Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
People ask me how I cope with all the things I do. It made me analyse how my brain works. When I think about it, I too am amazed. Earlier, I never thought I was capable of doing all these things at a time and with ease. Till 2006, I was normal like anybody. I did my research in Science like anybody else. When I was a teenager, I used to paint in my holidays. I used to stich my clothes myself - I learned it from my mother - whenever I was free. The death of my father, who was very close to me, was a turning point in my life. I was extremely sad. But the tragedy turned me into a machine with superhuman qualities. The best in me came out without any effort on my part! My brain started doing things very interestingly and intelligently . ( This, according to scientists, is "post-traumatic growth" and happens when a person experiences positive changes resulting from a major life crisis. According to the research, post-traumatic growth goes beyond resilience; by actively searching for good in something terrible, a person can use adversity as a catalyst for advancing to a higher level of psychological functioning. Some positive changes signal post-traumatic growth and provide a useful framework for how to make the best out of the worst situations. The first is personal strength. Tragedy exposes our vulnerability in an unpredictable world and therefore may cause us to feel weak or helpless. But, paradoxically, it can also boost our self-confidence and lead us to view ourselves as stronger. The next way to grow from trauma is through greater life appreciation. Tragedy can shift our perspective, inspire us to value good things more, and renew our intention to make the most of our lives. Research suggests that individuals benefit from attempting to reconstruct or reaffirm their sense of meaning in this way. Another way of positive change is new possibilities. In the aftermath of trauma, people may perceive that new opportunities are available and pursue them. By focusing on one or more of these five areas, we have an opportunity to turn suffering into personal development. In particular, several factors can facilitate this process. And my mother's death in 2015 made me more productive! )
Now my brain and mind associated with it are able to cope with research, creating art work, designing several things, writing stories, articles, research papers, blogs, poems etc., running a network, dealing with hundreds of messages I receive daily, social activism, dealing with work at home and outside of it with high efficiency! Some people think, I do things one after the other, so it is not multitasking - which is not true! Because even while my body and mind are doing one thing my brain will be thinking about the other things. My brain and body undoubtedly multitask! My mind will always be on fire! And my body in pain! And my mind sometimes becomes very messy (4) driving me mad! But I know how to come out of the mess and how to cope with it.
The brain manages all these things by prioritizing what is the best for it - remembering things only that matter and forgetting everything else! It makes room for the most important things on hand by deleting the clutter! Whenever you pay attention to something, your brain automatically and powerfully suppresses other information that is not relevant to the task. I noticed an interesting thing happening after becoming a polymath. Whenever I meet my school mates and college mates, they all talk about things we did in our school and college days. They are all very good at remembering things. But, my brain is unable to recall all those things! Only when they are reminded to me, I get a vague picture of them! I don't remember many things my friends talk about, even though I was involved with them as well as they do! Strange! My brain thinks they are not that important to remember! It thinks the work at hand is more important and concentrates on it! As soon as I complete doing something, my brain removes it from the priority list, erasing the memories and moves to some other thing! Only when I see or read some of the things I did in the past, I start recalling them again and wondering whether I myself did them!
Through memory loss, unnecessary information is deleted and the nervous system retains its plasticity ( ref 2).
A study published in Nature Neuroscience (5) shows that instead of just crowding in, old information is sometimes pushed out of the brain for new memories to form.
In daily life, forgetting actually has clear advantages. This process improves access to relevant information, without old memories interfering. Remembering and forgetting are two sides of the same coin. In a sense, forgetting is our brain’s way of sorting memories, so the most relevant memories are ready for retrieval. Normal forgetting may even be a safety mechanism to ensure our brain doesn’t become too full.
I cannot recall names of people or things properly! Sometimes I can't even remember certain words while writing or saying something and struggle a lot! I started making several mistakes while writing, typing and saying things. As my brain will always be working somewhere else, I am unable to even find my mistakes in my write ups and poems! They look okay to me! People think I am not good at other languages and that is why I make mistakes but this is happening even when I write or speak in my mother tongue!
When someone attends to a specific spatial location of the visual field, the inhibitory neurons in the brain take action, suppressing the activity in the brain cells that process other visual regions. In short, the brain depends on these inhibitory neurons to enable focus. Even more interesting, the harder you concentrate, the greater the suppression. One fundamental role of cognition is to select what your brain goes on to process. It does that, at least in part, by blocking irrelevant information (3).
I am highly absent minded to outsiders. But being absent minded has its own rewards according to an article on Scientific American (1). For the individual, mind wandering offers the possibility of very real, personal reward, some immediate, some more distant. These rewards include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion. So I am comforted now!
