A mayor cantidad de oxitocina endógena, mejor interacción social. La oxitocina se produce por neuronas desde el núcleo del tracto solitario, y por neuronas desde el núcleo cerebral de la amígdala medial.
Esta es la oxitocina.
Cuando la oxitocina se administra en forma de aerosol nasal, para acceder al cerebro, puede dar como resultado aumento de las sensaciones subjetivas de confianza, generosidad, reconocimiento emocional y la empatía social. También se la ha relacionado con una sensación de calma y bienestar. Dados todos estos beneficios, la oxitocina en aerosol puede encontrarse en docenas de sitios en internet como la «poción del amor» para mejorar la vida propia vida sentimental, aunque estas afirmaciones son dudosas en el mejor de los casos.
The nervous system has enough complexity underlying in the vasteness of neural and connecting settings. Stressful responses originally exists evolutionarily being part of the general adaptation syndrome, named by Hans Selye. But the lifestyle is originating an enormous burst of stress to each individual. There are some interventions known from ancient times, including several types of meditation, which were re-discovered by scholar researchers during the last decades of the last century, which were re-inforced in its impact on the nervous system, by many of the techniques intensely researched during the previous decade of the brain. The mindfulness is a well-proven intervention demonstrating evidence in controlling functional states of several structures of nervous system, namely prefrontal cortex, hippocampal structures, cyngulate cortex, thalamus, and the resulting attention not only controls the stressful response, but improves cognition and cognitive abilities. And the amigdala, the nucleus in the forebrain linked to fear and stressful responses, diminish in size, and in function, improving conditions such as chronic pain, pos-traumatic stress disorders, to mention some. The value of mindfulness as described by the investigator Jon Kavatt Zin is of big value when taking in consideration the new definition of health, namely the abilities to face and to adapt to stressful situations in a physical, social or mental challenges.
Brief introduction to the brain.
The human brain is the most complex object in universe, is a reddish grey mass, with the consistency of firm jelly, which weighs on average 1200 grams and contains nearly 100 billion cells called neurones. Each neurone has a cell body which houses its processor, the nucleus and a lot of batteries providing energy, the mithochondria. Branching from the bodies are numerous processes or extension called collectively neurites, classified as dendrites or axons. Dendrytes branch and re-branch, are tree like structures that intertwingle with another dendritic trees of other neurones, while axon allows the transmission of electrical impulses to target tissues or another neurons. Each neurone makes up to 1000 different connections with its neighbours and different areas of the brain. This extensive connectivity allows electrical signals, and thus information to travel from one brain processing centre to another in a matter of milliseconds.
The human brain is organised in a hierarchical manner: the oldest core parts controlling the more primitive, instinctual behavioural reflexes; the newest parts enveloping the new ones, are controlling the more sophisticated cognitive, sensory and motor functions. The human brain is made up of three main blocks: the forebrain, the midbrain and the hindbrain.
The brain is made of three main parts: the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. The forebrain consists of the cerebrum, thalamus, and hypothalamus (part of the limbic system). The midbrain consists of the tectum and tegmentum. The hindbrain is made of the cerebellum, pons and medulla. Often the midbrain, pons, and medulla are referred to together as the brainstem, which is the oldest part, evolved more than 500 million years ago. It closely resembles the brain of a modern reptile. It is responsible for automatic physiological reflexes that control in example breathing, heart rate and digestion, and coordinate movement and sense perception.
The midbrain contains neurones responsible for temperature control and the fine tuning of movement. It relays sensory information from the bodies sensory organs to the forebrain, while the hindbrain is made of the cerebellum, pons and medulla.
The most evolved part is the forebrain which is composed of cerebral hemispheres, and is what we most commonly think of as the brain, and the hypothalamus and thalamus. It also plays an important part of the limbic system, a group of brain structures associated with the expression of emotion. In the last 100,000 years, the weight of the human brain has almost tripled, and most of this growth has been mainly by the cerebral hemispheres. The neurones of the forebrain control cognitive, sensory and motor function, as well as regulating reproductive functions, eating, sleeping and the display of emotion. (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Structure1.html)
Neuroscience behind emotions
Emotions are triggered in the brain by thoughts, which are often unconscious. When we are confronted by a potential threat, this can trigger the best known feelings of fear, anger or the urge to flee (sometimes called “amygdala hyjack“). The reaction is often disproportionate to the actual provocation.
Stress is thought to be an important factor in many health problems. Early stress researchers found that regardless of the environmental stressor, a generalized physiological response was activated in the organism called the “fight or flight,” or stress response and termed the General Adaptation Syndrome by Hans Selye. When an individual encounters a stressor, the body part that first notes the stimulus passes the signal to the brain. The physical problems related to chronic stress include the lowering of the immune response, chronic muscle tension, and increased blood pressure.These problems can eventually lead to serious life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks, kidney disease, and cancer (http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/hints/stress1.htm)
Makes absolute sense in the lifestyle we live in, the mastering of these stressful emotions, so then the enhancement of the own´s abilities for higher “rational brain” thinking favours the person, being likely to avoid the automatically behaviour stored in the basal ganglia.
MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.
As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker.
The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognise and observe our thought patterns. Practitioners develop the ability to recognise when thoughts arise, and observe them in a detached manner, without the need to become involved in them, in the way described by professor Jon Kavatt-Zim Ph.D. (thus not triggering an emotional or “automatic” reaction).
The basic and classic conflict between reason and emotion is between the amygdala, or the emotional and fearful part of the brain, and the frontal cortex, which can calm the amygdala and sort things out rationally. Curiously, there is a limit to what the rational brain can handle, and the neuroanatomy can explain why. Projections from the amygdala to the brainstem, via the hypothalamus, regulate the expression of autonomic reactions to social signals, affecting the prefrontal cortex (PFC). In the same way, the control of the amygdala (AMY) arises from the anterior cingulate cortex (ACG) and affects the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) (http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2010/10/serotonin-regulates-our-moral.html)
Right Brain and Left Brain?
