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Author Topic: Opera of the Mind  (Read 3911 times)
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« on: April 30, 2009, 01:33:26 AM »

Enter stage left, the performer, the human brain. An Opera of the Mind ensues, envied by all and rivaled by none. Within we gasp in awe and reverence before something so small yet complex almost beyond measure. Join us as we delve into the human mind to uncover what little is known by modern science regarding this remarkable organ and learn a new appreciation for the power it contains. Let the show begin!

Opera of the Mind
The human mind has been an enigmatic mystery throughout the history of mankind and the never ending subject of speculation and debate. Philosophers’ and scholars have pondered its inner workings for eons but it was not until the recent advent of new technologies has mankind been able to glimpse into the  depths of the seemingly benign gelatinous mass that we know as the human brain. Using information garnered from medical text, articles and journals, we shall take a deeper look into the anatomy of the human brain and the neurochemical ballet that defines ones personality, ability to reason, memory and even psychological disorders.

The Opera of the Mind shall endeavor in part one of our paper, titled “The Cast and Crew”, to identify the lobes of the cerebral cortex and their functions within the human body as well as their impact upon our motor and social skills when damaged or deficient.  In part two, titled “Lights, Camera, Action!”, we shall delve into the areas of Sensation and Perception as well as provide details on their influence on the brains ability to process information.

So have your tickets ready, visit the concessions stand for refreshments, and join us for the production “Opera of the Mind”.

The Cast and Crew
The Cast and Crew title is a metaphor used to describe the various areas of the human brain and Opera of the Mind refers to how all components must work in concert for the desired results to occur so let us take a closer look at the components starting with the whole and working our way down the metaphorical ladder of seniority shall we.

First in the cast is the Cerebral Cortex which comprises the outer layer of grey matter surrounding the Cerebral Hemispheres’ and is split into two distinct asymmetrical cortices’ or halves. The left and right halves of the Cerebral Cortex operate in unison to analyze sensory data, perform memory functions, learn new information, form thoughts and make decisions. The left hemisphere is primarily responsible for the following: 

•   “understanding and use of language (listening, reading, speaking and writing)”
•   “memory for spoken and written messages”
•   “detailed analysis of information”
•   “controls the right side of the body”
(Center for Neuro Skills (CNS), 2006)

While the right hemisphere is responsible for:

•   “judging the position of things in space”
•   “knowing body position”
•   “understanding and remembering things we do and see”
•   “putting bits of information together to make an entire picture”
•   “controls the left side of the body”
(Center for Neuro Skills (CNS), 2006)

Each hemisphere is also capable of operating independently if the other half is damaged or when the Corpus Callosum that forms the bridge and allows communication between both halves is severed resulting in what is commonly referred to as “Split Brain Syndrome”. Split Brain Syndrome is when each hemisphere develops its own unique and independent personalities among other strange traits (D.W. Zaidel, 1994). The Hemispheres are further subdivided into the Forebrain which is comprised of the Cerebral Cortex, Limbic System, thalamus, basal ganglia and Hypothalamus. The second region or Midbrain, is comprised of the Reticular Formation and Brain Stem. The third region is known as the Hindbrain section and is comprised of the Medulla, Cerebellum and Pons, each with its own area of expertise and purpose. Each section is further divided into Lobes the first being the Frontal Lobe.
The Frontal Lobes which occupy the “front” area of the Forebrain in both hemispheres of the Cerebral Cortex is responsible for:

•   “How we know what we are doing within our environment (Consciousness).”
•   “How we initiate activity in response to our environment.”
•   “Judgments we make about what occurs in our daily activities.”
•   “Controls our emotional response.”
•   “Controls our expressive language.”
•   “Assigns meaning to the words we choose.”
•   “Involves word associations.”
•   “Memory for habits and motor activities.”

(Center for Neuro Skills (CNS), 2006)

The Frontal Lobes serves as the metaphorical “Control Booth” for the overall production by translating the Neuro impulses into useable information which allows us to understand our environment and see the overall picture.  Obviously any damage or malfunction due to illness of the Frontal Lobe has the opposite effect and is known to cause one or more of the following to occur:

•   “Loss of simple movement of various body parts (Paralysis).”
•   “Inability to plan a sequence of complex movements needed to complete multi-stepped tasks, such as making coffee (Sequencing).”
•   “Loss of spontaneity in interacting with others.”
•   “Loss of flexibility in thinking.”
•   “Persistence of a single thought (Perseveration).”
•   “Inability to focus on task (Attending).”
•   “Mood changes (Emotionally Labile).”
•   “Changes in social behavior.”
•   “Changes in personality.”
•   “Difficulty with problem solving.”
•   “Inability to express language (Broca's Aphasia).”

