Our Brains Evolved, Attuned to Rhythms in the Natural World: The Concept of the “Brain Beat”
There is a beat, a rhythm or a cycle within all living things. Our bodies have heart beats, our brains beat with a so called “heart beating at the center of the brain” resulting in the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis) and the growth of connections between brain cells (synapses), triggered by activities and pruning of synapses during sleep. Circadian (day-night) rhythms determined by the brain’s hypothalamus in turn are linked to the Earth’s rotation and our evolutionary 3rd eye, now transformed into the pineal gland, secretes soporofic (sleep inducing) melatonin. This pulsing in the body and brain is intimately tied to the pulsing in the climate, the Earth’s plate tectonic movement, in turn engendered by the circulating inner magma, with continent movement and the Earth’s movement around the sun according to the three different cycles, first described by Milankovitch. The planet too has a heart-beat and an EKG, a termed first coined by Neil Shubin in his book the Universe within us. Even our solar system adheres to cycles within our galaxy which in turn has correlations to comet and asteroid genesis. Ultimately all these natural processes influence each other albeit with vastly different time frames. Not only does acknowledging our subservience to this pulsing convey health and vitality, but, ultimately, these processes over millennia, are what formed our own existence and caused us to evolve into the species Homo sapiens. Tracing the sequence of events takes us far back in time, but each leap in complexity has some message or relevance for healthy living today.
A fundamental part of being human is to question the cause of things that happen to us, or the environment, particularly those that are adverse. As an evolutionary adaptation, this would allow us to learn from the experience, pre-empt and be prepared with a strategy for avoiding future incidents. A primary objective premise is that “if you know how it’s constructed, you might better know how to fix it”. All living things are related to each other, and all are in turn are influenced by the natural world rhythms, as well as those beyond, such as astrophysical forces. Although we cannot influence astrophysical or geological factors, a gradation exists from these more distant forces to those of the environment, to those within our biosphere, to our bodies and ultimately our minds. The closer we are to the inner circles, the more impact we have on our own health and vitality.
Whether currently considered brain healthy or not, we have a choice to improve or maintain the status quo. Few people have the time, commitment or resources to pursue an optimally brain healthy lifestyle, but that should not prevent us to lose sight of the ideal. Too often, once we incur ailments, medical interventions may include one or many medications, frequently for chronic use and the underlying cause remains, leading to the ‘band aid’ effect. The challenge of convincing people to change in the face of symptoms, impending illness or diagnostic certainty of dementia or other brain malady is formidable. Issuing a laundry list of do’s and don’ts may work for some, but as a clinician it has long been apparent to me that conviction to change lifestyle choices comes with understanding the underlying reasons or the “why” question. Clinical medical education primarily addresses the “how to” issue, rarely are discussions devoted or concerned with the “why” issue.
My books “ Brain Beat” and "Assembly of the Executive Mind" reveal not only how, but also why we are destined to pursue a particular mode of existence, why we need to exercise, eat certain foods, stimulate our brains, sleep fitfully and socialize. It all relates to the various beats in our bodies and in the broader sense, to the pulsing, ebbs and flows, not only of our bodies, but also of the natural world. The interconnectedness of these beats and rhythms too are important. The formation of the African Rift Valley, our place of origin, about 10-5 million years ago, transformed Eastern Africa from a flat landscape to one that is complex in topography, with mountains, valleys and lakes. The increasing aridity, in turn, due to polar ice formation and secondary Indian Ocean monsoonal climate changes, led to a drier East Africa, compounded by the influence of the Earth’s orbital variations. Together, this constellation of adversity factors led to the emergence of humans.