The theory of right brain vs. left brain dominance originates with Nobel Prize winning neurobiologist and neuropsychologist Roger Sperry. Sperry discovered that the left hemisphere of the brain usually functions by processing information in rational, logical, sequential, and overall analytical ways. The right hemisphere tends to recognize relationships, integrate and synthesize information, and arrive at intuitive thoughts. By working together as a team, sharing logical and creative information, the two hemispheres can generate a more complete description. A study conducted at the University of Utah has debunked the myth. Neuroscientists analyzed over 1,000 brain scans from people between the ages of seven and 29. The brain scans did not show any evidence that people use one side of the brain more than the other. Essentially, the brain is interconnected, and the two hemispheres support each other in its processes and functions (http://www.diffen.com/difference/Left_Brain_vs_Right_Brain)
Kavat- Zimm describes mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”. This general understanding is echoed by other authors who explain mindfulness as being “characterized by dispassionate, non-evaluative, and sustained moment-to-moment awareness of perceptible mental states and processes. This includes continuous, immediate awareness of physical sensations, perceptions, affective states, thoughts, and imagery” (Front Neurosci.2013;7:8).
Mindfulness interventions do begin with concentrative attention practices, such as attending to parts of the body or one’s breath, initially seeking to strengthen attentional control. Practice however then transitions to more ‘open monitoring’ practices of widespread attention to all sensations, thoughts and emotions (Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Feb; 57(2): 70–77.)
When practicing mindfulness the activation of the amygdala confers emotional significance to the lack of sensory information. Through these actions on the hypothalamus, the amygdala modifies the activity of the autonomic nervous system. First a blissful, peaceful state arises from the maximal activation of the parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system, and then, as the different neural, hormonal and other triggers swing in, there is a maximal activation of the sympathetic (arousal) nervous system, producing a mentally clear and alert state. Physiological effects, such as changes to breathing rate, heart rate or blood pressure are the result of the amygdala’s effect on midbrain structures that control these functions. Both of the left and right orientation and verbal-conceptual association areas are virtually switched off. A lack of activity in the right orientation association area gives rise to a sense of unity and wholeness, where as lack of activity in the left orientation association area results in the dissolving of the self/non-self boundary (http://www.mindfulnet.org/page25.htm). In emotion regulation, mindfulness provides prefrontal training that seems to promote the stable recruitment of a non-conceptual sensory pathway, an alternative to conventional cognitive reappraisal strategies. The attentional resources are directed towards a limbic pathway for present-moment sensory awareness, involving the thalamus, insula (Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Feb; 57(2): 70–77.)
What happens in the brain during meditation?
In experiments of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – MBSR subjects showed (1) increased functional connectivity within auditory and visual networks, (2) increased functional connectivity between auditory cortex and areas associated with attentional and self-referential processes, (3) stronger anticorrelation between auditory and visual cortex, and (4) stronger anticorrelation between visual cortex and areas associated with attentional and self-referential processes. These findings depicts that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation training can alter intrinsic functional connectivity in ways that may reflect a more consistent attentional focus, enhanced sensory processing, and reflective awareness of sensory experience (Neuroimage. 2011 May 1;56(1):290-8)
Meditation includes a variety of practices aimed at focusing attention and awareness. Two general forms of meditation exist, namely “focused attention” and “open monitoring“. Initially a practitioner will often utilize focused attention practice to enhance attentional skills. The “open monitoring” practices focus widespread attention to all sensations, thoughts and emotions. Then, it will be possible to engage in open monitoring, which involves moment-by-moment awareness of whatever occurs in one’s awareness (Front Neurosci.2013;7:8).
Another experiments in expert Theravada Buddhist monks and lay novices with 10 days of meditation practice on the above modalities, suggests that expert meditators control cognitive engagement in conscious processing of sensory-related, thought and emotion contents, by massive self-regulation of fronto-parietal and insular areas in the left hemisphere, in a meditation state-dependent fashion. So then, a functional reorganization of brain activity patterns for meditation type takes place with mental practice, and that meditation-related neuroplasticity is crucially associated to a functional reorganization of activity patterns in prefrontal cortex and in the insula (Brain Res Bull. 2010 Apr 29;82(1-2):46-56.)
Cognition Improved By Mindfulness Meditation
In another experiments in the framework of meditation, it was explored the hippocampal features analyzing high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging data from 30 long-term meditators and 30 matched controls. It was found that left and right hippocampal volumes were larger in meditators than in controls, significantly so for the left hippocampus. The implications of larger hippocampal dimensions in long-term meditators may constitute part of the underlying neurological substrate for cognitive skills, mental capacities, and/or personal traits associated with the practice of meditation (Hum Brain Mapp. 2013 Dec;34(12):3369-75.)
To know more about interventions improving functioning and mental conditions will be of utility when dealing stressful conditions and maybe to avoid risk factors to develop neurodegenerative conditions. Mindfulness shows evidence when executed during eight weeks and the more the practice, the better the benefits.