(Center for Neuro Skills (CNS), 2006)

   Just below the Frontal Lobe is a region called the Limbic System or more properly called the Media Temporal Lobe which is comprised of the Olfactory Cortex, Amygdala and the Hippocampus.

   The Olfactory Cortex is where the sense of smell resides and is processed by the brain into usable information. The Amygdala is a in charge of regulating our fight or flight response as well as assisting in regulating emotions. In a recent study of Sociopathic inmates it was noted that the Amygdala of a Sociopath is seventeen (17) times smaller than that of a normal person. The Hippocampus contains most of our memory functions which are broken down into three classification types, they are Short Term or Working Memory, Long term or Declarative Memory and Procedural Memory which contains our repetitious habits. Damage to the Hippocampus prevents the formation of New Declarative Memories (Weedman-Molavi D, 1997)

   Located just behind the Frontal Lobe in the Midbrain section is the Parietal Lobes, one located on each hemisphere of the brain and would be the metaphorical equivalent to the Camera and Audio Crew of our production. The function of the Parietal Lobes is two part, one function focuses on sensory input and perception while the other functions integrates sensory input, primarily visual and spatial awareness. Working together they allow us to perceive the world around us.

   The following is a cursory overview of the Parietal Lobes function:

•   “Location for visual attention.”
•   “Location for touch perception.”
•   “Goal directed voluntary movements.”
•   “Manipulation of objects.”
•   “Integration of different senses that allows for understanding a single concept.”

(Center for Neuro Skills (CNS), 2006)

   If the Parietal Lobes are damaged or malfunction, one or more of the following symptoms have been observed in patients:

•   Inability to attend to more than one object at a time.
•   Inability to name an object (Anomia).
•   Inability to locate the words for writing (Agraphia).
•   Problems with reading (Alexia).
•   Difficulty with drawing objects.
•   Difficulty in distinguishing left from right.
•   Difficulty with doing mathematics (Dyscalculia).
•   Lack of awareness of certain body parts and/or surrounding space (Apraxia) that leads to difficulties in self-care.
•   Inability to focus visual attention.
•   Difficulties with eye and hand coordination.

(Center for Neuro Skills (CNS), 2006)

   Just below the Parietal Lobes and located on the outer edge are the Temporal Lobes, located just behind the Temple region of the head. The Temporal Lobes help further translate information from the Parietal Lobes and provide supplementary sensory information from the auditory and visual system by performing the following functions:

•   “Hearing ability”
•   “Memory acquisition”
•   “Some visual perceptions”
•   “Categorization of objects.”

(Center Neuro Skills (CNS for), 2006)

Damage to the Temporal Lobes typically results in one or more of the following symptoms:

•   “Difficulty in recognizing faces (Prosopagnosia).”
•   “Difficulty in understanding spoken words (Wernicke's Aphasia).”
•   “Disturbance with selective attention to what we see and hear.”
•   “Difficulty with identification of, and verbalization about objects.”
•   “Short-term memory loss.”
•   “Interference with long-term memory.”
•   “Increased or decreased interest in sexual behavior.”
•   “Inability to categorize objects (Categorization).”
•   “Right lobe damage can cause persistent talking.”
•   “Increased aggressive behavior.”
(Center Neuro Skills (CNS for), 2006)

   The Occipital Lobes are located in the Hindbrain section just behind and to the center of the Temporal Lobes. The Occipital Lobes sole purpose insofar as we currently know is for the Visual system allowing us to view the world around us. If the Occipital Lobes are damaged or malfunctioning the following symptoms have typically been noted in patients:

•   “Defects in vision (Visual Field Cuts).”
•   “Difficulty with locating objects in environment.”
•   “Difficulty with identifying colors (Color Agnosia).”
•   “Production of hallucinations”
•   “Visual illusions - inaccurately seeing objects.”
•   “Word blindness - inability to recognize words.”
•   “Difficulty in recognizing drawn objects.”
•   “Inability to recognize the movement of an object (Movement Agnosia).”
•   “Difficulties with reading and writing.”

(Center Neuro Skills (CNS for), 2006)

   Just below the Occipital Lobes of the Hindbrain region lays the Cerebellum which provides the human body with its sense of balance, coordination of voluntary movement and equilibrium as well as memory of some motor reflex actions much like a metaphorical stage hands of the production. The Cerebellum is located in one of the best protected sections of the brain but when damage or malfunction occurs patients have been noted to experience one or more of the following symptoms:

•   “Loss of ability to coordinate fine movements.”
•   “Loss of ability to walk.”
•   “Inability to reach out and grab objects.”
•   “Tremors.”
•   “Dizziness (Vertigo”
•   “Slurred Speech (Scanning Speech).”
•   “Inability to make rapid movements.”

