What is Neuroscience and How Can it Help You?
by Erika Slater
In this article you’ll discover:
- What is neuroscience and the promise it holds for understanding our brain and its connection to influencing the health of our body?
- Current thinking around how neuroscience can help us in the future and the bridge to psychology to aid in influencing negative thoughts and emotions impacting our well-being.
- The important link between neuroscience and the mind body connection.
- Further reading, research, medical studies and resource links around neuroscience and papers on use of hypnosis as it relates to furthering the knowledge of the field.
The word Neuroscience seems to be everywhere today. It jumps out at you from articles in magazines or online.
TV talk shows and documentaries march forth the leaders in the field who dish-up their complicated and emotional appeals of a new field of science about to burst forth and provide a unifying theory about our brain and mind, and what it means to be human and the thoughts and feelings that make us different from other animal species.
But what exactly is neuroscience as to most it remains a mystery?
Neuroscience (or neurobiology) is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is a multidisciplinary branch of biology, that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, mathematical modeling and psychology to understand the fundamental and emergent properties of neurons and neural circuits. The understanding of the biological basis of learning, memory, behavior, perception and consciousness has been described by Eric Kandel as the ‘ultimate challenge” of the biological sciences’ .
In the end, the best way to describe neuroscience is “biology meeting psychology”
Neuroscientists and professionals in this field usually focus on one part of the central nervous system, often neurotransmitters, or specialize on specific behaviors that relate to psychiatric disorders.
Because the field has exploded in the last 50 years with the number of people who study the nervous system, a number of organizations were formed, and the most prominent include: the International Brain Research Organization, the European Brain and Behaviour Society, and the Society for Neuroscience.
So, we have a new field of science but what promise does it hold for the everyday person? How will it help our understanding of ourselves? And how will it impact our future? Particular to me is how it can expand our knowledge of the mysteries of the brain and aid hypnotists to help more people?
These questions we’ll explore below with the help of some of the leading experts in Neuroscience today. Fasten your seat-belt because the ride isn’t smooth and has controversy!
WHAT IS THE PROMISE OF NEUROSCIENCE?
Our brain is an amazingly complex organ. “Scientists still have not uncovered the full extent of what the brain can do. This single organ controls every aspect of the body, ranging from heart rate and appetite to emotion and memory. The brain controls the immune system’s response to disease and determines, in part, how well people respond to medical treatments. It shapes our thoughts, beliefs, hopes, dreams, and imaginations. It is the brain’s ability to perform all these functions that makes us human” .
Often times you hear neurology or neuroscience related to the mind, as well as psychology. Are they one and the same? There is a main difference!
While there’s only one study of neuroscience, there are many branches of psychology.
Overall, the biological functioning of the brain is much easier to codify and qualify than personalities, which you study in psychology. There are many differing approaches to the study of psychology, but none of them can claim to universality, unlike the neuroscientific view of brain biology.
So, neuroscience can’t tell you a whole lot about psychology or mental healing.
With that said, psychological studies and mental health issues may be able to lead practitioners to find dysfunctions in one’s neurochemistry, as well as their brains.
A primary promise of neuroscience is when you use it to explain why one thinks, feels and acts a certain way, it bridges the gap between itself, and the fields of psychology and mental health.
David Ludden Ph.D. explains, “The problem is that, unlike the natural sciences, psychology has no grand unifying theory (or GUT) that ties the whole enterprise together. The list of topics that psychology includes is vast, but it’s not really clear what they all have in common. The allure of neuroscience is that it may finally give psychology a GUT. This is because neuroscience is based on the premise that all psychological processes can ultimately be explained in terms of brain processes. This new hope for psychology has spawned a veritable neuro-zoo, as each sub-discipline now has its own neuro-doppelgänger” .
Neuroscience will help correlate the psychophysics and how it relates to perception. It looks into systems of behavior, cognition, and systems for acting and reacting. Moreover, neuroscience also investigates plasticity and neural development, clinical and experimental neuropsychology, as well as neuropsychopharmacology – the effect of drugs and substances on one’s mind and central nervous system.