Recently, the term “inflammaging” was coined by Franceschi and colleagues to characterize a widely accepted paradigm that aging is accompanied by a low-grade chronic up-regulation of certain pro-inflammatory responses. Inflammaging differs significantly from the traditional five cardinal features of acute inflammation in that it is characterized by a relative decline in adaptive immunity and T-helper 2 responses and is associated with increased innate immunity by cells of the mononuclear phagocyte lineage (J Neuroinflammation. 2008 Nov 11;5:51)
Recientemente, el término “inflammaging” fue acuñado por Franceschi y colegas para caracterizar un paradigma ampliamente aceptado de que el envejecimiento se acompaña de una inflamación crónica de bajo grado con suprarregulación de ciertas respuestas pro-inflamatorias. Inflammaging difiere significativamente de las tradicionales cinco características cardinales de la inflamación aguda, en que hay una disminución relativa de la inmunidad adaptativa y de las respuestas de linfocitos del tipo T-helper 2 y se asocia con un aumento de la inmunidad innata de las células del linaje fagocítico mononuclear.
The association between the increase in life expectancy in humans and age related changes in the immune system promotes that individuals are exposed longer to endogenous and environment antigens which allows an activation of the innate immune system and the subsequent establishment of a low grade chronic inflammation state with an increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin 6, etc.). This inflammatory state referred as inflammaging.
Con el aumento en la expectativa de vida del ser humano, los individuos se encuentran expuestos por más tiempo a distintos antígenos que, junto con el envejecimiento del sistema inmunológico, favorecen el establecimiento de un estado inflamatorio crónico de bajo grado con aumento en la expresión de citocinas proinflamatorias (factor de necrosis tumoral alfa, interleucina 6, etc.). Este estado denominado inflammaging se caracteriza por un envejecimiento de origen inflamatorio.
WHAT TO DO – INTERVENTIONS
Exercise is so far one of the possible useful interventions to avoid the effects of inflammation in the origin of diseases associated with aging. Exercise promotes a state of regulated stress. This increases the serum levels of IL-6 which leads to increased consumption of fat by promoting lipolysis to efficiently produce energy during physical activity.
Furthermore, increases in IL-6 are associated with a compensating reaction characterized by the production of IL-10 and other cytokines which exerts receptor antagonistic IL-1 activity, which induces a balance in the balance of inflammation functions.
Dietary supplementation of antioxidants, B vitamins, polyphenols, and polyunsaturated fatty acids are beneficial to AD, and consumptions of fish, fruits, vegetables, coffee, and light-to-moderate alcohol reduce the risk of AD (BioMed Research International. 2013;2013:524820) El ejercicio físico es hasta el momento una de las posibles intervenciones útiles para evitar los efectos de la inflamación en el origen de enfermedades asociadas al envejecimiento. El ejercicio promueve un estado de estrés regulado. Éste incrementa los niveles séricos de IL-6 lo cual conduce a un mayor consumo de tejido adiposo al favorecer la lipólisis para producir de forma eficiente energía durante la actividad física. Además, los incrementos en la IL-6 se relacionan con una reacción compensadora caracterizada por la producción de IL-10 y otras citocinas con funciones antagónicas al receptor de la IL-1 por lo que induce un equilibrio en la balanza de la inflamación.
Las asociaciones entre el riesgo para la Enfermedad de Alzheimer (AD) y la ingesta de ácido ascórbico (AA) se han investigado en varios grandes estudios de población, tanto en los EE.UU. y también en una muestra grande de Europa. Uno de los primeros estudios parecía muy prometedor cuando los datos se informaron de la Healthy Aging Chicago Proyecto (CHAP) que muestra que ninguno de los> 65 años, los participantes 633 sin demencia que complementarse con AA, desarrollado AD en el período de seguimiento (promedio de 4 años ). Un patrón más complejo de los efectos se informó en el Estudio de Envejecimiento de Honolulú – Asia que comprendía hombres de 71 años a 93 años. En los individuos cognoscitivamente intactos, la ingesta de AA se asoció con una mayor probabilidad para la función cognitiva mejorada. La alta ingesta de AA y la vitamina E se asociaron con una menor probabilidad de demencia vascular.(Nutrients. 2014 Apr 24;6(4):1752-81.)
Los suplementos dietéticos de antioxidantes , vitaminas B , polifenoles y ácidos grasos poliinsaturados son beneficiosos para la Enfermedad de Alzheimer y consumos de pescado, frutas, verduras , café, y ligero a moderado de alcohol reduce el riesgo de Enf. de Alzheimer (BioMed Research International. 2013;2013:524820)
Neuroinflammaging as a precursor of Alzheimer disease
Neuroinflamación como precursora de Enfermedad de Alzheimer
Giunta B, Fernandez F, Nikolic WV, Obregon D, Rrapo E, Town T, Tan J. Inflammaging as a prodrome to Alzheimer’s disease.J Neuroinflammation. 2008 Nov 11;5:51.
Understanding how we age Comprendiendo como envejecemos
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulphated precursor, DHEA sulphate (DHEAS), have opposing actions to cortisol and may protect individuals from the negative effects of inflammaging.
Ascorbic acid and effects in cognition Efectos en cognición de ácido ascórbico (vitamina C)
A more complex pattern of effects was reported in the Honolulu Asia Aging Study which comprised men aged 71 to 93 years. In cognitively intact individuals, AA intake was associated with a higher likelihood for enhanced cognitive function. High AA and vitamin E intake were associated with lower likelihood for vascular dementia.
The level of AA that is sufficient to maintain cognitive function and favorably modify brain aging is unknown. However, its strong free radical scavenging properties, well-characterized transport mechanisms, and sheer CNS content provide a strong basis for exploring a role for promoting optimum brain function (…). A synopsis of the literature provides some fabric of notable consistency: 1) Plasma AA is apparently lower in AD compared with controls and does not appear to be explained by age, gender, BMI, or diet, 2) CSF AA may be moderately lower and the CSF-to-plasma AA ratio higher in AD, but only the CSF-to-plasma AA ratio appears to predict cognitive decline over 1 year in mild-to-moderate AD. BBB impairment may cripple that brains ability to retain a high CSF-to-plasma AA ratio regardless of the robust “carrier” mechanisms in place for AA. Together, these findings suggest an AA “sink” hypothesis in AD—where the brain draws upon the peripheral pools of AA at all cost to shore the antioxidant capacity of the CNS to battle the oxidative stress seen in AD. Factors that affect the brains’ ability to achieve this innate demand for AA may be important considerations for future research (e.g., intake, carrier, and barrier mechanisms).