Polymaths always fascinated me. To push the limits of the boundaries of the mind to reach the maximum levels of working is a challenge and I accepted it with pleasure. But there are several drawbacks of multi-tasking. You will be surprised to hear this. I cannot count a bundle of hundred notes properly! I go to shops, buy things, pay for the things I buy and forget to take change and keep losing money. I keep forgetting several things, including the names of people, places, and faces! I always keep drifting from one field to another and an interesting interaction takes place at several levels. Sometimes it benefits me and my work. But I keep making silly mistakes even while performing ordinary tasks ( they don't count much in the bigger picture so I am not bothered). I am a bit slow in my reactions because I don't observe and notice my surroundings well . That is why I don't drive on the chaotic roads here. That is the price you pay for over burdening your brain. Not a very rosy picture. But well worth trying all the same! I took things in my stride and started prioritizing too. It doesn't matter if I make mistakes while sending messages etc. but while sending works for publication in journals, books, magazines etc., I try to concentrate and try not to make mistakes. And I try to correct them if I did when my mind is somewhat relaxed.
I am both a person of art and a person of science. I work in various several other fields too. Although superficially they seem similar in their approaches, I know there are vast differences between the two subjects of science and art as we go deep into them. I did/am doing research in both science and art. When they both exist in a single brain, they interact with each other. But when I am in my lab, I try to forget that I am an artist as I don't want my artistic practices interfere with my reasoning and critical thinking. I have clearly demarcated the boundaries in my mind long back. My subject in science needs special attention as it influences people directly and I don't want my intuition to have an effect on it. People should be able to identify and realize the differences in the two different fields of science and art and how they effect others if they mix up things. This is important for people like me who work in various fields. My mind switches from art to science with ease now. It has learned the techniques of differentiation and what to do when I am dealing with different subjects. My brain has now acquired all the qualities of a polymath. Yes, I write science research papers as they should be written with all the Jargon associated with them, write articles and essays on science in a simple language that can be understood by a layman, then switch to poetry with the rhythms and flow of words. It is important for a polymath to have clarity of thoughts.
Sometimes when it gets overheated, my mind refuses to work and goes blank! Then I turn to fashion designing or jewelry designing at it takes less effort! Moreover this relaxes me without wasting my time!
People say taking a holiday works wonders. Not for me! Even if I am on a holiday in a beautiful place, my mind will still have lots of fuel to burn and starts thinking about something else. It can never get rid of the things that interests it. It carries a lot of weight - more than it can cope and holidays bothers it more because if it doesn't do things it loves even for a single minute, it goes mad thinking that it is wasting time! Healthy or sick, lonely or with people, holidaying in a remote place or working in my studio or lab, the work must go on and cannot stop!
I read recently that scientists are working on some drugs that can erase painful memories. But I want to tell them, there is no need for drugs. Multitasking of the brain is as good as any drug. People who just underwent a very traumatic experience, can remove it from the pain causing memory to a distant memory by just concentrating on things that demand the best from the brain like intellectual pursuits. The brain automatically switches from pain to pleasure! The memories of my dad are still there but his death is not as painful now as it was in the beginning for me. I can very well cope with it now.
Moreover, people don't indulge in small talk and committing crimes if the brain is involved with intellectual pursuits, as there is no room for such things as it will be fully occupied with things that take everything that you have!
I almost forgot what fear is. I will be careful while doing something but fear has no room in anything I do now. The things that bothered me earlier had gone out of the window and disappeared without a trace!
Multitasking of brain has some positive as well as negative effects. But the positives are so big that you can live with the negatives with ease. So I advise everybody to go for it and become a polymath! The life of a polymath is worth living! Nothing compares to it!"Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream."
You can read another of my article on the same topic here:
Once accused of being absent-minded, the founder of American Psychology, William James, quipped that he was really just present-minded to his own thoughts!
Somebody said this:
You know that feeling of accomplishment that comes from working on many things at the same time? It's just an illusion. Or as researchers have discovered: we may feel like we're being productive but in fact we're just doing many things poorly.
The human brain is not built to process, record, learn or imagine many different things at once. When multitasking we are not permitting our brain to give its full attention to the task at hand. Our brain is still functioning at high intensity, which creates the illusion of efficiency, but we are not performing the job as well as we think we are.
Along with poor performance, multitasking robs us of learning and memory formation processes which are required to develop intelligence.
And this is my reply:
Don't agree at all! Poor research based on ordinary people who haven't developed special skills. A polymath can utilize the brain capacity to the full extent. I agree, I am a bit absent minded, forget several things, slow to react to the happenings occurring in my surroundings, make silly mistakes but my brain can multitask with ease. It prioritizes what is important and what is not. I wrote two articles on this and posted on my network. And women are better at multitasking! Illusion? Not to me!!
