Brains and the Benefits of Research

I used to love spelling bees, which back when I was a kid, were not nearly as global or expansive as they are in today’s world. I loved getting the lists and getting a mental picture of them. Seeing them in my mind’s eye, neatly alphabetized, in columns, and memorizing the order of the words and the letters. I won a lot of the small contests our class held and I was rewarded with prizes that I remember cherishing. I always wondered if other people saw the page like I did.

That’s one of the reasons I was fascinated to find out about a thing called Aphantasia. Aphantasia is when our brain cannot create mental imagery. Can thoughts exist without images? That’s exactly what the Würtzburg School sought to figure out through the concept of Imageless thought developed by psychologist Oswald Kulpe. But this phenomenon was reported as far back as the 1880s, by Sir Francis Galton. Recently, a Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Professor Zeman, coined the term Aphantasia. Phantasia is Aristotle’s name for the mind’s eye, and Aphantasia is lack of a mind’s eye.

So how do we know that people have different internal mental perception like Aphantasia? Through self-reports of vivid imagery questionnaires, cognitive task tests, and brain imaging. All of this was super interesting for me to learn, and one of the most important things I learned was that people who have Aphantasia do not have limitations on their imaginations, creativity or careers, although they experience the world in a very different way than people who have mental imagery. There are also those people who have Phantasia from birth, but after an operation, or some other life changing event, can develop Aphantasia. Studies have yielded a wealth of information on how we use, or don’t use, different parts of our brains to make sense of the world.

March 12th-18th marks Brain Awareness Week, which is the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

Activities are limited only by the organizers’ imaginations and include open days at neuroscience labs; exhibitions about the brain; lectures on brain-related topics; social media campaigns; displays at libraries and community centers; classroom workshops; and more.

As a health care organization, we’re fascinated by the brain. The way it works, the way it fails to work and the way we work with it, as people, patients, physicians and surgeons.

The Society of Neuroscience has partnered with the Dana Alliance, founders of BAW, to provide a number of useful resources to find out more about the brain.

Click here to find links to brain facts, which feature a section for Educators and Neuroscience for Kids, taking a look at neuroscience and neuroscientists, with two sections examining the effects of drugs on the nervous system (including caffeine and chocolate) and neurological and mental disorders. There’s also Edheads which has a surgery simulation called Deep Brain Stimulation, an interactive virtual game that allows students to assist a surgeon in a simulated surgery designed to help a patient cope with Parkinson’s. There’s a section devoted to The Secret Life of the Brain that includes a 3-D brain anatomy animation and a section on illusions, as well as an in depth article on forensic pathologist, Bennet Omalu, and his journey and controversial investigative work into uncovering the linkage between football, concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Sometimes I think of the brain as a whole world in itself. We use it every day and yet there’s so much to learn about how it works. To find out more about our amazing brains click here.