El nivel de AA que es suficiente para mantener la función cognitiva y modificar favorablemente el envejecimiento del cerebro es desconocida. Sin embargo, sus fuertes propiedades de eliminación de radicales libres, bien caracterizados mecanismos de transporte, y la pura contenido CNS proporcionan una base sólida para explorar el papel de promoción de la función óptima del cerebro (…) Un resumen de la literatura ofrece información consistencia notable: 1) La presencia en Plasma de AA es aparentemente menor en EA en comparación con los controles y no parece explicarse por la edad, sexo, índice de masa corporal, o la dieta, 2) El AA en el líquido cefalorraquídeo (CSF) puede ser moderadamente inferior y la relación de CSF-plasma AA más alto, pero únicamente la relación de AA de CSF/plasma parece predecir el deterioro cognitivo anual en la EA de intensidad leve a moderada. El deterioro de la barrera hemato-encefálica puede afectar en los cerebros la capacidad de retener una alta relación de AA-CSF-plasma, independientemente de los robustos mecanismos “portadores” disponibles para el AA. En conjunto, estos hallazgos sugieren la llamada hipótesis “de sumidero” para el ácido ascórbico en la enfermedad de Alzheimer, donde el cerebro extrae las reservas periféricas de todo el ácido ascórbico a toda costa, para apuntalar la capacidad antioxidante del sistema nervioso central para luchar contra el estrés oxidativo visto en la EA. Los factores que afectan la capacidad de los cerebros para lograr esta demanda innata de AA puede ser consideraciones importantes para la investigación futura (por ejemplo, mecanismos, admisión, portadores, y de barrera.
Free radicals and aging El rol de los radicales libres en el estrés celular del envejecimiento
Experimental evidence suggests that the ageing organism is in a state of oxidative stress, which supports the free radical theory. A number of other theories have been proposed ; some of these are actually compatible with the free radical theory.
The experiences of the autoconscious mind are related to neural activity in the association areas of the brain, with a relative grade of correspondence but not identity. The unity of the conscious experience is based upon the autoconscious mind but not from the complexity of the neuronal wiring/ conexions in the association areas in the cortex. The hypothesis of Karl Popper of the Three Worlds permits to comprehend the reality and the autoconscious mind, trying to solve the perennial quest between body and mind.
The process of the consciousness as a field, implies conceptually to bring it out from the skull. Progress in theoretical physics during the past decade has led to a progressively more unified understanding of the laws of nature, culminating in the recent discovery of the so called completely unified field theories. The parallel discovery of a unified field of consciousness raises fundamental questions concerning the relationship between the two (2). A detailed consideration of the relationship between the unified field and consciousness would benefit from a precise and comprehensive theory of consciousness comparable to the understanding of the unified field available through modern theoretical physics. A key issue from a physiological standpoint is how the nervous system could conceivably interface with the super-unified scale in any significant way. Perhaps the first question to consider in this context is to what extent the nervous system actively participates in the experience and phenomena of pure consciousness. The physiological basis for such an interface is presently unclear, and would probably require some as yet undiscovered quantum-mechanical neurological mechanism (2). A review of relevant research areas, as well as the anesthesia data, leads to a postulation that consciousness is a property of quantum-like processes, within a brain field resonating within a core of structures, which may be the neural substrate of consciousness. This core includes regions of the prefrontal cortex, the frontal cortex, the pre- and paracentral cortex, thalamus, limbic system, and basal ganglia (3). It is mentioned (1) “Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking in the radio for the announcer.” – Nasseim Haramein, director of research for the Resonance Project “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi “A fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates the reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a “mental” construction. Pioneering physicist Sir James Jeans wrote: “The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter, we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter. Get over it, and accept the inarguable conclusion. The universe is immaterial-mental and spiritual.” – R.C. Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University , “The Mental Universe” ; Nature 436:29,2005) Noam Chomsky would say, our consent to accept the present reality has been manufactured. If we continue down this path and continue to perceive and view reality as “this is just the way it is,” we will, in essence, prolong that type of existence and experience for the human race without ever changing it.
Definition of consciousness
The main risk of definition of consciousness is that a meaning judged too wild for inclusion, could eventually turn out to be the most worthwhile, thus delaying progress. For instance, the american philosopher Danah Zohar, describes consciousness as “something that includes general capacity for awareness and purposive response”. By this description, she accepts the above two meanings of the word consciousness. She deems the consciousness is the bridge between the classical world and the quantum world. One of Quantum Mechanics’ shortcomings is that it doesn’t truly explain how reality emerges from the quantum world of elementary particles and probability waves.
Any approach to consciousness in solving the brain-mind problem is how does the brain-mind bind together millions of dissimilar neuron activities into an experience of a perceptual whole. Consciousness is “a difference that makes a difference” at the level of massive neuronal interactions in the most parallel-interactive anatomical structure of the mammalian brain, the cortico-thalamic (C-T) system. Other brain structures are not established to result in direct conscious experiences, at least in humans. Edelman deems that brain events corresponding to attentional selection are prominent and widespread. And attention generally results in conscious experiences, which may be needed to recruit widespread processing resources in the brain. But on the contrary, many neuronal processes never become conscious, such as the balance system of the inner ear (10). Making a “definition of consciousness”, De Sousa (11) provided lists of phenomena which we all recognize as conscious — the waking state, the contents of momentary experiences, and then the propositional experiences of hope and belief in conscious thinking. Complementarily on their side Singh & Singh (12), following their International Seminar on Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, lay out an overlapping but somewhat broader conception of consciousness, referred to as the called Consciousness Tetrad:
Default consciousness: The state that separates the living from the non-living.
