Newsletter 566 – Should You Care How the Brain Works?


NG Brain 2Richly illustrated with remarkable photographs, National Geographic recently (February 2014) published a cover-story article on “The New Science of the Brain.” About the same time (January-February 2014) Psychotherapy Networker  produced several articles under the title “Untangling Brain Science: How Has it Lived Up to its Promise for Therapists? Brain science may be the rage among psychotherapists,” writes one of the authors. It also infatuates many leaders, coaches, educators and others even though “most people can feel their eyes glazing over and their own brains going offline when threatened with serious neuroscience.”

For centuries, of course, people helping has been working, education has been making a difference, and the Holy Spirit has been working in the minds and lives of people who never heard of brain science. Why care now, especially when the field is so quickly changing, so complex and so difficult to comprehend? Here are conclusions among many  in National Geographic and the Networker:

  • Just about every mental function and emotion “results from external stimuli and a vast range of neural activities and connections drawing on many brain regions interacting with each other.” Don’t assume that any thought or behavior involves only one part of the brain.
  • Brain science is “roughly comparable to where biology was…around 1825.”  So don’t draw too many conclusions about what we know now.
  • At present, brain science has little if any relationship on how we bring change. But as it develops the field has huge potential for practical usefulness in the future.
  • Neuroplasticity is the idea that brain tissue changes. The things we do and think repeatedly bring changes in the neural structure of the brain. That’s how habits, addictions and attitudes develop. It takes time, repetition and determination to bring change in the brain. In contrast if we don’t stimulate a certain part of the brain, “the cortical real estate is taken over by other functions of the brain. Apparently we have use-it-or-lose-it brains.”
  • “Anything we consistently give attention to teaches the brain to produce more of it.” The same is true of negative thoughts.

As a non-specialist, I try to read broadly in the brain science area, learning from experts who can communicate clearly (that’s a rare breed) and applying what I can. How do you respond to all this? Please comment.


  1. “Anything we consistently give attention to teaches the brain to produce more of it.” How useful is a perfect circle? How is this not a truism? One thinks a lot about that which one thinks a lot about? 1825 sounds about right, for Charles Darwin was about 16 years old, being taught evolutionary philosophy by his Unitarian grandfather, Erasmus. Darwin died in complete ignorance of the molecular level design and complexity of every living cell, having provided a fresh mythology that still feeds then brains of naive Naturalists who read the same back into all that they imagine.


  2. Gary, great post … and I’m with you. I am reading broadly, and applying concepts first to myself, and then with clients. Neuroscience has the potential to give additional backbone, framework, and empirical evidence to coaching. I think every coach should have a basic understanding of the brain and “life health,” just as every adult should have a basic understanding of nutrition and heart health.The challenge is that the proliferation of research isn’t always understandable, consistent in outcomes, and applicable. What I do know is this: neuroscience is giving people hope that they can change, and without hope, all is lost. I’ll stop here…though there’s so much more!!!


  3. This is a fascinating topic for me. I purchased that edition of National Geographic because of the articles on the brain. I admit that my eyes did start glazing over before long. I appreciate the summary statements you brought out from the articles. Now I feel a little more encouraged to go back and read the magazine. Thanks Gary for helping me stay sharp! (and motivated to learn…)


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