But there’s controversy lurking in the promise.
Our concept of the “mind” is much like that of our “soul.” As you can’t point to the soul in a diagram of our body and organs, so, you can’t point to the mind in a diagram of our brain no matter how detail or complex the diagram. The mind remains allusive as it’s a concept only. It’s our ability to think of these concepts that makes us human.
Some neuroscientists feel though all psychological processes can be reduced to brain functions, or put another way, our mind is a product of our brain, rather than being separate. The concern though is this stance can take us down the road of thinking we can reduce the mind to nothing more than brain activity. And with the expected advances in MRI technology in the future there could be a time when we can monitor our thoughts and feelings using brain scans, and even predict and change? Scary maybe, impractical… probably.
Seth Schwartz and his colleagues argue the case around inclusiveness between the fields of neuroscience and psychology to avoid the fields excluding each other from their discussions in attempting to explain our brain’s working and the impact on our individual psychology .
When trying to understand the mind-body connection  then neuroscience helps to piece our current theories together that our mind is a product of our brain and its state – positive and negative – and influences the state of our body – good and bad.
Our understanding of the brain has grown in the last century to the point we know about neurotransmitters and how they work in our brain passing messages from one part of the brain to another so they can be acted upon. We know this is all just chemical reactions and electrical signals, but this chemistry by itself doesn’t explain consciousness. But somehow in these exchanges neurons help create consciousness, our thoughts and concepts of the mind and soul, and ability to even think and communicate about this topic.
So, as neuroscience informs us more about how our brain works to make the connections we seek in psychology we look to understand what makes us human, and for those seeking help from the field of psychology to understand our personalities, why we act the way we do, and importantly what needs to be fixed when the brain doesn’t function the way we expect and produce serious brain and mental illnesses.
HOW WILL IT HELP US IN THE FUTURE?
Neuroscience and psychology are the perfect marriage when you put them together! The two disciplines are not polar opposites in their approaches, rather they inform, clarify and even challenge the findings each puts forth. At the end of the day, the two approaches explain thoughts, feelings and actions, and better helps with understandings in complex situations.
There have been, and there are so many influential neuroscientists in the field today, who are making the study of neuroscience more applicable to everyday living.
Joseph LeDoux is one of the most successful neuroscientists in his field. LeDoux is a professor of Neuroscience, Psychology and Science at the University of New York. He is also the Director of the Center for Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety. His work in the field has been paramount in helping people.
LeDoux goes beyond the instinct of threat which we share with animals and commonly attributed to our circuits in the amygdala as in “fight or flight” instinct. LeDoux now feels this is unconscious instinct, but the ability to wake up at night worrying about the state of our bank account is about fear and anxiety which is a human trait and not shared with the rest of the animal world.
His neuroscience work believes its only after the unconscious threat systems have detected danger that the emotions of fear and anxiety “rise into consciousness – and only if, LeDoux says, ‘you have a brain that can be conscious of its own activity,’ a brain with the ‘ability to conceptualize all of that, to label it linguistically, and to integrate it with thoughts and memories.’ In other words, fear and anxiety are not wired into the brain as basic responses to the world around us — rather, the responses that lead to them are, and they only coalesce into fear when the brain interprets them as such” .
LeDoux says “To feel afraid is to be conscious of fear — so the question of where exactly feelings like fear and anxiety arise in the brain is intimately tied to nothing less than the ongoing mystery of how our brains pull off the great feat of consciousness itself.”
“LeDoux believes his vision of fear and anxiety has implications not only for drug development but as well as for psychotherapy. If — to rephrase Kierkegaard — anxiety is the price humans pay for freedom, LeDoux thinks that that cost can be reduced by incorporating a more sophisticated understanding of the brain into the psychological treatment of fear and anxiety disorders. Because there are both conscious and unconscious processes at work when anxiety spirals out of control, LeDoux believes that effective treatments would have to engage differently on each level – the whirling subliminal, automatic circuitry that patients aren’t even aware of needs to be subdued before the second-step project of addressing the higher level of conscious thoughts and feelings can begin” .