Aware consciousness: Ranging from wakefulness, through drowsiness, to sleep — and also altered states from delirium to the comatose.
Operational consciousness: Sensory, motor, cognitive, emotive, aesthetic, creative, etc.
Exalted consciousness: A form of awareness, characterised by some, and by metaphysicians, as spiritual or a contact with a divine entity. For the authors, “Consciousness is a tetrad of brain functions (CT)”.
When is recognized that brain imaging has been and can continue to be valuable in identifying a neural correlate of categories of mental activity — from the waking and altered awareness states to classes of conscious states, from sensory modalities to mental episodes such as recollection or even symptoms, arises a materialistic point of view in which medically, neurocognitively, and philosophically, Mind is the functioning of the brain.
An approach to define ‘consciousness’ is to describe its uses and determine its boundaries, its essential nature, and mechanisms. It can be distinguished between ‘normal waking consciousness’; altered forms of waking consciousness underlying trance, absorption, hypnosis, dissociation, meditative states, drug states, and out of body experiences; and REM/dreaming and slow-wave/deep sleep — examining them by the basic characteristics and mechanisms of normal waking consciousness: cortical arousal, qualitative experiences, first-person subjectivity, intentionality, knowing objects and self (16).
Going up with Dulany (11), consciousness the medium by means we live our lives — and it must have a special explanatory role in what it permits mentation and action by virtue of the symbolic representations it can carry. With symbolic contents we represent the present in sensory and perceptual experience, the past in beliefs and recollections and senses of familiarity — and a possible future as intended or expected or wished or feared or only imagined. We can even symbolically represent our own past or future mental activity in higher-order awareness. The name qualia is an attribute of quality when the experience about past and futures has an impact on our introspective experience.
Even though his materialistic conception, David Chalmers states that “consciousness just is not the sort of thing that can be measured directly. What, then, do we do without a consciousness meter? How can the search go forward? How does all this experimental research proceed? I think the answer is this: we get there with principles of interpretation, by which we interpret physical systems to judge the presence of consciousness.” We might call these pre-experimental bridging principles.
They are the criteria that we bring to bear in looking at systems to say (a) whether or not they are conscious now, and (b) which information they are conscious of, and which they are not (13). Classically, measures of conscious perception in awake humans distinguish between objective performance, such as the ability to discriminate the presence, absence, or identity of distinct stimuli, from subjective reports, such as subjective ratings of the visibility of stimuli or confidence ratings of the accuracy of perceptual decisions, which are associated with conscious perception. Studies taking this approach have benefited from the application of “signal detection theory” (SDT), which provides robust methods for distinguishing objective performance from subjective performance (14).
There is a panpsychist approach which gives us a new perspective on our own human mentality, and it allows, by extension, a better understanding of non-human minds. We can see both as existing on one continuum, comparable to and parallel with the physical continuum of being that we have long accepted. This provides us with a more naturalistic and parsimonious account of mind and consciousness (17).
Briefly, the Quantum Mechanics
These features were first explicitly formulated in the paper by A. Einstein, B. Podolsky and N. Rosen, reformulated later in a more convenient form by John Bell, and experimentally confirmed in the experiments of A. Aspect (20). What does quantum mechanics describe? It might seem, since it is widely agreed that any quantum mechanical system is completely described by its wave function, that quantum mechanics is fundamentally about the behavior of wave functions (21). Paradoxes of quantum mechanics and the resulting so-called “problem of measurement” are known from the early years of quantum mechanics, but are not finally resolved up to now. An essential step in the attempts to solve these problems was made by Everett in its famous “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics. In the sixties the Everett’s approach became much more popular. The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics states that there are many worlds which exist in parallel at the same space and time as our own. The existence of the other worlds makes it possible to remove randomness and action at a distance from quantum theory and thus from all physics. But many physicists think MWI is a very controversial approach, and most of them who work in quantum physics seem to believe that spending time questioning the (essentially untestable) interpretations of quantum physics is a waste of time. When describing wave function, Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 referred: “That it is an abstract, unintuitive mathematical construct is a scruple that almost always surfaces against new aids to thought and that carries no great message.” Schrödinger noted that it may happen in radioactive decay that
the emerging particle is described … as a spherical wave … that impinges continuously on a surrounding luminescent screen over its full expanse. The screen however does not show a more or less constant uniform surface glow, but rather lights up at one instant atone spot.
Consciousness and quantum physics
According to the quantum physicist Paul Dirac, the light can be treated as waves or particles. In fact, in quantum mechanics, particles are regarded as waves. So then, the behaviour of these particles can be predicted, as it were, and,they are thus known as probability waves or Dirac wave particles.There is a wave/particle duality here. When the particle is not observed (when consciousness is not present), it remains a wave (a probability wave), but upon being observed (when consciousness is present) it becomes a particle (4).
Consciousness or “mind-force” is evidently a potent force in nature. The mind is part, an indispensable part, of nature. Scientists such as David Bohm of the Queen Imperial College and Werner Heisenberg, who described the uncertainty principle, as well as many other scientists, evidently pinpointed this fundamental aspect.