Oftentimes someones unexpected, off the -cuff comment or curt answer to an important question can be the breakthrough to a new emotional sunrise.
A plastic nervous system requires the ability not only to acquire and store but also to forget. Here, we report that musashi (msi-1) is necessary for time-dependent memory loss in C. elegans. Tissue-specific rescue demonstrates that MSI-1 function is necessary in the AVA interneuron. Using RNA-binding protein immunoprecipitation (IP), we found that MSI-1 binds to mRNAs of three subunits of the Arp2/3 actin branching regulator complex in vivo and downregulates ARX-1, ARX-2, and ARX-3 translation upon associative learning. The role of msi-1 in forgetting is also reflected by the persistence of learning-induced GLR-1 synaptic size increase in msi-1 mutants. We demonstrate that memory length is regulated cooperatively through the activation of adducin (add-1) and by the inhibitory effect of msi-1. Thus, a GLR-1/MSI-1/Arp2/3 pathway induces forgetting and represents a novel mechanism of memory decay by linking translational control to the structure of the actin cytoskeleton in neurons.
Forgetting Is Important To Function Properly
In order to function properly, the human brain requires the ability not only to store but also to forget: Through memory loss, unnecessary information is deleted and the nervous system retains its plasticity. A disruption of this process can lead to serious mental disorders. Basel scientists have now discovered a molecular mechanism that actively regulates the process of forgetting. The renowned scientific journal “Cell” has published their results.
The human brain is build in such a way, that only necessary information is stored permanently – the rest is forgotten over time. However, so far it was not clear if this process was active or passive. Scientists from the transfaculty research platform Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences (MCN) at the University of Basel have now found a molecule that actively regulates memory loss. The so-called musashi protein is responsible for the structure and function of the synaptic connections of the brain, the place where information is communicated from one neuron to the next.
Using olfactory conditioning, the researchers Attila Stetak and Nils Hadziselimovic first studied the learning abilities of genetically modified ringworms (C. elegans) that were lacking the musashi protein. The experiments showed that the worms exhibited the same learning skills as unmodified animals. However, with extended duration of the experiment, the scientists discovered that the mutants were able to remember the new information much better. In other words: The genetically modified worms lacking the musashi protein were less forgetful.
Forgetting is no coincidence
Further experiments showed that the protein inhibits the synthesis of molecules responsible for the stabilization of synaptic connections. This stabilization seems to play an important role in the process of learning and forgetting. The researchers identified two parallel mechanisms: One the one hand, the protein adducin stimulates the growth of synapses and therefore also helps to retain memory; on the other hand, the musashi protein actively inhibits the stabilization of these synapses and thus facilitates memory loss. Therefore, it is the balance between these two proteins that is crucial for the retention of memories.
Forgetting is thus not a passive but rather an active process and a disruption of this process may result in serious mental disorders. The musashi protein also has interesting implications for the development of drugs trying to prevent abnormal memory loss that occurs in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Further studies on the therapeutic possibilities of this discovery will be done.
From Contretemps to Creativity
For some people, hardship can trigger creative growth
By Scott Barry Kaufman
“I paint in order not to cry,” artist Paul Klee once remarked. The artist suffered from an autoimmune disease, which crippled his hands and made it difficult for him to even hold a pen. Yet he painted obsessively. His turmoil seemed to release an outpouring of creative energy.
Systematic research has shown that many eminent creators—think of Frida Kahlo, the Brontë sisters or Stephen Hawking—endured harsh early life experiences, such as social rejection, parental loss or disability. A growing field of research, called post-traumatic growth, now seeks to unveil why adversity and ingenuity sometimes go hand in hand and why some people blossom more than others in the wake of trying times.
“Our brain can’t handle the overload. It’s just not made that way.”
But there is a tiny but persistent subset of the population—about two per cent—whose performance does not deteriorate, and can even improve, when multiple demands are placed on their attention. The supertaskers are true outliers. According to Strayer, multitasking isn’t part of a normal distribution akin to birth weight, where even the lightest and heaviest babies fall within a relatively tight range around an average size. Instead, it is more like I.Q.: most people cluster in an average range, but there is a long tail where only a tiny fraction—single digits among thousands—will ever find themselves.
It has been found that supertaskers exhibit different patterns of neural activation when multitasking than most of us. There is less activity in those frontal regions—the frontopolar prefrontal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex—that have been implicated in multitasking and executive control in the past. Supertasker brains, in other words, become less, not more, active with additional tasks: they are functioning more efficiently. “Their brains are doing something we can’t do".
