The Emergence of the Trainable Brain
The Brain is our Sun
Now we recognize our brains as the center of a system that extends into our bodies, produces the phenomenon we call mind and may even create the universe in which we live.
Our senses send a constant flow of information to be screened, integrated, processed and acted upon by the brain. The brain experiences emotions and controls to what extent we express and feel and act on them. The brain stores a whole internet of memory, accesses it and applies it in nearly everything we do. It determines what is important, tracks a flow of experience, decides what it means and what we should do about it, then activates and coordinates our muscular systems to take action.
Beyond these inputs and outputs, the whole internal function of our bodies—heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, hunger, digestion, sleep, elimination, emergency response—is managed by the brain. We learn, we relate socially, communicate and create, we imagine a future that does not yet exist, plan and organize how to arrive there. All of those things are mediated by the brain. It is central to every part of our lives.
The Computer and the Brain
And yet, until the advent of the Digital Age in the 1980’s, when computation became more feasible in size and cost, what was known about the human brain came largely from brains that were dead or seriously injured. The geographical brain had been mapped by Brodmann and others half a century before. The living, functioning brain was largely obscured in darkness.
The electrical potentials of the brain, identified in the late 1920’s, gave birth to the electroencephalogram (EEG). For generations of neurologists the EEG has been long strips of paper with squiggly lines that had to be manually measured and counted. The primary focus of this “analog” EEG was to identify “abnormal” waveforms related to injuries, seizure activity, etc. Computers allowed the transformation of these waveforms into digital data streams, which can be presented graphically and analyzed on the fly.
The Quantitative EEG (QEEG or Q) is a recording of these digital signals from 19 or more standard sites on the surface of the brain’s outer layer, the cortex. QEEG captures a moment in time of the brain’s constantly shifting electrical tides—like a snapshot of someone jumping on a trampoline.
This image provides information on “frequency”—how many times per second pools of neurons are firing—the energy level areas of the brain are producing. Higher frequencies require more metabolic support and can process more data—or process it in more complex ways. The EEG also provides information about “amplitude” (or power), a measure of how many neurons in a given area are producing a specific frequency at any point in time.
This combination of frequency and amplitude allows comparisons of degree of symmetry between sites—whether one is firing faster than another—and states—whether an area is “resting” or “working”. It also provides information on variability—how controlled or uncontrolled the groups of neurons are from moment to moment.
Because EEG also produces high temporal resolution—being the most immediate of the brain imaging systems—digital QEEG provides the ability to measure connectivity (phase and coherence) in various frequencies among multiple sites at rest and at task. These values can quantify how independently brain areas are able to work, and how efficiently they can rest and share tasks and information.
Other scanning technologies (SPECT, PET, fMRI), which measure metabolic activity via changes in blood supply, have allowed researchers look into areas below the cortex.
During the 1990’s—the so-called Decade of the Brain—and since, an increasingly complete vision of an energy brain has begun to overlay the geographic version like the atmosphere overlays the earth. The brain has gone from being a static combination of structures and connections to a living, working entity that is often recognized as the most complex in the universe—a system that is constantly re-creating itself based on experience.
Major Channels of Study
Study and knowledge of the energy brain has developed along 6 major courses
Statistical efforts, especially in humans, to define a “normal” brain;
Study of the peak brains of monks, athletes, top-guns and others;
Discovering links between EEG patterns and moods/behaviors/performance;
Studying the chemical brain’s neurotransmitters and neuromodulators;
Studying the genetic brain each of us inherits from our parents;
Use of immediate EEG data to provide feedback to a “trainable” brain.
In the following sections we will look at each of these channels, how they have developed over the past quarter century and how they have interacted to get us where we are today.