Many who research on the brain-mind problem proceed with a prior assumption that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain (see emergentism), but quantum physics indicates that consciousness is related to the awareness that an electron appears to show in the wave/particle duality (double slit experiment: basically when the electron is observed by an instrument placed in the experiment, the electron behaves like a particle, but when is not being observed, the electron behaves like a wave . Quantum physicists have shown that the electron behaves differently when being observed by a human. (5).
Evolving concepts of neuroscience
The human brain without doubt is the most complex organ in the known universe. It is physical and biological. Therefore, it has to be amenable to scientific probing without the intervention of such considerations as the Gödel’s theorem, which states that there are statements in mathematical systems which are true but cannot be proven within those systems.
At the same time, cutting-edge research in the field of neuroscience has revealed the existence of a ‘unified field of consciousness’—a fourth major state of human consciousness, which is physiologically and subjectively distinct from waking, dreaming and deep sleep. In this meditative state, a.k.a. Samadhi, the threefold structure of waking experience—the observer, the observed and the process of observation—are united in one indivisible wholeness of pure consciousness.
These parallel discoveries of a unified field of physics and a unified field of consciousness raise fundamental questions concerning the relationship between the two. In that way, some authors deem the starting point should be neuroscience itself, not consciousness. Stuart Hameroff states on consciousness that the general assumption in modern science and philosophy – the ‘standard model’ – is that consciousness emerges (again the emergentism, where consciousness is an epiphenomenon and it propposes that this change occurs as a result of physical conditions satisfied by the biological system), finally arising from the complex computation circuits among brain neurons, computation whose currency is seen as neuronal firings (‘spikes’) and synaptic transmissions, equated with binary ‘bits’ in digital computing. Consciousness is presumed to ‘emerge’ from complex neuronal computation, and to have arisen during biological evolution as an adaptation of living systems. Nonetheless, on the basis of practical observations, these materialistic assumptions on consciousness have been rejected and now consciousness is regarded as a non-material entity capable of independent eternal existence (9). Due to many technical and conceptual advances, the neuroscience of consciousness has witnessed considerable progress over recent times. One key step towards understanding consciousness is to empirically narrow down neural processes associated with the subjective experience of a particular content. To unravel these neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) a common scientific strategy is to compare perceptual conditions in which consciousness of a particular content is present with those in which it is absent, and to determine differences in measures of brain activity; this approach relies upon particular brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex serving a crucial role in conscious perception; there are theories and empirical evidence suggesting that short-latency prefrontal activity facilitates perception (15). In normal healthy humans, the contents of consciousness have been examined mainly with psychophysical and neuroimaging techniques, unraveling that consciousness may be neither sufficient nor necessary for high-level cognitive functions, such as attention, cognitive control, and volition, at least in simple form (14).
Linking quantum mechanics and consciousness
The union between quantum mechanics and consciousness is shown to open up qualitatively new avenues for the unification of physics and psychology and, more broadly, of the sciences and the humanities. This may lead to an extension of the theory of consciousness and shed light on significant and previously misunderstood phenomena in the sphere of consciousness (19). During early decade of twenties of past century, physicist Wolfgang Pauli in collaboration with the great psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, they supposed particularly that quantum mechanics may help to explain strange psychic phenomena observed by Jung and called “synchronisms”. Jung told of a synchronism if a series of the events happened such that these events were conceptually close but their simultaneous (synchronous) emergence could not be justified causally. The idea of connecting consciousness with quantum mechanics was suggested not only by Pauli and Jung, but others as the physicist Roger Penrose. So, everything could be explained by natural sciences, on the grounds of quantum laws. Therefore, in order to explain consciousness, it has to apply quantum mechanics for analysis of the work of brain. It is now experimentally proved that reality in our world is quantum, and the conclusions based on classical concept of reality, are not reliable. The comprehension of the concept of quantum reality was achieved after long intellectual efforts of many scientists linking theory of consciousness with the realm of quantum mechanics (starting by Pauli and Jung and now close to being accomplished) marks a qualitatively new level of understanding quantum mechanics itself (18).
Quantum phenomena and living matter
Although to the light of modern physics the natural phenomena are reducible to quantum events in principle, the quantum mechanics does not always provide the best level of analysis. A growing body of evidence in biological models now describes for instance, in quantum context, the coherent transport in photosynthesis and magnetoreception in birds up to the quantum olfaction and single-photon effects in vision, so the field of quantum biology is making a “leapfrog” into the mainstream. Recent experimental results and theoretical analyses have shown that thermal energy may assist, rather than disrupt, quantum coherent transport, especially in the ‘dry’ hydrophobic interiors of biomolecules. Specifically, evidence has been accumulating for the necessary involvement of quantum coherent energy transfer between uniquely arranged chromophores in light harvesting photosynthetic complexes. The ‘tubulin’ subunit proteins, which comprise microtubules, also possess a distinct architecture of chromophores, namely aromatic amino acids, including tryptophan (7). Protein conformational dynamics and pharmacological evidence suggest that protein conformational states-fundamental information units (‘bits’) in biological systems-are governed by quantum events, and are thus perhaps akin to quantum bits (‘qubits’) as utilized in quantum computation. ‘Real time’ dynamic activities within cells are regulated by the cell cytoskeleton, particularly microtubules (MTs) which are cylindrical lattice polymers of the protein tubulin (8). One of the issues in which there is more bridging between consciousness and quantum phenomena has been explores by Hameroff, when describes the microtubules acting as quantum processing units, with individual tubulin dimers conforming the computational elements. This model requires that the tubulin is able to switch between alternative conformational states in a coherent manner, and that this process may be rapid on the physiological time scale (9).
