getting involved in the community may be a primary factor for brain health.    Negotiating the obstacle course of other factors described by Dr. Amen (see above) is also necessary.   In addition recent research also shows that there is a role for targeted cognitive training to help protect the brain from degeneration and to even improve cognition.

Intergenerational interaction is good for brain health.
Intergenerational interaction is good for brain health.

This brings us to the self-evolution phase of brain development.  We all accept that we need to exercise our physical bodies to stay fit, but we fail to take our brains to task when it comes to strenuous goal oriented, expansive, mental workouts.  This keeps our brains from fulfilling more of its potential.  This is where cognitive training software and smart phone apps may be able to contribute.

In order to push further we need to challenge our cognitive abilities beyond our comfort level.  Excessive comfort is the enemy of progress.  The cognitive abilities that form the foundation of self-evolution are memory (working, episodic, semantic), concentration, reasoning, speed of mental processing, visual and spatial skills, and executive functions (organization, planning, decision-making, attentional control, inhibitory control, cognitive multitasking).  These capabilities keep our minds agile and ready for change.

Cognitive training apps like Neuronation, Posit Science and Luminosity have been designed to target brain fitness, and other apps and games available online also provide fun and useful ways to improve memory  (i.e. MemZy and Fun with Animals) and novel thinking (i.e. Cut the Rope).

Apps like these provide a means for measuring progress and establishing goals.  Just as we may set a goal of increasing muscle strength to achieve a bench press with 200 lbs, we should also be creating mental challenges to increase the size of our working memory, our autobiographical memory, our reaction times and other cognitive skills.  These skills form the foundation of an agile mind.  However, keep in mind that the goal is not to spend bucket-loads of time in isolation with apps and games, ultimately we need to use cognitive training apps as tools for enhancing social interaction at a deeper, more meaningful level.  In fact, cognitive training apps and games may provide a tool for intergenerational interaction.

As we find our brains capabilities renewed and refreshed, we will naturally seek to challenge ourselves further by looking at things from new angles, trying new activities (like Zumba or yoga), by innovating , and by improving the quality and depth our interaction with others.  Welcome to the domain of self-evolution!

At a minimum we should be establishing a baseline of our cognitive functions so that we can more quickly detect and correct mental degradation.  But ultimately the goal is not just to live long and be healthy, but rather to live long and evolve.  To move humanity forward.  Self-evolution is coming, don’t miss the wave!

 

 

One thought on “Brain Fitness and Self-Evolution”

  1. I like what you had to say about self-evolution. It really is true how you can change your brain just by the things you do. I think that is why brain fitness is such a good thing to have. You can make a huge difference by just working out your brain.

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