Monday, 20 May 2013

All in the Mind.....Part 1

I was interested to read that the European Commission has decreed the month of May to be ‘European Month of the Brain’. The Commission has organised conferences and symposiums in Brussels and Dublin aimed at taking ‘European brain research to the next level’.

This makes good economic sense. Treatment of brain related disorders currently costs eight hundred billion Euros per annum across the European Union. In addition research has revealed that one person in three will suffer a brain related disorder in his/her lifetime.

As a teacher, I have always been fascinated by the brain, in particular how its function relates to learning. However, even with today’s advanced computer imaging techniques, brain research is really still in its infancy.

The American author, Burkhard Bilger alluded to this state of affairs when he wrote: “the brain............ is like Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor of the thirteenth century. It sits enthroned in its skull, "encased in darkness and silence," at a lofty remove from brute reality. Messengers stream in from every corner of the sensory kingdom, bringing word of distant sights, sounds, and smells. Their reports arrive at different rates, often long out of date, yet the details are all stitched together into a seamless chronology. The difference is that Kublai Khan was piecing together the past. The brain is describing the present—processing reams of disjointed data on the fly, editing everything down to an instantaneous now. How does it manage it ?”

In the Bible, David the Psalmist was able to praise God for being ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Yet it is our very humanity that causes our mortal bodies to age, and for a growing number of people it means they will fall victim to diseases of ageing such as Alzheimer’s disease.

According to eminent neurologist, Professor Bruno Dubois, “there is no treatment” for the disease and sufferers are currently being “treated with a drug not directed at the disease”. At a recent conference, Dubois said he hoped science will eventually “improve the symptoms even though we don’t know the cause of the disease.”

While any real progress may be a long way off, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has noted that a lifestyle characterised by activities such as gardening and regular prayer can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently a study in 2005 also found that once diagnosed, the disease progressed much more slowly in those who had spiritual/religious lifestyles.

In an article in yesterday’s Independent, Tony Lobl movingly described the course of the disease in Australian dementia sufferer Christine Bryden.

“The Christian former pharmaceutical worker, science publisher and civil servant talks of her dementia as “a spiritual journey towards the divine” and has said: “I believe I am much more than just my brain structure and function, which is declining daily. My creation in the divine image is as a soul capable of love, sacrifice, and hope, not as a perfect human being, in mind or body. I want you to relate to me in that way, seeing me as God sees me.”

Christine has remarkable insight. When we see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus, it truly gives us a completely different perspective to a life of quality that is really worth living.
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