Brand new baby brain cells (neurons) are crawling around inside your head as you read this!
This process, called neurogenesis, is very exciting because neurons create your world, and the birth of new neurons is like a re-creation of the world taking place in your very own brain. Let’s pause to consider this.
Most everyone is familiar with the account in Genesis of how the world was created. In this account man was created on the sixth day. But what is not mentioned is that once man was created, the whole world had to be re-created inside his head. We cannot perceive objective reality directly. In Kantian philosophy, this objective reality that is unknowable is referred to as the noumenal world. Neurons are the living entities responsible for creating the subjective or phenomenal world which we can perceive. The phenomenal world created by neurons is a simulation of the noumenon, and it includes everything that is perceivable through the senses, thoughts and emotions.
Thus each individual is the creator of a unique phenomenal world. Although neurogenesis refers only to the birth of neurons in the brain, in reality we can extend the significance philosophically by thinking of it as neuro-Genesis, the re-creation of an individuals phenomenal world by the brain.
Unlike the noumenal world that is made up of objects, the phenomenal world is made up of memories. It is very important to appreciate how our worlds are constructed by a constellation of living entities (neurons) each assembling memories like LEGO blocks to create a phenomenal world.
When neurons involved in this process die or malfunction our world shrinks. This is why a patient with Alzheimer’s, though technically not blind, can forget how to see. At first the patient may fail to recognize new acquaintances. As the disease progresses, family members are not recognized, and finally even the concept of a face is forgotten as neurons continue to die or malfunction.
The Birth of Worlds
Research published this month by David Briley, et al., at the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, Department of Neurology, University of Texas Medical Branch, has shown that the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus may be responsible for preventing symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) in individuals with brain degeneration that is normally associated with full AD symptoms. These rare individuals were referred to as Non-Demented with Alzheimer’s disease Neuropathy (NDAN). This research shows the importance of promoting the continuous birth of neurons throughout life for retaining mental health in increasingly toxic environments that we are creating.
The perspective I am promoting is that the birth of neurons in the brain is like the birth of new worlds, because these cells directly create our phenomenal world. This can work in two ways. The first is that death of cells which would cause our world to shrink can be counteracted. The second is that our world can continue to expand as these new neurons find their place in our phenomenal world of memories.
In her Ted Talk (see link below), Sandrine Thuret mentions the strategies we can employ to promote the birth of new neurons in our brains. She discusses research showing that aerobic exercise (running) is is a potent method for stimulating neuronal birth when compared to sedentary behavior.
Her list of do’s and don’ts for birthing brain cells include the following:
- Running (Aerobic Exercise)
- Omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries, curcurmin, resveratrol (skin of red grapes, etc.
- Intermittent Fasting (increased spacing between last meal and first meal the next day)
- Sleep Deprivation
- Vitamin Deficiencies (A,B,E)
- High Sugar
Ultimately the best strategy for keeping your world growing is to protect both your old neurons as well as promoting the birth of new neurons. Some neuroscientists think the birth of new neurons is hyped by the media of wishful thinkers. According to these researchers the best advice is to take good care of the neurons you already have rather than hoping to gain new ones. However, mounting evidence indicates we are in for more budding heads in the future, as the stream of baby neurons explore their place in the palace of our memories, our phenomenal world. Enjoy!