The near-death experiences are a complex phenomenon that occurs across different cultures and times. NDE is experienced at the time of being near to death, or before biological death. NDEs are caused by various situations such as accidents, serious illness, suicide attempts, surgery or birth, they do not influence the content of the NDE. Observations on OBE (Out of Body Experience) and NDE (Near Death Experience ) show that while the body is in an anaesthetized or inactive state, consciousness can remain dis-embodied, observe events from outside the body, and later re-localize in the brain. Neurophysiological research link the described phenomena of NDE consisting in cognitive, emotional, paranormal and transcendence components, with neurological substrate at temporal lobe, the amygdala, dorsal raphe nucleus, and with different neurotransmitter systems, given the findings of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy . In another hand, the field of consciousness is a concept which has been approached by different disciplines, called in different ways, seems to behave with the physical properties of the fields in the order of physics. Concepts have been proposed as primary order, implicate order, which have conceptual approach and definition from physics. The nervous system does not produce the consciousness field and consequently to seek consciousness “within” the physical circuitry of the brain is useless, just that it is seeking the screen image in the physical circuits of a TV. The inherent complexity and neurophysiological neuronal necessary for transduction or perception of the larger field of consciousness, and this field is accessed when someone is near to death, or dies (6).
The autoconscious mind
The debate between body and mind is perennial, these fascinating question has been addressed and traditionally focused by religion, philosophy, then in more recent times by psychology, psychiatry, cognitive neural science and physics. Currently the search on the structure and nature of conscious experience shows that consciousness can be considered an irreductible entity that exists at a fundamental level and from a holonomic point can not be understood as the sum of simpler parts (22). Based on a theory of Karl Raimund Popper, Eccles (23) deemed the hypothesis of the three worlds and propose that autoconscious mind interacts with cortical modules to explain how the interaction between body and mind occurs in nervous system in the brain and how the neuronal electrical activity is coordinated in a way that allows complex spatial-temporal model that conceptually integrates the concepts of matter and energy, subjective experiences, states of consciousness and culture as a product of human knowledge. The autoconscious mind continuously scrutinize the confirmation of cortical modules allowing reciprocity between modules and autoconscious mind. Once autoconscious mind slightly modifies the depolarized cortical modules for the convenience and preference of the case, these modules (probably hundreds) react as a whole, releasing information on the commissural fibers. In contrast, when the modules are in repolarization function, autoconscious mind can not find a pattern to interpret, and consequently deals no information which is equivalent to unconscious states. In states of rapid eye movement sleep, autoconscious mind regains its ability to interact with some depolarized cortical modules, causing the states of consciousness we call dreams. Probably autoconscious mind selects the depolarized cortical modules according to quantum laws of probability.This form of selection according to quantum laws are based on the small size of the synaptic cleft (between 200-300 nanometers) and the exocytosis of synaptic vesicles, which at that time did not depends for its movement in a viscous medium, but the particle size, magnitudes are in the range of quantum mechanics (24). Thus, autoconscious mind somehow selects the vesicles in the synaptic cleft when they are on their way to exocytosis, depending on the individual intention to act in a quantum field of probabilities.
The elegance and importance of this model of consciousness linked to the model of quantum mechanics, explains many of the observed properties of human consciousness, bonding simultaneously physics, neuroscience, psychology and traditional knowledge of eastern cultures. All of this hypothesis on consciousness and quantum mechanics theory account with a growing body of neuroanatomical and neuroscientific evidence, are accordingly with biological evolution, not only describes how are used the most highly evolved structures of the cerebral cortex but the most interesting, explains how quantum physics phenomena may occurs in ultrastructure sites of the brain.
Chalmers DJ. On the search for the neural correlates of consciousness, in Toward a Science of Consciousness Ii: The Second Tucson Discussions and Debates, eds Hameroff S., Kaszniak A., Scott A., editors. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; )1998; 219–229
Chalmers D.J., Ed (1996). The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. New York:Oxford University Press.
Eccles J.C. (1985). Capítulo E1. El córtex cerebral. En KR Popper & JC Eccles (Eds), El Yo y sucerebro, pp 257-281. Barcelona: Labor.
Eccles J.C. Evolution of consciousness. Proceedings of Natural Academy of Sciences USA 1992; 89; 7320-7324. In the linkit appears Figure 3, which is particularly interesting because it depicts the concept of telodendrón conceptually bonded to the concept of psychon. This ultrastructure is the boundary as per Eccles of the interaction between body and mind.
It is well known the decaying of the gray matter with age. A growing body of research suggests that meditation practices are associated with substantial psychological as well as physiological benefits. In searching for the biological mechanisms underlying the beneficial impact of meditation, studies have revealed practice-induced alterations of neurotransmitters, brain activity, and cognitive abilities (1).
When correlating global and local gray matter with age, it is detected negative correlations within both controls and meditators, suggesting a decline over time. However, the slopes of the regression lines were steeper and the correlation coefficients were stronger in controls than in meditators.
This particular quality of non-evaluative awareness can improve one’s physical and psychological health status, and therefore several approaches generally called “mindfulness-based interventions” (MBIs) have been developed and tested in the last 40 years (9), although only over the last three decades the mindfulness meditation practices have been increasingly incorporated into psychotherapeutic programs, to take advantage of these benefits . Evidence about their efficacy and effectiveness in improving mindfulness and health is rapidly accumulating.
The role of meditation
The anatomy of the hippocampus has been repeatedly reported to differ between meditators and non-meditators. The human hippocampus shows structural differences between meditators and non-meditators as well as between men and women.
With the exact underlying neuronal mechanisms remaining to be established, studies linking meditation and brain structure are relatively sparse, but the hippocampus is consistently implicated as one of the structures altered in meditation practitioners (2).
Surprisingly, there are scanty published studies that have addressed the question of whether meditation diminishes age-related brain degeneration (4).
It has been suggested that this process is associated with a perceptual shift (12), in which one’s thoughts and feelings are recognized as events occurring in the broader field of awareness.
