Brain research: Millions of dollars, million aspirations


It is exciting news that Barack Obama recently unveiled a new research initiative worth hundreds of million dollars to map the human brain. The findings may open up exciting dimensions and realms of science intermingling and espousing the horizons of philosophy on the lines of fundamentals of patient-care based on medicine as a practice of science and art. Thus, an increased scientific understanding of the brain, accommodating the mechanisms of mind, may help in unravelling the still obscure and elusive phenomena that have intrigued mankind.

The interacting and intermingling axes that primarily determine the issues of health and happiness are: genetics, including the longitudinal and life style aspects, destiny and the mysteries and resources of the brain working on the dictates of Hippocrates’ The Natural Healing Power of the Mind.

For centuries, mind has remained the domain of philosophers. The philosophers have observed mind through their window and thrust their own theories. But mind is too important and urgent a subject to be left to philosophers alone.

Rene Descartes, a renowned philosopher propounded the Dualistic Theory, considering mind and brain as separate entities having no intersection. This effectively ejected mind out of the physical world leaving little scope to provide scientific basis to mind and limiting our scope in mind research. In recounting the discoveries and idea of the modern era, let’s attempt to bring the human conscious mind back into the physical world. I shall be accused of wanting to reduce the marvels of man’s mind to “nothing” but physical and chemical processes in brain tissue. However, this is not degrading the mind to matter, instead it is upgrading the properties of matter to account for the mind.

The brain is a unique organ of the body. While it constitutes only 2% of the body weight (Parent and Carpenter, 1996), it receives 20-25% of the cardiac output, consumes 20% of the oxygen (Lassen, 1959) and glucose supplies (Raichle and Gusnard, 2002), utilizes 50% of the overall gene pool and has neurons equal to the number of stars in the Milky Way (Payton, 2006; Ramachandran, 2010). This amazingly complex structure is also the greatest generator of electrical energy.

The brain is further unique in structured laterality, with the left hemisphere responsible mainly for language and logistic skills and the right hemisphere for emotions of pleasure, relaxation through meditation, sexual orgasm and is dominant in taking the individual to higher levels of consciousness, connecting with space as a step towards furthering our relationship with the all the dimensions of the universe. The effort may also evaluate a long unconfirmed story that brain works only to about 4% to 10% of its potential in a normal individual.

Is it intriguing that while NASA spends 5 times more money every year to study the Sun and people world over spend more than 100 billion rupees for treatment of baldness, 600 billion rupees on perfumes and taking care of their pets, it took so long for the most advanced nation in the world to take an initiative to research into the brain and mind. But better late than never.

This investment decision by Obama may not only bring a discovery for managing degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s but may also bring a paradigm shift in human thinking and behaviour, which may allow us to live a qualitatively longer and happier life in a newly created, more compassionate society.