Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Amazing power of the brain

Let this be a follow-up to my previous post, Earworms. In my previous post I talked about songs being stuck in the head, random songs that come out of nowhere and play endlessly in your head. I thought a lot about this, and came to the grand conclusion that it’s all thanks to the brain and its amazing power of retention.

I am no expert on the human brain, have never dissected it or studied it, have never even read articles about it except for the snippets seen here and there in newspapers and magazines. The only thing I know is there is the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the medulla oblongata. Stuff I learned fifteen years ago in school. The brain retained that particular piece of information, don’t know why. The brain is a very picky organ, is all I can say, remembering some things and blocking out others.

You all must have childhood memories you remember vividly, while at the same time forgetting something your friend said a minute ago. I still remember the old school building in our locality, with its low windows and wall-less classrooms all merged into one. I remember the day when we played in an old well and one of our friends got a nasty cut on her leg and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. If you ask me the Bible verses I learned in Sunday School twenty years ago, I would still be able to recite most of them. But again I can’t remember simple things like where I left my spectacles before I went for my bath, the name of the real estate broker I hired, forget to call friends who are mad at me for not staying in touch. Can it be that the things we learned when we were young remain longer in our brain? This is true, I guess. As we age the brain also ages and loses much of its retaining power. There was an instance just a couple of weeks ago. A friend asked me to pass a message to another friend, and when I saw the other friend (the intended recipient) I completely forgot what the message was. I still couldn’t remember it even today.

What about senile old people we see now and then in Mizoram? Do you think those are cases of Alzheimer’s or some other ailment with a fancy name? In Mizo we call these people Tar â, literally translated as old people who had lost their minds. You see them all the time. They don’t recognise people, and the only things they remember are events that happened fifty years ago. They mistake you for their siblings, their childhood friends, and sometimes their spouse. I guess there must be scientific explanations for this.

The thing I cannot figure out is why the brain remembers some things more clearly than others. You could be working, or reading a book, or watching a movie, or just lazing around when you suddenly remembered something that happened to you. There need not be something that triggered this, it just came to you all of a sudden. All of sudden, something someone said came back to you, and you don’t know why. You thought you had forgotten that conversation but it came out of nowhere and hit you in the face.

And what about dreams? Do you ever see the same people over and over again in your dreams? I do. I see my uncle and his son, both of them long gone, in my dreams all the time. Sometimes they are alive, and sometimes I’d be aware that they are dead and would wonder “why am I seeing them when they are dead?” all in the dream, of course. Maybe I missed them much more than I am aware of. Sometimes in my dreams I’d be seeing something and would say (still in the dream) “hey haven’t I dreamt of this before?” Weird. And dreaming in dreams. There was one childhood superstition that went “if you dream three times in your dream then that means you are dead.” Lol. And nobody has ever proved that, kind of like the horned cat which lives in some mountain, seeing which meant certain death but nobody has seen it yet.

Oh, and the best thing. Déjà vu. I am at a loss for words. How in the world can you explain the feeling that this particular moment had happened to you before? The same people saying the same things and behaving in the same manner in the same settings. I know it’s entirely impossible but we all have felt it. Isn’t the human brain simply amazing?


  1. I think the world would end by the time some one figures out completely how the brain works!! Dejavu..my favourite Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album, but none of the songs seem to be about deja vu.

  2. daniel - Rightly said. There is much more to the human brain (and mind) than nerves and neurons etc.
    Maybe the album of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was all about deja vu, remembering the past etc.

  3. Regarding the brain, you should watch some sci-fi series to find out the reason (and also for entertainment)... or if you are interested in the medical aspect, watch "House", my favorite series :) Truly amazing the brain is.

    In advertising too, we do a lot of deep study on the brain. Right side of the brain determines your creativity, which is for us in this industry. But if you have a more developed left side, you are good in analytics etc.

  4. Kima - will check out House. I once took a quiz in fb that determines if you are right-brained or left-brained, and turned out I was left brained. But then again how far would you trust an fb quiz?

  5. The more we try to understand the brain, the more we realise how complex it actually is. I've been thinking about your earworm post and I think the Hindi songs stick because of the particular shrill voices of the playback singers :)

  6. diary - Yeah you are right. I guess it shows us how great God really is, creating something as complex and wonderful as the human brain.

  7. Aduh,,
    Nia ti raw, Mihring thluak hi chu a mak kher mai. Mahse hetiang zawng hian ka lo ngaihtuah ngai miah lo a. Kei pawh hi Haihawt ve tak, hun reilote chhunga thil theihnghilh mai thin,, hmana mi eng eng emaw la hre chiang thei ve viau lawi si hi ka nia.
    A ngaihnawm kher mai..

  8. b-buata: Thanks for visiting. Kei pawh ka haihawt lutuk, ka phone leh ka tarmit hi ka inzawn chhawk a ni ringawt. Hriatrengna hi a lo chak tawhlo ani ang e.