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Author: by Alexander IVAMTSKV. Dr. Sc. (Med.). Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology, RAS
Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author.- Ed.
The three central problems before the 20th-century science, experts tell us, were the structure of matter, heredity and human consciousness.
The first was resolved at the start of the century by means of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. The second, in 1953, when the American scientist Dr. John \\tson and his British counterpart Francis Crick broke the genetic code (which won them a Nobel Prize in 1962). The mystery of human consciousness, however, formulated as a scientific problem by the Russian Nobel laureate, Academician Ivan Pavlov, still remains unresolved, though considerable progress has been made towards its solution(*). This has largely become possible with the advent of imagery technologies showing the human brain at work. Another major achievement was the breaking of the rhythmical transmission code of nerve signals (most of the credit here goes to Russian scientists) and the description of the physicotechnical nature of nervous excitation. As a result considerable progress has been made in the diagnostics and therapy of a whole range of nervous and psychic disorders.
Today specialists can use brain performance parameters to keep check on the work of operators in charge of complex systems in order to rule out possible human errors.
On the threshold of the new century one feels like bringing to the reader's attention some of the lessons verified by the latest brain research, what can be of practical benefit to every individual and our society as a whole since our code of behaviour should conform to the functional laws of the human brain. And there are three such basic lessons.
First: leam to think, because the brain is just an organ of thoughts and senses. The brain of a newbom infant is a tabula rasa, or clean sheet, it is like a computer void of any programs; the only difference is that it can generate its own programs on the basis of daily experience. All of the higher psychic functions originate in the process of learning by means of the formation of nervous linkages. It has now been experimentally established that simple sensations involve a person's memory Apart from forming new linkages or associations, learning also trains the brain to work with greater efficiency. And should it cease to exert itself, it starts ageing at a rapid rate (like a wound clock).
A child must start to learn to think and take conscious decisions from an early age. Because a person can be hostage to behavioral stereotypes based on habits and imitation. Individuals should be able to pick and choose, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of different solutions.
But the ability to think is not enough. It is no less important to cultivate your fine senses and learn to feel joy and regret not only on your own behalf, but on behalf of others. Lofty feelings are a reliable guide in various circumstances which defy logical reasoning-without them life lacks pep and color.
The next lesson is the ability to respond. The brain is divided into "receptor" and "executor" sections which have to perform in harmony. That is why the ability to take sensible decisions is but half of the matter because one must also translate these decisions into practical actions. Decisions which arc not followed by concrete actions are just as harmful as thoughtless acts. This principle is summed up in the saying "better act and regret than fail to act and regret". In order not to feel regret for too long a time we should anticipate and trace the likely errors and, if any, correct them by rescripting the "thought-action" cycle. Most of our ills occur because lofty thoughts and good intentions remain but wishful thinking.
And, finally, the third and last lesson: consciousness and freedom, or free choice. Human consciousness is centered on one's ego, on one's own "self as the master of one's thoughts and actions. A person achieves self-fulfillment and discloses his potential and capabilities only when he is free and can translate his ideas into life, that is take decisions and act in accordance with his feelings and convictions. Lack of freedom deforms not only one's consciousness, but also one's morals because the person bears no responsibility But there is a limit to the freedom of an individual, and this is his conscience. Since the right to freedom of choice is shared by all, the actions of an individual should not infringe on other people's rights. And that means that morality has
* See: A. Ivanitsky, A. Nikolayev, "Headsource of Intelligence", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1999 -Ed.
not only social, but also biological roots. Violating morality runs counter to the laws of nature and leads to no good.
The late Academician Dmitry Likhachev once challenged the commonly accepted dictum that social being determines one's consciousness (which is only the tip of an iceberg): it is just the other way round, he said. And let us hope that our consciousness will always determine our being in the 21st century.
Learning the three above lessons means living in harmony with one's own brain and, consequently, with one's own self.
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