The flip side, of course, is that, for the ninety-seven and a half per cent of us who don’t share the requisite genetic predisposition, no amount of practice will make us into supertasking stars. In separate work from Stanford University, a team of neuroscientists found that heavy multitaskers—that is, those people who habitually engaged in multiple activities at once—fared worse than light multitaskers on measures of executive control and effective task switching. Multitasking a lot, in other words, appeared to make them worse at it. Scientists say it is all in your genes!
Am I one among those who can multi task. Yes, I am but I am not a super multi-takser. I know how much I suffer because of my work.
How the Brain Ignores Distractions
Paying attention requires more than focus
How does your brain focus on the task at hand?
To answer this question, neuroscientists generally study the way the brain strengthens its response to what you are looking for—jolting itself with an especially large electrical pulse when you see it. Another mental trick may be just as important, according to a study published in April in the Journal of Neuroscience: the brain deliberately weakens its reaction to everything else so that the target seems more important in comparison.
Cognitive neuroscientists John Gaspar and John McDonald, both at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, arrived at the conclusion after asking 48 college students to take attention tests on a computer. The volunteers had to quickly spot a lone yellow circle among an array of green circles without being distracted by an even more eye-catching red circle. All the while the researchers monitored electrical activity in the students' brains using a net of electrodes attached to their scalps. The recorded patterns revealed that their brains consistently suppressed reactions to all circles except the one they were looking for—the first direct evidence of this particular neural process in action.
“Neuroscientists have known about suppression for quite some time, but it's not given as much thought as mechanisms that boost attention,” McDonald says. “We have nailed down how you can prevent distraction through suppression.” Such research may eventually help scientists understand what is happening in the brains of people with attention problems, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. And in a world increasingly permeated by distractions—a major contributor to traffic accidents—any insights into how the brain pays attention should get ours.
fMRI Data Reveals the Number of Parallel Processes Running in the Brain
The human brain carries out many tasks at the same time, but how many? Now fMRI data has revealed just how parallel gray matter is.
This is how many tasks your brain is processing right now
Even when it's working hard, our brain is probably only processing around 50 tasks at once - but those tasks are a lot more complex than we first imagined, researchers have discovered. The findings could help scientists to one day build computer chips that are as powerful as our minds.
Working memory affects response inhibition
Completing a task involves various executive functions, including working memory and inhibitory control, which blocks inappropriate responses. Although both of these functions are required for task execution, it is not clear how they affect one another. Both working memory and inhibitory control are dependent on the function of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which maintains abstract information required for inhibition of inappropriate tasks and working memory. It has also been proposed that both executive functions rely on the strengthening of the representation of the correct response, or respectively of task-relevant information, suggesting that they share common neural pathways. This observation also indicates that working memory affects inhibitory control. To examine working memory load affects response inhibition, researchers led by W. Chmielewski applied event-related potentials (ERPs) in combination with source localization techniques. By using ERPs, the researchers could distinguish two subprocesses that are differently affected by mental workload.
Twenty five young, healthy volunteers were recruited for the study and performed the Go/NoGo task, which measures impulse control while their EEG activity was being recorded. The participants were presented with letters R and G or numbers 5 and 7. They were asked to press a button when they saw a letter (creating a Go condition) and not to respond when they saw a number (NoGo condition). To increase the workload, the symbols were rotated 30, 90 or 150 degrees. Mental rotation is a task that is known to involve visual working memory. The task was then divided into two blocks based on the difficulty. In the less demanding block, the participants were asked to react every time a letter was presented. In the more demanding block, however, a reaction was required only when letters were presented in the un-mirrored orientation, whereas participants were not supposed to react when mirror images of numbers or letters was presented.
As expected, both the angle of rotation and the complexity of the task influenced the reaction time and the number of errors that the participants made. In other words, as the complexity of the task increased, it became more difficult for the participants to inhibit their response to the wrong target. This observation indicated that the workload affected the response inhibition. Interestingly, this effect was only observed when the symbols were rotated 150 degrees, showing that response inhibition is affected by working memory only when a certain threshold is reached. These behavioural observations were supported by neurophysiological results. The changes in ERPs were observed as soon as the symbols were presented, before the reaction occurred. The modulation of response inhibition was related to differences in neural activity in the left inferior and middle frontal gyri, regions that are associated with working memory.
The results of this study show that response inhibition and therefore successful completion of a task depends on the amount of working memory required for the task. Once the working memory load passes over a certain threshold, response inhibition is impaired. Results of this study provide insight into improving efficiency of learning and task completion.
The impact of mental workload on inhibitory control subprocesses. Chmielewski WX, Muckschel M, Stock AK, Beste C. 2015. Neuroimage. 112:96-104.