LeDoux’s neuroscience research then focuses on emotions and memory, whereby he uses research to understand pathological fear and anxiety in human beings. He, along with others, are taking neuroscience to new levels to help understand behavior and the human brain better.
Another expert in the neuroscience field is Antonio Damasio, and he opened a 2015 lecture with these words. “I am delighted to be amongst so many people who believe that it is possible to change human behavior by acting on the main agent of that behavior, which is the brain, and to bring about a change that will make human beings better, happier, more satisfied, and contributing more to culture” .
Damasio argues what the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks. We have learnt enough in the last 150-years about the areas of the brain where our emotions are centered, but we can’t say the same for feelings. And yet it’s our feelings in response to our emotions that are central to what happens to our body. He explains, “If it weren’t for feelings, we would never have been aware of what is happening to us and in our environment.”
For example, the emotion of fear helps protect us from danger but it’s a negative emotion and not something we want in our lives every day. Emotions like happiness are positive and produce, as Damasio explains, “… drive that comes from conscious feeling has allowed us to devise solutions for the many, many problems that nature did not solve for us.”
Damasio talks about neuroscience and stress. Stress, as I’ve written before, is part of life. You can reduce it but not eliminate it entirely. And if you live in an urban environment, you likely suffer more consistent stress over a long time. Neuroscience tells us stress has the brain release hormones that are not helpful to us. On the other hand, Damasio says, “it so happens that the brain is very good at detecting dissonance and harmony. If things are fairly harmonic in our life, the brain works in a harmonic way. One of the ways in which it expresses that harmony is by producing a variety of chemical molecules that maintain the [body and brain] tissues in good health.” Living a healthy life helps with this harmony. Being physically active, keeping yourself mentally active, and eating healthy foods all provide the brain and body with the environment and fuel it needs to help you deal with diseases of the day.
Nobody in Neuroscience is saying you won’t get Alzheimer’s or cancer, or heart disease but Damasio says, “The more you put your brain to work, not only as a child but as an older person, the more likely it is that your brain is going to be in good condition and offset the ravages that may come from disease.”
So, neuroscience is helping us make connections between our brain, mind, body and our behaviors. If we want to achieve everything we desire and live a long and healthy life then the choices we make about work, play, environment, exercise, and diet are important but supporting this equally is our habits and behaviors around our emotions and feelings they produce.
This leads in nicely to my final topic today, and this is discussing how hypnosis informs us about neuroscience and vice versa, and how hypnosis can help with the mind body connection.
HYPNOSIS AND NEUROSCIENCE:
David A. Oakley and Peter W. Halligan write, “Hypnosis uses the powerful effects of attention and suggestion to produce, modify and enhance a broad range of subjectively compelling experiences and behaviours. For more than a century, hypnotic suggestion has been used successfully as an adjunctive procedure to treat a wide range of clinical conditions. Recent studies using hypnotic suggestion show how it can provide insights into brain mechanisms involved in attention, motor control, pain perception, beliefs and volition. Moreover, they indicate that hypnotic suggestion can create informative analogues of clinical conditions that may be useful for understanding these conditions and their treatments” .
Scientists and researchers studying hypnosis and neuroscience fall into two categories.
The first uses hypnosis to conduct laboratory study to help understand our brain and cognitive capabilities, and even to help understand consciousness. Highly suggestible hypnotic subject’s voluntary submits to experiments aiming to understand our brain working using fMRI technologies when in hypnosis and asked to think specific thoughts about color and or physical pain. The outcome being, for example, to see what part of the brain is being activated when we’re asked to not see colors, such as think gray, or to see blue color when we are shown pictures of red color. Understanding the areas of the brain participating in this “influence” helps neuroscientists piece together how the brain (and mind) accomplishes this.
