Discoveries from the Black Box


Discoveries from the Black Box

How the Neuroscience Revolution Can Change Your Practice

By Mary Sykes Wylie, Rich Simon

September/October 2002


The human brain is a wet, coconut-sized, walnut-shaped organ, the color of raw liver and the consistency of an overripe peach. Comprised of billions of nerve cells, each connecting electrochemically with an average of 10 thousand others, it's the most complex biological entity known on earth. The number of possible interconnections among its neurons exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the universe. Just as remarkably, it can make such intricate and baffling self-transformations that many insist it will never be fully understood by its own kind. Because how it works is such a dumbfounding investigative riddle--the equivalent of studying a mirror with a mirror--therapists have preferred until recently to approach its actual functioning through the metaphor of the black box, rather than peel back the skin of the peach to discover what goes on inside.

Over the last couple of decades, however, technology has allowed us to open the black box, leading to what some have touted as the biological sequel to the Copernican revolution. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and CAT scans can now photograph the brain at work and play and even after therapy. With electron microscopes, the nuclear tagging of living human molecules, and other biochemical investigative techniques, scientists can now see what happens in different parts of the brain when an alcoholic looks at a martini, or a schizophrenic has a hallucination, or a meditator…

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