I’ve been reading a very nerdy book on neuroscience lately, called The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge. It’s been fascinating on many levels, both professionally (in my role as a physiotherapist) and personally. Our bodies and our brains are so amazing!
In one part of the book, he was discussing the question “Where, exactly, are our thoughts/ideas/emotions/memories located?” As in, does the brain have a literal file cabinet where specific cells are dedicated to store specific memories? Is the brain a big computer with enough RAM to store all our experiences?
The answer is NO, and there are multiple theories as to how memories and thoughts are actually stored. One theory which I LOVED that has captured my attention for days now, is that thoughts/ideas/emotions/memories are not statically stored in a physical location in the brain, but rather happen when all the neurons responsible for those thoughts/ideas/emotions/memories fire together.
He used the analogy of an orchestra. One memory isn’t the cello player, another thought the violinist, another idea the trumpet player. Rather, every thought/idea/emotion/memory is a song played by the whole orchestra. Individually, neurons are all separate musicians, and when they act together they create the song, which is the thought/idea/emotion/memory.
I thought this was so absolutely beautiful. Our brains are making music, creating a song that tells the story of our life and experience. It was inspirational for me to think about, and to ask myself what type of song was my brain making? There are times when my brain is a punk rocker (usually that’s when I’m thinking about politics), times when I’m making a folk song (anytime I’m outside enjoying nature), times when I run toward flamenco and Spanish guitar (while cooking, relaxing and reading), or the alternative rock set (backyard hangouts with friends).
What we think, what we notice, what we feel, what we attune to changes our experience. In psychology, there is a concept called the facial feedback hypothesis, which says that our body (in terms of the muscles of our face) will directly effect our emotions. So if you frown, you will actually feel crankier. If you smile, despite not feeling happy in the moment, you will begin to feel happier. I am sure that our thoughts have this same effect. Think calm, happy thoughts and feel calmer. Think angry, ranting, frustrating thoughts, and feel angry.
There is so much in life that we have no control over. No control over the environment, the weather, other people’s decisions (hugely apparent right now as we debate how we’re all handling the covid19 pandemic), changes to our health, etc etc. But we have more power than we realize to control how we respond to our circumstances. Our thoughts can be powerful.
What song are you writing with your brain?