The other set of experiments aims to use our understanding of neuroscience to explain and capture hypnosis and how it works rather than rely on so-called first-person explanations of those who benefited from hypnotic intervention. This path of understanding is aimed at allowing us to capture what clinical opportunities we have for intervention in symptoms that hypnosis can aid in overcoming, or at least controlling. This path of experiments also helps in confirming our ability to control what scientists label as automatic processes which covers our habits. It’s long been determined that hypnosis can help individuals help overcome and/or replace habits which have an automatic trigger such as smoking or unhealthy eating.
Various scientific papers tackle these topics, particularly the one cited already from Oakley and Halligan , and one covering hypnosis research conducted over the last two decades . Both these types of experiments advance our understanding of hypnosis and its clinical use and of understanding our brain neurology and how this is linked to our “mind” concept.
As neuroscience progresses hypnosis and our understanding of how both can impact our mind and body, then, we begin to really bridge how the most important mechanism for controlling the physical condition of your body is your mind. “In order to truly apply the benefits of the mind body connection to your life, you need to first understand and accept what you are currently is the result of your thinking. If you go there in the mind, then you will most likely go there in the body!” 
This concept is a basic one in the mind body connection and shouldn’t be alien to you if you’ve ever gotten into poor outcomes and can trace it back to your thinking in certain situations at the time, as in… “whatever was I thinking…?”
Hypnosis, we know, helps us focus intently on a topic or outcome while in a relaxed state. “Discipline and concentration are the keys for understanding and working the mind body connection. You realize your mind is your primary mover or catalyst which has the complete abilities to take you where you want to go. How is this achieved? It is best achieved through tunnel vision, a heightened state of awareness, highly focused thinking — HYPNOSIS!” 
Now, meditation and other forms of relaxation, are similar to hypnosis to help with the same mind body connection, but hypnosis allows us to get to the same place quicker and with a deep focus in our unconscious mind, either through practiced self-hypnosis or with guidance from a hypnotherapist. Hypnosis is beneficial for replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, which helps in a positive mind body connection to achieve the outcomes we want.
So, neuroscience offers up many promises for our future. Discovering the secrets of our brain (and mind) and its intricate workings and impact on us provides the opportunity to understand how to influence it. Being able to influence it, using powerful tools such as hypnosis, means our bodies will benefit if harnessed into our mind body connection as we strive for successful living and outcomes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to neuroscience and will use the resources below to explore it further. Our brain is a marvelous and complex organ and at the center of not only controlling our bodies but influencing our thoughts and feelings that lead to the quality of our life, and the condition of our body. It is in bridging these two we look towards neuroscience to decipher and educate us on how we can influence our brain to achieve our desires for our life.
Neuroscience is a relatively new field of science and is the study of the nervous system which is all controlled from our brain. So, those studying in neuroscience are heavy into understanding how our brain and its processes work. But we know a lot more about the brain today than how it influences our thoughts, emotions and feelings and other aspects of psychology. A large promise of the field is in bridging the gap between itself, and the fields of psychology and mental health by being able to explain why we think, feel and act a certain way.
Neuroscience informs us more about how our brain works to make the connections we seek in psychology where we look to understand what makes us human, and for those seeking help from the field of psychology to understand our personalities, why we act the way we do, and importantly what needs to be fixed when the brain doesn’t function the way we expect and produce serious brain and mental illnesses.
Thought provokers in neuroscience argue what the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks. After all, they argue, it’s our feelings in response to our emotions that are central to what happens to our body.
Discovering the secrets of our brain (and mind) and its intricate workings and impact on us provides the opportunity to understand how to influence it. Being able to influence it, using powerful tools such as hypnosis, means our bodies will benefit if harnessed into our mind body connection as we strive for successful living and outcomes.
 Schwartz, S. J., Meca, A., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Sauvigné, K. C. (2016). The role of neuroscience within psychology: A call for inclusiveness over exclusiveness. American Psychologist, 71, 52-70. >>>
Erika Slater CH
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