The exquisiteness of neuroscience: its intricacies and evolution

“Mazda, you have to speak at the Global Tipping Point Summit,” Coomi called to tell me in her usual erudite fluency that reminded me why Parsis are the direct descendants of the Queen. She was in the process of conceptualizing a comprehensive event to revolutionize the future of education. “We have to create healthy learning and nurturing ecosystems by combining knowledge with self-awareness and wisdom, to transform our lack-based consciousness to one rooted in abundance,” she went on eloquently, making me realize she she’s not only related to the Queen but also to Shakespeare.

I’m very drawn to people who are passionate, and Coomi Vevaina is not only an ardent and internationally acclaimed educator but also a faithful futurist. She’s a vivacious storyteller and has written loads of books on children’s education. “We have learnt more about the human brain in the past five years than in the previous hundred,” I explained, “and I think it’s time to bring the evidence provided by neuroscience into the classroom. We can talk about neuro-education,” I agreed enthusiastically. If you want to sound super-intelligent about anything, just prefix it with ‘neuro’. One can even get away with being sexist by calling it neuro-sexism. After training for 9 years in South India, all I learnt of the language was neuro-Tamil.

The human brain has about a hundred billion neurons that make a complex network of about a trillion synapses. From their interactions with each other emerges a whole spectrum of abilities that we called human nature and human consciousness. It is this consciousness that everyone is suddenly so interested in tapping into. The brain weighs only 2–3% of one’s body weight, yet consumes over 25% of its energy; more electrical impulses are generated in a single day by one brain than all of the cell phones in the world.

In the talk I gave at the Summit, I went on to explain how students and teachers are not uniform raw materials or assembly-line workers but a diverse collection of living, breathing human beings with complex evolutionary histories, cultural backgrounds, and life stories. If we are to move forward, we must admit that a one-size-fits-all model of education is doomed to fail the majority of students and teachers. We have to tap into the individual potential of each child and cater to their strengths. Just like we have evolved in precision medicine, we must in precision education.

Human beings have undergone an evolutionary change over the last 30,000 years and will continue to do so. With this current generation, our craniums have become larger and the sockets of our eyes bigger, which probably has something to do with the information overload that comes our way each day. Just as dendrites get chopped, churned, and pruned when not used, or as new connections form when we develop a new skill, learn to play the violin, or master a foreign language, our physical structure is also undergoing a metamorphosis governed by the external stimulus we interact with constantly.

What do we know about the brain that we did not know a few decades ago? Neurogenesis. While most of the neurons are formed at birth – and it was once believed that we only have a fixed number to live our whole lives with – we now have evidence that we can generate new neurons in those areas of the brain that represent learning, formation of memory, regulation of emotions, and spatial navigation. Everything the doctor’s been telling you – eating less, exercising more, replacing saturated fats with omega-3 fatty acids, being mindfully less stressed, and getting more sleep – promotes neurogenesis.

There is also the concept of neuroplasticity: the ability of our grey matter to thicken or shrink, improve connections between neurons, create new neurons, and destroy old ones. Parts of brain function can be transferred to other areas of the brain and even hemispheres can switch function. When we perform epilepsy surgery, for example, we can disconnect one brain hemisphere entirely from the other; the functioning half then works effortlessly overtime, seamlessly taking over entire brain function.

I once had a patient who had a tumour in the left temporal lobe, one of the language areas. She had a seizure, which is how the tumour was diagnosed. Interestingly, after the seizure, she switched her choice of language from native Marathi to fluent Hindi – something she hadn’t spoken at home for 2 decades. A few months after surgery, she returned to Marathi harmoniously. It has to be said that while these are the patients who are supposed to help us study brain structure and function better, end up confusing us even more.

We are gifted to be alive in an age of technology, to have decades of research in brain function behind us, and to have increasing data-based interventions associated with improving the health of our children or to realize that age-related cognitive decline may be slowed, arrested, and even reversed.

We have studied the importance of art, music, movement, and storytelling in the overall development of children. As part of the action project of this summit, we aim to study if we can simulate an objective response in children by systematically introducing these paradigms into their curriculum’s. The art of education is more important than any other, as we are forming souls and shaping the future of humanity. Interestingly this conversation will be carried on at the Global Tipping Point Summit: Re-thinking Parenting from 8th to 31st January, weekends only (from 4 to 5.15 p.m.) and people can join us for free by registering on www.gtps4change.org.

Neuroscience teaches us that story telling can impact the brain in innumerable ways. It releases oxytocin and teaches children to empathize. It activates mirror neurons, which is said to have shaped civilization. Stories can ignite ideas. They can stir up feelings of awe, wonder, inspiration. They can make us jump out of our seats in surprise or terror. Stories hold powers greater than we may have imagined. “Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses,” says Aleks Krotoski.

