We don’t prepare for old age, because when we are young we think we are immortal.
This is so true. We see this in young men under 25 and the psychologists call it “young man’s syndrome.” It is near impossible for men in this age bracket to imagine their own death. So why does our brain and mental health come into clear focus later in life? What changes? Is there a certain quota of aches and pains that have to occur before we realize we are mortal? Maybe this syndrome is a survival mechanism. Maybe it once kept us at the top of the food chain before we became domesticated creatures. Whatever the reason for it, it shows a very important point:
Our brain has a lot to do with our notion of reality.
Phineas Gage, whose skull and brain injury is a pillar of brain study, emerged from his injury virtually unaffected. The thick metal rod shot directly through his cheek and up through his brain leaving fragments of of brain and bone on it yards away. Though everyone thought he would die, he lived another 15 years. His reason and inhibitions drastically changed in those 15 years, but he did indeed live.
Four representations of Phineas Gage, from Macmillan, M. (2006). Restoring Phineas Gage: A 150th Retrospective. J. Hist. Neurosci. 9: 46-66. [Abstract]
I think we take for granted that our brain is like a knee or an elbow or any other external body part: It can get bruised, it can get scratched and upset. Birth defects are a given, but during our life, parts of our brain can be neglected, causing neuroses. It doesn’t have to be a metal rod through the skull to affect our brain chemistry. We tend to think that our brains are immortal. Just because they are there hidden and snug inside our skulls, we can trust they are feeding us a perception that is 100% “reality.” I challenge that common belief. I posit that for as many brains there are walking the Earth there are different notions of reality. We may share some of the basics, but after that brain chemistry differs and therefore so does perception.
So what does this mean to you? Do all you can to take care of your brain. The instrument is fine. The treasures you will find will be in your mind. If you are chronically upset, see a doctor. It could be a chemical problem. There are many out there untreated. Why suffer when drugs exist to bring you into balance? Short of drugs, make sure you eat right and get the vitamins you need. Sleep and rest are also crucial to mental balance. The next time you think you are upset because of “real” things, remember that your imperfect and delicate brain interprets real. Until you’ve had the decent sleep, mediation, and diet, you should never assume that your brain is qualified to judge reality. Even then, it still can be wrong.
Is your brain getting all it needs?