Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Karma of the Brain

They say we only use 5% of our brain at any given time. I believe this to mean that we are consciously utilizing about 5% of our neurons while making our everyday decisions. The rest of the brain is active subconsciously. This has led many people to think that we should seek ways to directly influence our (or someone else's) subconscious mind, by way of meditation, yoga, specific exercises, or marketing techniques. The subconscious, or unconscious, mind has been widely studied by psychologists and psychoanalysts such as Freud, but it escapes definition, and is surrounded by myth and mystery.

To me, the subconscious mind is a far more concrete phenomenon. Intuition resides in the subconscious mind, and intuition is shaped by the things we learn, and by the decisions we make based on the knowledge thus learned. A doctor makes decisions based on hard fact, but often these facts are not conclusive and intuition plays a significant role in decision-making. It's not just a hunch - it's more than that. When I see a patient for the first time, I may get an intuitive feeling of the probable diagnosis, based on the templates of hundreds and hundreds of patients and their illnessess in my subconscious mind. If I make the right diagnosis, the synapses that link a certain attribute to a certain diagnosis or outcome will strengthen and more synapses will grow to connect the tried and true associations in my brain. Next time I see a similar attribute in a case, it will be even more likely that I arrive at the right conclusion intuitively. This is intuition shaped by experience.

I was thinking about this the other day, and it occurred to me that this must be the true nature of Karma. Say we are consciously using just 5% of our brain in everyday decision-making. Just like the development of intuition, the decisions we make become part of the 95% which in turn will shape our future decisions. This means that the decisions we make today will, by molding the very structure of our brain, shape our thinking and decision-making in the future. Our conscious mind does have the final say in making the decision, so by making wise decisions we can shape our unconscious mind and prepare it to drive us to making better decisions in the future. This way we can exercise free will. The decisions we make today will have a meta-effect on the decisions we make tomorrow. In some cultures this is called Karma. Call it what you will, knowledge of these processes helps in regaining control of one's own thought processes.

Our morals and ethics are shaped by our actions, more than the other way around. By doing the right thing today, we are hard-wiring our brain to do the right thing tomorrow, and good things come to those who do the right thing. This is Karma. It's in our brain, in our synapses. It's who we are.


Anonymous said...

So do you think that when someone has new experiences the older experiences are pushed out entirely or will all your life experiences remain as part of the subconscious for your entire existance?

Stuart Ressler, M.D. said...

I think nearly everything will remain as part of your subconscious. What matters is how frequent a certain action is, and whether it results in a reward experience. This will make a strong synapse, a strong connection which is easy to fire up later (essentially, force of habit). The less frequent and older events will essentially be pushed away because their synapses will wither away, or at least become hard to fire up (much like trying to recall an old memory).

By manipulating this system you can reprogram yourself; make good things a force of habit: "Just Do It" like the shoe ad says, just do it many times even if it feels hard at first, because it will necessarily become a force of habit when you repeat it enough times.