Friday, July 25, 2008

Brain Science Podcast #42: "On Being Certain"

In reference to Alberta woman with chiropractic stroke sues bigtime:

Ginger Campbell's latest podcast is about the book, "On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not ", by neurologist Robert A. Burton, MD.

About half way through it, she says;
"Earlier on I asked the question, "What would be the possible benefits of "a feeling of knowing" that is actually false?" This brings us to a consideration of our brain's reward systems, and how they interact and influence our thoughts.

We know that there are extensive connections between the pleasure rewards systems, emotions, and the opioid peptides in the brain. We have talked about in the past the mesolimbic-dopamine system, which is a key component of the brain reward circuitry that originates in the upper brainstem. It, not surprisingly, seems to use dopamine as its key neurotransmitter. This mesolimbic dopamine system connects to the parts of the brain that are involved in emotion and cognition, including parts of the frontal lobes, and the nucleus accumbens which is thought to be involved in addiction. It's been shown that brain mediated rewards cause behaviours to persist, including addictions.

So you have to wonder, how is this related to the feeling of knowing? Dr. Burton gives an example in the book, of a person faced with a charging lion, who climbs up in a tree and survives. After the person escapes he has the feeling that he has learned something. And if you make these sorts of decisions repeatedly, you will probably have a positive feeling of "correctness" that becomes linked to that behaviour.

Dr. Burton argues that the feeling of knowing and feelings of familiarity are integral to learning."

Fine, so why am I bringing this forward? Because my human primate social grooming brain thinks humans are learning machines who:
1. can learn all sorts of crazy things
2. learn all sorts of physical actions
3. make up all sorts of bizarre and sometimes dangerous rituals

.... that often fall into the category of "stupid human tricks."

Among these, I would definitely put neck manipulation of the high velocity sort.

I can't prove it, but have always suspected that both doing it and having it done to one's own person likely belong in the category of "addictive behaviours" as well as "stupid human tricks", but this is the first time I've heard a (potentially associated) brain pathway actually spelled out.

No one in the greater HPSG sub-troop acts more "certain" of themselves, on the whole, than those practitioners who favor this approach. Except possibly the patients who've been on the receiving end of it, convinced that it "helps" them, even when they still "need" it monthly for 10 years, etc. (See Keith's observations/comments in "Alberta woman" link.) I'd put that in the category of "false knowledge"; the feeling of being certain outweighs the obviousness that it doesn't really help much of anything at all, except a reward pathway (temporarily) and furthermore only reinforces a behaviour peculiar to humans, reinforces a pathway that goes nowhere and does nothing permanent, does not give the brain a chance to learn a new behaviour toward self-sufficiency.

Further reading:

1. Harriet Hall's review of the same book.
2. Is certainty a dopameme?

August 8/08

I'm back into this post to drop a link to Ginger Campbell's Podcast #43, an interview with the author. It really rips along - give it a listen! Thumbs-up.

Glia from a manual therapy perspective

I've been neglecting the blogs in favor of immersing myself in learning all about glia - two books arrived, and I confess I've become captivated by these little critters.

The books are Glial Neurobiology (2007, Verkhratsky and Butt) and Neuroglia (2005, Kettenmann).

In particular, microglia are involved in pain production, it seems. I'll be delving into more about this on the Neurotonics blog soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Antidote for ordinary 'sturm und drang'?

Eric Matheson at Feel Better...move well blog recently posted a couple youtube videos on meditation, Cognitive Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation. His post contains a Jon Kabat-Zinn Google presentation which I already posted about earlier this year, plus a new one I hadn't seen before, another google talk by Philippe Goldin.

I've watched about 20 minutes of it so far, and so far I'm captivated. He makes the point that meditation is moving out of the domain of faith-based activity, is becoming a scientific curiosity instead. A wide range of applications are developing out of earlier work done by Kabat-Zinn's work with stress reduction.

