I had no choice...my brain made me do it!

I've been reading up a lot on neuroscience and the brain. The more I learn about the brain, the more sympathetic I feel for myself and the less connected I feel to my brain. 

It's weird because we all know that the human brain is the powerhouse of who we are, but all the research and theories about how this paradoxically fragile human organ really works, might have you believe that the brain is working against you. 

Let's start with free will; most people in modern society believe in the concept of free will. The idea that we choose to say, do and be certain things. The idea that we are the captains of our own ships and masters of our own destinies! The same people who believe this also know and agree with the theories around the distinction between the subconscious and the conscious mind. Most theories support the notion that the subconsious is far more powerful and pretty much runs the show. Charles Duhigg (New York times writer and author of 'the power of habit') even went as far as saying: "90% of what we do is based on the habits we've created over the years". Think about the cup of coffee or tea you had this morning, you did not sit there for hours on end, contemplating how you should take it (with or without milk, sugar or cream). You just went right ahead and had it the same way you do every morning. If you were completely rational (which none of us are by the way), you might approach every decision as if it's the first time you're making that decision, just because you had your coffee with 2 sugars for the past 10 years doesn't mean you should have it the same way today because there might be new information which should lead you to make a different choice. Although you think you made that choice this morning, your subconscious just went right ahead, did a quick calculation and settled on an outcome. This gets a bit tricky because you might say well I don't care about how I did it, but I still made that decision. You might be right, however this goes against the idea that we have when we say "I chose or I made that decision", part of how we feel when we make these proclamations is that we make decisions with a level of awareness. 

If 90% of what we do is based on habits and those habits are formed at the base of your forebrain without you even being aware, does this mean that free will is an illusion? Connected to this, are questions around mind control, brainwashing, illusions and hypnosis - all very fascinating topics which neuroscientists, philosophers and psychologists can never seem to agree on. Watch this cool TED talk by ED Young on mind controlling parasites in animal...it's quite interesting. http://www.ted.com/talks/ed_yong_suicidal_wasps_zombie_roaches_and_other_tales_of_parasites?language=en# 

Back to my last comment on how the brain can sometimes be working against you. Let's explore the theories below with a topic that is relevant to a lot of people: dieting.

Never in history has there been so much interest in nutrition, dieting and weight loss. Everywhere you go, you're bombarded with products with puffery promising you results and ultimately happiness. This has led to a lot of people trying out all sorts of "miracle diets", most of which are based purely on caloric restriction masked under different names (low carb, high protein, low fat, no fat.....you name it). Most of these diets work on the principle that if you restrict the calories you eat you'll lose weight. The problem that researchers are discovering is that up to 83% of dieters will gain back more weight that they initially lost (i.e dieting does not lead to sustained weight loss and is in fact a strong predictor of future weight gain). Why am I telling you about this? Well because recent research proves that your brain is to blame for all that weight gain (dammit brain). Let me explain:

When you finish a dieting regime and you have finally lost the weight, your brain enters into what is loosely known as the "post diet stage", which can last for up to 6 years. What happens here is that your brain fires neurons and sends messages that make you crave more caloric dense food, making you eat more than before. This is your brain trying to protect you - as far as it is concerned, it's working hard to try and restore and get you back to your previous state. The brain is thinking: "hey, we're in starvation mode, we need to eat more so that we can get back to normal" - so basically your brain cannot distinguish between caloric restriction as a result of dieting (choice) vs a famine. What's depressing about this is that the only way to get your brain to stop is to trick it by altering your hormones so that you can do whatever you want to your body.

This is why I said the more I know about the brain, the more I love it but at the same time the more disconnected I feel from it. And by "I" here I'm referring to the soul driven I as opposed to just the blend of hormones and molecules.

In the interest of preserving your interest, this is where I'll leave this post but you can certainly expect more posts on the brain in the future as there's tons more illuminating things I want to share with you.

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