Systems Neuroscience: can you drive yourself crazy?

No, seriously.

One of the first obvious things about systems neuroscience is that everything is interconnected. Of course, journal papers don't work this way. But that's its own topic. So if, say, you've got a few "bad" neurons in your primary sensory cortex, that could affect how you perceive your surroundings and therefore react to them, which in turn could cause altered motor learning, and the way you interact with your environment affects future perceptions...it's one big loop. (A more grounded example is that of the circadian rhythm, specifically as it pertains to sleep and eating, but...seriously, it gets a bit technical.)

Anyway, the more we learn about the brain, the more I—at least—get the sense it's in a constant state of flux. What's normal is not some specific chemical gradient or cellular profile, but there is a range things have to be in to balance each other out.

'Alice Through the Looking Glass': the Red Queen explains she has to run constantly to stay in the same place

Like Alice having to run constantly to stay in the same place, though, there's a constant threat to this delicate balance. Does depression affect the immune response, or does an immune response cause depression? The answer is actually just...yes. Recent studies have shown depression influence the immune system, and of course if your immune system is fighting a nasty invader, the best thing you could do is stop running around.

There is a purpose to the brain's fine tuned response to, well, everything: this oversized frontal lobe is the one thing keeping humans from being lunch. With few natural advantages (walking upright, serious tradeoff!) we've got to be able to respond to everything.

Of course, there's all sorts of nasty side effects (mental illnesses are taking their place among the top threats to public health). But how much of this is just a little bit of fine tuning, and how much of is something we need to deal with? Is the system so carefully balanced that even thinking too much about it will throw you off?


Haha, we don't know anything about the brain. Obviously, reading minds and superpowers are ludicrous, but when it comes to internal changes, who can say?

P.S. everything is interconnected.

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