An underlying mechanism
Nothwithstanding, experiments using positron emission tomography or functional MRI (fMRI) within samples of novice or expert meditators indicated increased brain activation (compared to baseline) during meditation or mindfulness exercises in left and right hippocampal and parahippocampal regions (5)
When deeming the neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation, there are a lot of involved changes in cognition, sensory perception, affect, hormones, and autonomic activity (6)
Neuroimaging studies have begun to explore the neural mechanisms underlying mindfulness meditation practice with techniques such as EEG and functional MRI (12).
Group differences in the hippocampus and the right anterior insula, however, have each been identified in at least two of the studies. Furthermore, activation in both regions has been reported during meditative states, namely the hippocampus and the insula. The hippocampus is known to be critically involved in learning and memory processes, the modulation of emotional control, while the insula has been postulated to play a key role in the process of awareness, functions which have been shown to be important in the process and outcomes of mindfulness training (12).
Cross-sectional studies have established that differences in regional gray matter are associated with performance abilities (13, 14), suggesting that an increase in gray matter corresponds to improved functioning in the relevant area.
What the evidence show
In the first study conducted by Eileen Luders et al, within a relatively large sample of meditators and well-matched controls, where global measures (hippocampal volumes) were complemented with refined local measures (radial hippocampal distances from surface to central core). After manually have labeled the hippocampus with a described procedure, the global left and right hippocampal volumes were established in mm3. Altogether, evaluated hyppocampal sizes were larger in meditators compared to controls, with up to 15% difference. ! These local effects were observed in several hippocampal regions in the left and right hemisphere though achieved significance primarily in the left hippocampal head (3).
Larger hippocampal dimensions in long-term meditators may constitute part of the underlying neurological substrate for cognitive skills, mental capacities, and/or personal traits associated with the practice of meditation (2).
In another exploratory single-group pilot longitudinal study it was examined the local gray matter changes over a six-week period of Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). The participants included six older adult community volunteers (M=66.5 years of age, SD=5.5, range=58-75; 66% female) with sleep disturbances. The Mindfulness-based interventions was delivered as a weekly, two-hour, six-session, group-based course in mindfulness meditation. Gray matter was measured voxel-wise pre- and post-intervention. It was found a significant gray matter increase identified within the precuneus, (posterior region of the medial parietal cortex, known to belong to the associative cortices, which is the widely distributed network sharing connections with other cortical and subcortical regions allowing the brain to integrate both external and self-generated information and to produce much of the mental activity that characterizes Homo sapiens sapiens) (10), possibly implicating meditation-induced changes of the default mode network. In contrast, observed significant gray matter decreases may have been driven by MBI-related remediation of brain architecture subserving sleep complaints (7).
Toward a mindfulness
The so called dispositional mindfulness (DM), is the tendency to be more mindful in daily life seems to be a sum of individual genetics and life experiences, and DM is not necessarily related to having participated in an mindfulness based intervention or practicing meditative exercises. DM can be measured by scales addressing mindfulness trait, e.g., the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and it has been significantly related to several indicators of psychological and physical health including: higher levels of positive affect, improvement in personal stress management skills, and in adaptive emotional regulation (16).
The mindfulness may encourage self-regulation, may enhance values clarification, as well as cognitive, emotional and behavioral flexibility and tolerance for facing difficult emotional states. Increasing the objectivity through which internal experience is viewed is intended to change one’s relationship to the thoughts, as opposed to changing the thoughts themselves. For instance, the tendency to be more mindful in daily life has been associated with better psychological functioning and reduced overall distress in cancer patients. Being aware of the present moment and refraining from judging inner experience were the 2 most important mindfulness skills for improvements of psychological functioning among cancer patients (17).
The mindfulness based intervention
The psychological construct of mindfulness refers to an awareness that emerges by intentionally paying attention to the present experience in a non-judgmental way, as was described by Kabat-Zinn (15). In other words, a “mindful” mind brings together attentional and attitudinal features at the same time, self-regulating the attention toward present-moment, direct experiences and attitude in a non-judgmental tone toward internal and external phenomena (physical, affective and behavioral). Interest in mindfulness has increased exponentially in recent decades in academic and clinical contexts. When approaching this mindfulness based intervention, a definition describes it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” It has described mindfulness as a “way of being,” choosing to think of the work as a dynamic process, embedded within all of life, both intra- and inter-personal, rather than a static technique, practiced only “on the cushion” and thereby compartmentalized to “x” minutes per day (8)
This particular quality of awareness has been associated to several indicators of physical and psychological health, and can be developed using mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), and therefore MBIs have been successfully applied as preventive and complementary interventions and therapies in medicine and psychology. Together with quiet sitting and lying meditation practices, mindful physical exercises such as “mindful walking” and “mindful movement” are key elements in MBIs and couple muscular activity with an internally directed focus, improving interoceptive attention to bodily sensations. In addition, MBIs seem to share similar mechanisms with physical fitness (PF) by which they may influence cardiovascular responses to stress (9).
A growing body of literature has demonstrated that neural systems are modifiable networks and changes in the neural structure can occur in adults as a result of training. These findings not only imply a close link between meditation and brain structure, but also suggest possible modulating effects of meditation on age-related brain atrophy. Given that normal aging is associated with significant loss of brain tissue, meditation-induced growth and/or preservation might manifest as a seemingly reducing brain age in meditators (i.e., cerebral measures characteristic of younger brains).
These results add to a growing literature depicts the impact of mindfulness and its relationship to improved psychological health. Moreover, specific mindfulness skills may be important in supporting these improvements, mainly taking into account the rising incidence and prevalence of brain atrophy conditions.