(Center Neuro Skills (CNS for), 2006)

   The Cerebellum works in conjunction with the Basal Ganglia and Thalamus to provide feedback to the Cerebral Cortex regarding movement and counter balance one another to provide us with coordination in our movements.

   The Cerebellum sits atop the Brain Stem which is the oldest and most primordial remnant of human evolution. The Brain Stem is much like a Director as everything entering or leaving the brain must pass threw him to reach other regions. The Brain Stem controls the majority of the autonomic (Meaning without Thought) functions of the body such as:

•   “Breathing”
•   “Heart Rate”
•   “Swallowing”
•   “Reflexes to seeing and hearing (Startle Response).”
•   “Controls sweating, blood pressure, digestion, temperature (Autonomic Nervous System).”
•   “Affects level of alertness.”
•   “Ability to sleep.”
•   “Sense of balance (Vestibular Function).”

(Center Neuro Skills (CNS for), 2006)

   Any damage or malfunction to the Brain Stem typically results in one or more of the following symptoms in patients:

•   “Decreased vital capacity in breathing, important for speech.”
•   “Swallowing food and water (Dysphagia).”
•   “Difficulty with organization/perception of the environment.”
•   “Problems with balance and movement.”
•   “Dizziness and nausea (Vertigo).”
•   “Sleeping difficulties (Insomnia, sleep apnea).”

(Center Neuro Skills (CNS for), 2006)

   Now that we have a fundamental understanding of the inner workings of the anatomy of the human brain we can proceed to our next section titled “Lights, Camera, Action!” where we shall delve deeper into the workings of the mind and gain a deeper understanding of how the brain and its various components interpret the information it receives into useable information about the world around us through Sensation and Perception.

Lights, Camera, Action!
          Sensation and Perception is part two of our Opera of the Mind discussion titled “Lights, Camera, Action!” and is designed to give us a rudimentary understanding of how the human brain interprets the information it receives from our senses into useable information. Utilizing current scientific resources from text, articles and medical websites to gather information and compile an overview of the topic at hand. So join us as we start our study of the “Opera of the Mind” and endeavor to discern its mysteries titled “The Examiner” which shall focus on the area of human Sensation and Perception. So please dim the lights, quiet on stage…Lights, Camera, Action!

“The Examiner”
          From our birth as we endeavor to learn of the world around us, this is accomplished through the use of “Sensations” provided via stimulus from the environment around us. This electrochemical information stream of stimulus is interpreted by our minds and helps shape the way we “Perceive” the world around us.

          For example, when we touch the doorknob of our house to leave in the morning our fingers send information about the amount of pressure required to grasp and turn the knob, its temperature and its surface composition such as being cold and smooth, this is Sensation. If the temperature of the knob is very cold it would commonly be interpreted by the brain as possibly a very cold day outside and therefore trigger a chain of thoughts such as grabbing our coat before we leave or changing into warmer clothing and even the impulse to look outside and confirm the current weather status, or view the TV to check the weather forecast for the day, this is perception.

          Another example would be the fine art of trickery used by modern day illusionist and magicians. When we see the assistant enter the cage of doom and utter destruction we become anxious due to the anticipation of expected results or of the unknown results, the human brain races to conclude all possible outcomes of the event adding to the heightened sensory state. Unexpectedly the cage of doom and utter destruction explodes with a loud roar and billowing smoke! By instinct we enter the fight or flight mode just in case…we smell, we look at the stage and those around us seeking a signal that all is well and part of the show, we listen for the performer and/or assistant to appear and reassure us that all is well and part of the normal show. For a split second we Perceive the external stimulus of Sensations provided by the event as a possible threat, this is what makes the show entertaining, what makes it thrilling!

To call the human mind a miraculous object would belie and belittle its true character. We have began our journey of the “Opera of the Mind” with its major players or components to better understand how they work together and process information and finished with how the stimulus of Sensations are interpreted by the brain to form our Perceptions of the world around us. With its players on stage, with voices united in intertwining electrochemical harmony the mind performs an amazing showstopper unrivaled by any other creation known to exist, the Opera of the Mind is truly a performance that should not, no, must not be missed.


Centre for Neuro Skills. (2006). CEU Course "Brain Anatomy and Function". Retrieved November 28, 2008, from TBI Resource Guide:

DW, Z. (1994). A view of the world from a split brain perspective. (C. EMR, Ed.) The Neurological Boundaries of Reality , pp. 161-174.

Weedman-Molavi D, P. (1997). Neuroscience Tutorial. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from The Washington University School of Medicine:
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