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On mind, brain, addiction and digital technology abuse: A chat with Dr. Jose Foglia

Dr Jose’ Foglia from Uruguay is a medical doctor with a double degree in Medicine, specialised in General Surgery, Haemotherapy and in Psycho-Neuro Endocrine Immunology; he was in Chennai this January, conducting a course on ‘The Meditative Brain, a Challenge to the Digital Revolution’. Excerpts from an interview.

Could you please explain the complex functions of the brain briefly, in simple terms for a lay person?

The brain is composed of millions of neurons processing information from external and internal (our body) environment to create its reality; by reality I mean what is present around oneself at that moment; at the same time it can also communicate itself to others through intellectual and manual capabilities.

What do you mean by the term, ‘self aware brain’?

The brain consists of two hemispheres, the left and the right, connected by the Corpus Callosum (a bridge composed of millions of nerve fibres connecting one hemisphere to the other); both hemispheres are sharing their information all the time, working together.

The left hemisphere of the brain is aware of ‘itself’ (self-awareness) and this is possible because it has developed the capacity to integrate information in special areas called “memories”, so it’s possible for the brain to say: “I am”.

With these definitions what is your brief advice to youngsters against addictive habits?

The ‘self aware brain’ is interpreting all the time the reality and constantly conditioning it.

Many activities of the brain are just reactions, conditioned by mere habits. One must be aware of any kind of habit formation and the influence of the same.

The abuse of digital technology is addictive for the brain, causing deficit of attention, deficit of memory, depression, etc., and this addictive process should be avoided.

How can the brain create different realities?

All the bits of information coming into the brain from the external and internal environment are processed in the brain, but only on a part of this information are we consciously focusing our attention and this is the process by which we create different realities. The reality created by the brain is conditioned by numerous factors.

Could you explain the ‘Dopamine Reward’ term in connection to addictions and creating different realities?

The dopamine reward is a mechanism that creates the impulse for the brain to satisfy its addictions, habits, and all the needs of the body. For example, the craving for eating sweets – when we keep away from sweets, the body experiences a sense of ‘longing’ to eat sweets. Once we eat sweets again, some areas of the brain releases dopamine and the craving is satisfied. This process can lead to addictions.

Please explain neuroplasticity and tell us specifically how to use it to avoid addictions of alcohol, tobacco and so on?

Neuroplasticity is the capability of our brain to change the quality of the connections between the neurons; to make it work faster or stronger or to make new connections or to destroy it. The same also, either increases the number of neurons (Neurogenesis) or decreases the number of neurons (Apoptosis). Because the neuroplasticity of the brain is creating ‘new pathways’, new connections every time one repeats these actions, it makes these connections stronger, eventually asking for more and more of the addictive material, whether it is alcohol or tobacco or any other habit forming material or process.

Could you explain the term ‘Mind’?

‘Mind’ is a term I don’t like to use as I don’t know the real meaning of it.

I would rather use the term, ‘psyche’ – the consequences of the brain activity.

Your advice to youngsters?

To use to ‘full’ all the potential of their brain to the maximum of the possibilities, because the brain is like a muscle and one must use and improve its functions. For example, meditation techniques can increase neurogenesis and the connections between the neurons in the most important areas that makes us ‘human beings’, increasing attention, memory, empathy, etc.

Why do you say that all young people should be aware of the abuse of digital technology?

The abuse of digital technology will damage the brain - its short-term memory as well as the long-term memory. So one should be consciously aware of this and keep the digital technological devices to the required areas of use.

How early this awareness should start?

Up to two years of a child’s life there should not be digital influence; parents should be aware of this and should not introduce gadgets to young children as it will inhibit the growth of the neuron connections. Inputs should be in the form of natural interactions with the external world from the beginning.

The author is a freelance writer.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 1:41:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/unleash-the-power-of-your-brain/article22917722.ece

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