“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
This is a very important part of this program. What sets this unique coaching system apart from others is that it is based in science. While there is psychology that factors in to what you will be teaching, the foundation is an understanding of how the biochemical makeup of the brain effects our actions and personalities. Therefore, in this first unit you will look at the long history of the belief that the grey matter housed in your head is connected to your actions. It will also cover some basics of the anatomy of the brain. Now don’t panic! I promise that you won’t need a degree in neuroscience to complete this program. However, it is very important that you have a clear understanding of the functions of the brain, as they relate to this topic. You will also need to understand how different portions of the brain function and burn energy, what these different portions are responsible for, and how they all are intricately connected to the Brain Personality Connection.
The History of Brain Research
Popular physicians, artists, and philosophers from history were pioneers in the field of brain research. Individuals, that are known for very different reasons, were actually key in identifying ways that the brain was connected to your personality and even your health. Some of these individuals are as follows:
Hippocrates, 460 BC to 370 BC
Hippocrates was considered the “Father of Medicine.” He was quoted as saying, “Not only our pleasure, our joy, and our laughter but, also, our sorrow, pain, grief, and tears arise from the brain and the brain alone. With it we think and understand, see and hear, and we discriminate between the ugly and the beautiful, between what is pleasant and what is unpleasant, and between good and evil.” He clearly saw the connection between our likes and dislikes, the brain personality connection, as stemming from the brain.
Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519
When you think of this man you probably never think of brain researcher. He, of course, is best known for his amazing art, sculptures, and inventions. Yet, it was some of his early dissections of the brain that definitely proved the importance of the brain tissue that would later be named the thalamus, an important brain part that is connected to the sensory systems. He also used wax to make the first cast of the brain’s inner ventricles. Oh, how I would have loved to study his brain!
Rene Descartes, 1596-1650
Based on his research, Descartes believed that the fluids in the brain were responsible for transmitting information from the nerves in the body to the brain. He called the fluids “animal spirits.” He believed that the body was a machine that took orders from the soul or mind. While his thoughts were a little “out there,” he was correct in understanding that the fluids were responsible carriers of information. He just didn’t have the full understanding that it is really the neurotransmitters based on electrical messaging that is responsible for the transmission of thought. We know the body is far more complex than a machine; the brain is more like the orchestra leader that creates marvelous harmony throughout the entire body. But, he did start some thinking on the right track.
Thomas Willis, 1621-1675
Willis was an English doctor who played an important role in the history of anatomy, neurology, and psychiatry. He divided the brain into separate regions based on the natural fissures in the brain. He believed that mental functions; such as, memory, will, and imagination, could be localized to specific areas in the brain. Again, he made that critical connection between “will,” or facets of our individual personalities, and the brain. Not too bad, considering he didn’t have access to the amazing brain imaging machines of our day.
Dr. John Harlow, 1819-1907
While I wouldn’t exactly call him a brain researcher, he had the unique position of being the physician that cared for a brain injury patient; opening a whole new insight into the brain personality connection. As the story goes, a railroad worker, by the name of Phineas Gage, suffered a severe brain injury to the frontal lobe after an explosion on the job sent a thick steel rod through his head. Amazingly, he survived the incident, but not unscathed. You see, while the physical injury healed, the accident forever changed his personality. Not because of the emotional trauma, but because of the damage to his brain. He went from a temperate, restrained, and reliable man to one that Dr. Harlow said was, “fitful and irreverent,” at times using, “the grossest profanity,” and “impatient restraint.” His personality was so very effected by the brain injury that his friends now said that he was, “no longer Gage.”
On May 21, 1860 Mr. Gage died. In 1866, Dr. Harlow gained permission from the family to obtain Gage’s head and brain for research. He published papers describing his findings of how the injury had dramatically impacted his patient’s personality. This is one of the first solid cases where there was undeniable proof that there is a connection between the brain and our innate personality.
Paul Broca, 1824-1880
As a French surgeon, anatomist, and anthropologist, Broca studied patients who could not talk. His brain research contributed to understanding the brain in many ways, including the importance of the Limbic system and treatment of aneurisms. But, he is probably remembered best for identifying the region in the frontal/anterior left lobe of the brain connected to audible speech. To this day, that area is called the Broca’s region.
