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The Blood Brain Barrier or No Wonder I Can’t Think Straight

March 2, 2010

You know how you’ll hear or read something unusual that seems clever, interesting or different and you’ll notice it, maybe without realizing it. Then, a few days later you’ll hear or read a reference to that same thing, and then again a month or two later?

This probably happens most to people who use their analytical brains a lot for a living — teachers, writers, psychologists, etc. It’s how catchy names and phrases like “Google” and “think outside the box” go viral, I suppose.

This has happened to me lately with something I knew nothing about previously — the blood brain barrier.

It came up in a couple of books I’ve been reading, though I can’t remember which ones, which might say something about my blood brain barrier. It was also mentioned on a health segment on cable news not long ago. Then, last night it surfaced again on House, the Fox doctor show, in regard to a patient’s cancer treatment.

Looking up the concept is fruitless because of all the medical-speak, but I found a site called “Neuroscience for Kids” that was helpful. It turns out that not everything in the bloodstream can get into the brain’s own blood supply because the brain knows that it is the most important organ in the body.

It reminds me of something I read many years ago that portrayed the brain as a character in a drama supremely interested in self-preservation, which is why we usually duck our heads first and ask questions later when physical danger approaches.

The brain also dodges substances in the blood that other organs blithely absorb despite their dangers. One caveat: Lipid soluble molecules, such as barbiturate drugs, rapidly cross through into the brain — an indication perhaps that even the obsessive cerebellum needs an escape now and then.

I suppose I’ve been tuned in to this knowledge about the brain because of an evolution in my thinking toward the idea that the brain has a mind of its own, so to speak. I’m sure my brain doesn’t like that I’ve discovered that I can argue with it, but that’s too bad.

For example, our brains are geared toward finding the negative. Happy, positive events are nice but since the brain’s major goal is self-preservation, it is more attuned to anything that might be a threat. That means our brains can make us believe there is an impending negative event when there is none.

Also, some of us have brains that constantly seek stimulation, so they introduce drama and pathos where there is actually mostly peace and harmony, or at least lots for which to be grateful. Our brains tend to survey the landscape and look for anything that doesn’t fit. The brain has a bias toward dualities — good/bad, black/white, smart/dumb.

It’s good to know this about the brain because life is really more complicated than that, and less dramatic. I call it thinking in mutualities. It’s not easy to do; it goes against the brain’s natural tendencies. But it breaks through the psychological brain blood barrier that can keep us locked in our own negative thinking.

Things usually aren’t as bad as they might seem.

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