Maybe someday there will even be simple, straight-forward, pre-packaged, no-need-for-any-belief-system, non-pharmaceutical, evidence-based mental exercises to manage ordinary human angst, the 'sturm und drang' of ordinary existence, life in an achingly vulnerable human brain that evolved so fast that it learns too much about too many things too soon, and must spend far too much time growing its own buffers somehow; buffers, which if they are merely defense mechanisms, can sometimes do more harm than good.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Moving back into this body

In reference to Car-free at last:

Lately I've surfaced, after about 8 years of being at the computer every day for hours, to notice the effects that have accumulated. For one thing my environmental standards (i.e., housekeeping levels) have slipped some. Too-much-sitting has definitely moved me away from my own physicality. Selling the car was a ritual move, a symbol of intent, a sacrifice made to impress upon my own brain how seriously I am inclined to view any threatened parting of me from my aging (nearly 60), softening, and too heavy body, and its lack of stamina, increased sense of windedness. I walk to work and back a couple times a day, always have, a total distance of not quite 4 km. The work itself is physical. This however, is definitely no longer enough to counter the entropy I feel in this body. It just doesn't feel like a happy body anymore. I do not have overt pain, just a feeling of stiffness when I first stand up and a feeling of inner resistance or friction, lack of space inside.

It's noticeable enough that I actually joined and am going to go to a gym today.

I will have to suck up the displeasure I feel at descending a staircase into a basement affair, with the smell of rubber and steel and sweat, and the anxiety of feeling physically incompetent before the gaze and possible judgment of who knows how many hard-bodies who've already been there working out for years. I paid my $ and I have the right to be there, using equipment and adding CO2 to the cloud already in the room. The payoff will not be a lovely athletic body, because I lack such genes - instead my payoff will be a stronger humanantigravitysuit that fits better, hopefully feels better and may actually manage to dump some of its excess ballast.

I'm going to keep a food diary too - I hear it's a good CBT way to handle weight loss. For sure, if ideomotor (nonconscious) eating was adequate to sustain normal weight, I'd be normal weight instead of overweight. So, it's high time for a new strategy.

I'm back from the initial foray to the gym. It didn't smell bad at all. There is even fresh smelling air pumped in from somewhere, somehow. Everything was spanking clean; even though the equipment has seen better days in terms of its paint job and shininess, it was clean, and this is huge. The place is in a basement, with the ubiquitous row of treadmills facing a row of TV sets with the sound turned down, but the music was not clanging or too loud, and I have to say, I've never been on a smoother more well-appointed treadmill in my life, or a nicer smoother workout bike.

A bit of treadmill, a bit of bike, pushing a few machines around a bit (noting where my shoulders feel a tad stiff meanwhile), all in all about 45 minutes worth, and I walked out with quads that felt like cotton candy and a definite sense of being back in contact with my abs. Well, with what I have that supposedly are abs.. Plus, feeling way less stiff.

I found this today: Protein coingestion stimulates muscle protein synthesis during resistance-type exercise. Hmm. Maybe this is why I've been craving red meat lately - red meat which I almost never eat. I'm about to eat it two days in a row. I thought it was just me succumbing to magical thinking, that eating meat would help me build some of my own, but maybe there's actually something scientific to it.

Update July 16/08:
The diary thing is a good idea. So is the protein idea. I've eaten three sirloin steaks, two chicken breasts and two large slabs of salmon. Not much else, because I don't feel very hungry after such a large amount of protein... not until the next day. (But it is fruit season and I do love fruit... so a bowl of fruit with some non fat yogurt is a treat most days.) An unexpected side benefit is deeper, better, longer sleep. In the past week, I've been to the gym twice, have exercised at home with weights twice, have lost 5 pounds and 4 inches. I feel better, and am more sure now that I can reclaim this physicality for at least a few more decades.

Update July 26/08
So far so good. Weightloss has slowed way down, of course, as my body fights to retain itself and resources shift around, but the high protein thing seems to be working for me in terms of keeping my appetite reduced and me from being at the mercy of it. I'm rarely "hungry"- by "hungry" I mean, "can't think about anything but food and trying to find something to put into the mouth." One night I got "hungry," did succumb to eating a piece of cheese, which switched it off. I wrote it down in the food diary of course.
So, so far: weightloss: 6.5 lbs., no change in BMI, inches lost: 5. Trips to gym, still only 2. But I did jog about a third of a km. That's rare.

Update Aug 7/08
Sticking with the plan, keeping the diary, not exercising much, lost a bit more (8 pounds so far total).