Roger Sperry, 1913-1994
Now, here is where it starts getting exciting! Dr. Sperry was a neuropsychologist at the California Institute of Technology; his research involved the treatment of patients with epilepsy. During this time, if you had severe epilepsy that was life threatening, a surgical procedure that severed the corpus callosum would be performed. This is a very important piece of brain anatomy; it is the bridge of fibers that connects the right and left hemisphere. Sever this connection and the right side of your brain can no longer communicate with the left and vice versa.
While the surgery was often successful in reducing or eliminating the seizures, the effect on the personality was dramatic. By doing careful research on these patients, Sperry discovered that the left brain excels and is primarily responsible for reading, writing, and processing information in a sequential pattern. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is specialized for recognizing faces, drawing or reading maps (pictures), solving special puzzles, and expressing and perceiving the emotional facets connected to facial expressions.
This was an incredible discovery. Neuroscientists were now able to assign tasks to certain portions of the brain. However, it did lead to the erroneous belief, which became popular in the scientific field, that left-brain driven individuals were superior to right- brain driven individuals because the left brain processes in a more logical and sequential way, and the right brain in a more emotional way. While there is an anatomical brain reason for the differences, we now know and appreciate that the brain is a “holistic” organ. No one portion is to be considered as superior to another, just as no one personality superior to any other.
Now we get into the really, really exciting age: the age of technology. All of the previous researchers and specialist based their findings on noting the changes in personality of individuals post brain trauma or post mortem. But, now enters the incredible brain imaging machines that started to give insight on the brain as never before. They opened a window on the brain that had previously been locked tight. The MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines were first to arrive on the scene in the early 1970’s. They could slice the brain into tiny image strips, enabling the scientist to pinpoint specific regions of the brain that became injured due to trauma or stroke. This narrowed the identification of what functions these specific regions of the brain were responsible for.
As amazing as the MRI machines were, they only showed pictures of the brain tissue not of the brain as it was working, more detail was needed. The next big step was the SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography). While the machines themselves were invented around the same time as the MRI, the true benefit of these machines in brain study was not realized until sometime later.
First, a little functional explanation of these machines. In short, for the purpose of studying brain function as it is connected to cognitive thought, radioactively tagged glucose (radioisotopes) are injected into the blood stream of the subject. The brain is a huge consumer of glucose and, therefore, the amounts of glucose and where the glucose is being used will show up on a scan of the brain. Subjects are then asked to perform different cognitive tasks. Their brain immediately begins consuming the glucose to process these tasks. Because the isotopes are radioactive, they have a “half-life” in the brain. In other words, you can perform the task now, have your brain scanned shortly after the task, and the imprint of where the glucose was used is still recordable.
I give you this detail because it is important that you understand the science behind the information that is being presented in this training program. While I will discuss some psychology, the science is the backbone and I want you to be assured of its validity.
Enter the current researchers. Experts in the field of neuroscience began using these amazing machines to connect glucose usage to personality. Researchers such as Richard Haier, David Robinson, Robert Ornstein, and Daniel Amen have published the results of their research. Brain function specialists, such as Katherine Benziger and Arlene Taylor, have taken much of these findings and organized it into usable information for real life. It is this same intention that has led to my developing “Your Best Mind” in teaching the Brain Personality Connection (BPC).
Most notable in the results of these tests is that, while they can see what portion of the brain is burning glucose while processing thought, they can also measure the amount of glucose being used. This is where it gets even more interesting. While they were conducting these tests, they noticed that some individuals used much less glucose than others to process the exact same task. Some researchers suggest that the difference, at times, was as much as 1/100th the amount used. That is considerable! They have also noted that, while movement between the adjoining cerebral quadrants is fairly easily accomplished, moving between them diagonally is not possible. Now we are able to understand why some tasks come “naturally” to some, but are much more difficult for others. The clear reason is in that energy expenditure in the brain. Of course it will be more difficult if that task is burning up to 100 times more glucose, second-for-second. I will dive into this with much more detail in future units.
This brings us to the now, when brain research and scanning machines are continuing to improve. There is a new machine, called the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), that is opening new doors on the brain as we speak. So very exciting is this field of research, and the practical use we can derive from studying the results. Now that you have some background on the history and current state of brain research, let’s move on to some basic brain anatomy.
 The brain-body/health connection will be discussed in great detail in Unit 8.
 Brainworks, page 10, Arlene R. Taylor, PhD
 Brainworks, page 7, Arlene R. Taylor, PhD