Even for a Nobel Prize winner, our brains are too complicated to understand.
A book review in the New York Times had this to say in discussing Eric Kandel’s book, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind…
The human brain has been described as having the consistency of tofu or soft butter, and as being like a three-pound Brie. It has been compared to a computer, though that’s a misguided analogy since the brain does not operate through digital logic. Nor is its content—what we call knowledge—discrete. The brain is dynamic and plastic, changing in response to whatever comes its way. This is not a metaphor. Encounter something once and it is foreign to you. Encounter it many times and it is familiar. The thing itself hasn’t changed; your brain has. Experience has laid down new neural pathways. They are biochemical and electrical. They are real. Within limits, they can be observed and measured.
Dr. Eric Kandel began studying the brain before the term neuroscience had been coined. Trained as a physician, and as a psychiatrist, he employed a reductionistic approach to the brain, studying the brain one cell at a time, but his work was also geared towards trying to understand the mind.
He won the Nobel Prize for his work.
Neuroscience by definition deals with the complexity of the brain drawing on cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, neurology, psychiatry, psychology, pharmacology, and physiology. Findings of great importance have emerged due to the genius of people such as Dr. Kandel.
One of his studies is particularly interesting to us as we speculate about how transcranial magnetic stimulation may actually work.
Kandel and his colleagues found that in order make memory stick and establish long-term memory in snails, they had to train each snail over a ten day period, instead of all at once. It wasn’t just about number of repetitions. Things had to be spread out over time. Forty touches in a row wasn’t the same as forty touches spread out over ten days.
Does this explain why repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation applied over several weeks has such a profound effect on the brain? No, of course it doesn’t, but it is perhaps suggestive, and helpful. Neural pathways within the brain are clearly altered by rTMS. These pathways are both biochemical and electrical.
Our dynamic, plastic brain may change in response to TMS partly because of the repetitive nature of the magnetic stimulation treatment.
- 3000 pulses a day
- 5 days a week
- 6 weeks
The standard course of TMS treatment involves a lot of brain touches!
At TMS Augusta we don’t have all the answers to how the brain works, probably not even very many of the answers. No one does. Like all other physicians we strive to help people while scientists determine even better ways of helping. Procedures like our Advanced TMS may be biochemical and electrical brain lifts to an ailing brain, but exactly what is happening as magnetic stimulation treatments are administered isn’t fully understood.
Yes, we know a great deal about the human brain, and how to apply what science has discovered about removing the stumbling blocks to effective brain functioning. It wasn’t long ago there was no such discipline as neuroscience. Now there’s a vast body of research. Still, by any objective measure neuroscience is in its infancy. We know far more than we used to, and far less than we need to.
The brain is composed of many parts, but it’s still an extremely complex global and holistic system. Maybe neuroscientists will one day understand the brain. We doubt it.
We think every answer will lead to more questions. Still, it’s clear that we are advancing in our knowledge and understanding. It’s clear that we know how to help people access their happy chemicals, and remove some of the serious stumbling blocks.
One reflection of advancement in medical neuroscience is the success of TMS; it depends not only on the technology of the equipment, but also on the ability of doctors to determine exactly where to focus the magnetic field. Thanks to neuroscience we have that ability, and an awareness of how to use the technology.
In other words, we know a lot about what’s going on with brain, enough to be helpful to many people with serious brain diseases such as depression.
We’ll know more later, but in the meantime we have to do what we can to help with depression here in our own backyard of Augusta, Georgia. We hope, too, that you will help by spreading the word about the serious brain disease called depression.