Update Aug 11/08
I'm looking forward to the day, way off in the mists of future time, when I won't be all jazzed about having lost another half pound. But I did. And I'm jazzed. Eight point five.

I'm also jazzed because I finally figured out a way to get vegetables into myself without gagging on them - I hate the way they taste, most of them. It's not their fault, it's just the way it is between me and vegetables. They get stuck between my teeth, and they taste bitter, and they don't feel good in my system. Usually.

Well, I discovered that throwing broccoli or celery or whatever, into a heavy-duty blender, with some low-fat milk, and whizzing them to death first, makes them go down a lot easier. It's instant "cream of whatever" soup. The veges are still quite raw. Heating the "soup" up in a big latte cup, in the microwave for a couple minutes, makes the whole experience (of eating veggies, for me) a lot less nauseating. Then I can "drink" it - it even gets a sort of nice foam on top.

It's best to make this fresh each time. I tried storing some "cream de broccoli soup" in the fridge overnight, and the next day the taste had gone bitter.

August 21/08 Update
A total of ten pounds are off as of today. Ten pounds, fifty days.
That works out to one pound every 5 days. A fifth of a pound per day. Sixteen ounces in a pound. Three point two ounces per day. Not a lot of effort. Actually, less effort than I should have been making probably. Most of that was in the first week however, so... there will be a slower rate. But it barely matters. I've got the rest of my life, so I'm not especially worried how slow it goes.

What I really am struck by is how I have "learned" not to care about eating so much/as much, by writing each item down. I'm eating more vegetables (as cream soup) and liking them more. As long as I rotate the protein so it's not the same two days in a row, I'm cool with that too. I've had a dish or ice cream and a slice of that fudge sold at the local fair (and enjoyed them). They did not seem to slow the process appreciably. My metabolism must therefore be improving a bit. These food indiscretions seemed not to awaken any sleeping appetite dragons.

Sept 12/08 Update
Down two and a half more pounds. I'm sticking with the flesh- 1 or 2% milk - veg- and/or - fruit-smoothie diet quite easily. As long as weight keeps peeling off, I don't care how long it takes, really. I'm not tired of the food and I'm not hungry. It's very paleolithic + dairy, except that I have a good blender and access to food shops, unlike my human primate ancestors. The big change is the food diary idea. It's a really good tool - seems to be precisely what I needed for getting out of the nonconscious maze.

October 4/08
Down by 15 pounds as of today. Have been at this weight before but never so mindfully, never by calculatedly descending the metaphoric mountain, usually just by falling off it somewhere at some point, and bouncing back up. The food diary helps a lot. I do not skimp on portions. I merely eat one meal a day (involving fish, fowl or meat), and a snack (fruit smoothie) for dinner. Yes, it's slow. I realize that. But I also am not especially willing to resort to (artificially added) exercise yet. I walk everywhere (total about 40 minutes/day), physically carrying everything I need to move from A to B, and am actively moving about at work and using upper body strength all day. I think it's enough. I'm trying to learn to eat less. That's what this is really about. As Harriet Hall says in her review of Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto,
Eat a variety of food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I will start to shift to mostly plants a bit later perhaps. Pollan suggests mostly leaves, not seeds. I suppose by being a fructi-carnivore, I'm not eating properly. But I do feel satisfied for now, and so far this is working for me.

November 22/08
Down by 20 lbs. from start in June. Feel better. Definitely.
I've noticed I always gain a pound or so for a few days after socializing. I attribute this to having stress - I'm an introvert and socializing is always (no matter if I enjoyed myself or not) stressful. And I do not indulge calorically when I socialize, so I suspect it's from my cortisol level having gone up a little, for a little while.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Car-free at last

In reference to Divorcing the car:

Five minutes ago I walked inside $1800 richer (in twenties bound into 4 lots with rubber bands, in my packet, a thick wad to take to the bank later when it opens), and way more than just a ton lighter.

My car has just been affectionately transferred to a new owner, and all I had to officially keep were the plates. Oh, and the little bag of trash I filled from inside glove box and drink console. I can put the remote for the garage door away now. [big smile]I don't need it anymore[/big smile].

I feel good, really pleased with how relatively effortless this transition was.