But more than the stories we tell our children, we should take time to reflect on the stories we tell ourselves. Like Carl Jung said, “The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?”

16 Comments on “The exquisiteness of neuroscience: its intricacies and evolution
  • Dr Vishpala Parthasarathy says:

    Wonderful and hope – giving

    Reply
  • Supriya Correa says:

    Woo hoo Mazda…awesome stuff, you’re totally on a roll…a “neuro roll”

    And to all the Parsis out there, of course Aapri Queen and Aapro Shakespeare are Parsi…who dares to challenge this??

    With content like this..kind of makes you related to them? Your neuro fraternity, perhaps?

    Reply
  • Kerman Fatakia says:

    Super and well written. A good insight for today’s parents and educators.

    Reply
  • Avinash karnik says:

    A new perspective of looking at the universal issue of education through the eyes of a neurosurgeon makes us to sit back and think deeply about education system. The emphasis on story telling is very convincing. Hats off to you Mazda for lending your brain activity to write such an educative piece on education. Thanks a tonne and please keep up an excellent work.

    Reply
  • Naresh Dr says:

    Wonderful and interesting perspective. I am no neuro surgeon but I totally am in sync with the thoughts.
    Infact , I am trying to stimulate newer neurones !!!

    Reply
  • Mahashweta Biswas says:

    Mazda so very well written & explained, this topic should be included in the educational curriculum.

    You will connect with the kids when you start talking about NEURO

    Educational for us too

    Cheers

    Reply
  • Chandrashekhar says:

    Well written as usual.
    Thought provoking even for neuro-guys.
    Story telling is probably important as a learning method as most of us tell stories about how we learnt.
    The social distancing has added another dimension to learning and is becoming more accessible and brings you in contact with many authorities in the field. We have to see how it affects long term

    Reply
  • Rita Singh says:

    Doctor Mazda,u will make us learn more about Neoro Science then we ever thought.After being ur pateint I started to b more interested in the brain then I ever thought.Your passion for ur proffesion is so very genuine and inspiring.

    Reply
  • Rekha Murty says:

    Booker prize and Nobel rolled into awarded !
    An amazing way of relaying information with a fabulous turn of phrase!

    Reply
  • Farokh Bharucha says:

    Very well written & trully knowledgeable article Dr. Mazda you are really God gifted person hats off to your write ups
    Rgds Farokh P Bharucha

    Reply
  • Vinod Ahuja says:

    Thought provoking and as always well written. Thanks for the Neuro perspective.😊

    Reply
  • Hutoxi Doodhwala says:

    Wow what a superb article ! Teachers and parents play a very important role in the overall and holistic development of the child. Looking forward to the Re Parenting sessions.

    Reply
  • Tania Shroff says:

    Wonderfully written Dr. Mazda, It was a privilege to read your insightful thoughts.
    Like us the field of Education has also been evolving , it is no longer confined to the limitations of the walls of a classroom and the knowledge is available to anyone who seeks it and teachers, educators and parents are at the forefront of this progress

    Reply
  • Zubin Bhesadia says:

    Dearest Mazda,

    At the outset; this is a fantastically penned article – a perfect blend of simplifying concepts & using examples & anecdotes at the junctures to explain the technicalities of Neuroscience for those not associated with the medical fraternity & lingo.

    This generous gesture of yours towards educating young minds by going “beyond the realms of medicine” is truly commendable! With your busy schedule at surgery & consulting from dawn till late, and still making time for educating students & crafting beautiful articles; its one major juggle that you manage so well by striking a perfect balance between medical & educational causes.

    Your dedication & contribution toward both causes, I’m sure, will go a long way. And it is this gift of education & experiences that is so selflessly disseminated across generations that creates the future & harnesses the potential in each field. And you Sir, are the epitome of the efforts being made for the advancement towards the “Neuroscience of Tommorow”.

    At this rate, we will being see more Mazdas in the Neuroscience section in the coming years so as to say. Moments of such happiness & pride are waiting for you…keep the faith, take the leap & propel with God speed.

    More power to you & your crew…stay shining…always.

    Reply
  • Kavita Sharma says:

    Brilliantly penned. Good pointers for parents and educators.

    Reply
  • Di says:

    As always well written and informative… love ur witty sense of humor “not only related to the queen but also Shakespeare” lol..
    So soo true “forming souls and shaping the future of humanity”… great insight on education… parents and teachers are fundamental in the development of children.

    Reply

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