Our Brain is Our Clandestine Command Center

According to a recent NYTimes article, we are barely conscious of our most frequent brain activities, namely those that run our bodies. If our body begins to become dehydrated we feel thirsty and drink water. Our brain can instantly makes us feel quenched even though there hasn’t been enough time to replenish the blood stream. It anticipates the end result. (Hmm, unfortunately, we don’t feel full soon enough after beginning to eat.) A normal body requires water, salt, glucose, nutrients, sleep, movement, etc. The brain sees its job as anticipating your body’s need to replenish the required resources. This automatic management by our brains is scientifically known as allostasis.

Our Command Center Brain Controls Our Needs

The article likens this brain function to a personal financial advisor who manages your deposits and withdrawals. You can’t withdraw much energy if you haven’t made a sleep or nutrient deposit in days.

Most of this is not new, but most of us hold the view that our brain has this automatic side, which we don’t think about and a thinking side. However, the author of the article, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University professes that the brain is not for thinking and all brain activity is in service of maintaining the body.

I interpret her claim to mean that what we see as purely mental cannot be separated from allostasis. Deep breathing is physical, but It can act to calm us. More sleep can replenish emotional energy as well as physical. Presence on social media can deplete our social energy while not satisfying our need for human contact. Most people are experiencing weariness due to the Covid pandemic and the recent election, i.e. our brain is making withdrawals from our well-being, and we need to consider making deposits such as taking a nature walk, listening to music, watching light-hearted television, and in my case doing jig-saw and other puzzles proportional to the amount of time we worry about the 2020 world.  Hmm, am I withdrawing from my mental energy or adding to it when I use my brain on puzzles? Not sure.

Another hmm. The brain may spend more energy on our bodily functions, but thinking is indeed one of its functions. We may not be able to live without the brain making sure our bodies stay shipshape, but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t think. How would we make scientific discoveries without the brain, for example? Perhaps the author meant thoughts related to feeling rather than analyzing, deducing, researching, and understanding..

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