This brings us to another important question, as we attempt to assemble a mental picture and perspective of the origins and development (or evolvement) of our ‘on board’ coping resources and skills. That question – put at its simplest – is this: what is the link between the structures and ‘neuro-geography’ of brain on the one hand and thought, feeling and behaviour on the other? It is a question, which can be answered in one hyphenated word, namely, “electro-chemistry”. Our “flying at night” analogy has already given us a crude but hopefully, helpful glimpse of what the working brain might look like from the outside. But what generates such activity and how is it ‘fired and fuelled’, so to speak?
The truth is that the human body is a walking, talking, breathing aerial or signal receiver. (Should you require further proof, simply place a finger on the external aerial provided with your pocket sized FM radio receiver and witness the dramatic improvement in signal). Indeed, one of several important differences between plant and animal life is the electrical form of coordination, in addition to the chemical, to be found only in the latter. All ten billion or so nerve cells in the brain make optimal use of this potential, in order to liberate and deploy energy in some form, from the chemical and electrical changes that accompany nerve impulses.
Moreover, a measure of the sophistication evolved and at work in this way, may be evidenced from their minuteness, with potentials measured in the millivolt (1 thousandth of a volt) and microvolt (I millionth of a volt) range. Through an incredibly complexly interwoven network of nerves, which reach out to incoming signals from the body’s furthest reaches, the brain possesses the capacity to coordinate and control, or adapt to’, i.e. to “cope with” every manifestation and demand of the internal and external world, with mind-boggling timing and accuracy. But how?
Earlier in these blogs we talked about ‘cities’ (or concentrations/clusters) of miniature controlled explosions in their millions, taking place within the brain (and indeed, throughout the body). What they in turn rely upon, as we shall now see, is a particular form of fuel, as each discreet (individual) electrical charge if “fired off” across the synaptic gap. Could we but view things from within each neuron· we would witness these discreet ‘explosions’, as hosts of chemical messages were being released throughout brain and body.
In fact, it is the overall pattern of the chemical composition of every such ‘explosion’ that underpins the detail of our entire consciousness. (You might or might not be interested to know that the Latin word “nervous”, goes even further back to a Sanskrit word meaning “string” or “chord”.) Perhaps I should add for those who are interested (although any discussion on the topic, is well beyond the scope of these blogs and even more so, their writer) that the chemicals and their receptors – the latter being molecular structures, which lie on the surfaces of cell membranes – are something like keys to locks, with each key (chemical) fitting only one lock (receptor), stimulating or inhibiting the activity of the cell concerned.
Just this basic awareness of the chemical means of “fuelling” the brain and body, aids our understanding in a number of important ways as follows: In the first place, it puts paid to any contrived likeness to a computerized system between body and brain. Second, it further removes convenient but wholly unrealistic and artificial distinctions between mind, brain and body. Thirdly, it attributes an important sense of self-control to the business (which we have witnessed on several occasions, is the key to survival and continuing involvement) of adaptation to whatever our environment i.e. the chances and changes of life, might ‘throw up’.
Finally, it brings to centre stage the ‘on board’ healing systems, which in themselves are intrinsic and central to the protection, stability and continuing advancement of all human life. All this – and more beside – supplies the reason why any account of coping must fail, unless and until we at least acknowledge the manner in which every aspect of consciousness is underwritten and interpreted by brain and body in a continuous and controlling flow of chemical messages. Thus it is that moment-by-moment,hour-by-hour, day-by-day, we have it within our grasp to effect and modify cognition and ensuing behaviour, albeit within limited but no less crucial ways. (C)SB.