Dienstag, 29. Juli 2014

the rating system of the brain

zu zweit, 2011

the photo is called „zu zweit“ and i took it on a hot day in summer of 2010 on the greek island of kefalonia.

the rating system of the brain

I have already explained a few basics concerning stress, emotional life and controlling the switch of consciousnees in blog 6, 9, 12 and 13.

all signals from our surroundings are administered in the cortex and the limbic system through our five senses (blog 10 and 12) and rated within 500 milliseconds. an inner picture of the world is generated and immediately compared with good or painful previous experiences. the biological axis of stress is immediately deployed if the situation is comparable to a negative previous experience followed by anxiety. interestingly, thoughts and the imagination of a dangerous situation in the future can already activate the axis of stress, which is very important for our struggle for survival (anticipation). 

these ratings happen in the “center for emotional intelligence” (limbic system), primarily in the amygdale, in the hippocampus and in the hypothalamus.

the hypothalamus, an important control structure in the limbic system, controls hormonal, immunological and emotional functions and is also responsible for sleep.

there are three types of responses to stress:

1. through the sympathetic nervous system
2. through the endoctrinal (hormonal) system
3. through the immune system 

ad 1: general mobilization
production of crh (cortico-releasing-hormone) in the hypothalamus and in the amygdale with stimulation of the locus coeruleus and therefore release of noradrenaline in the brain (see blog 12 – switch of consciousness). this leads to increased attention and motivation.
at the same time, crh stimulates the adrenal medulla through the sympathetic nervous system to release adrenaline and noradrenaline. this stimulates the cardiovascular system and stress symptoms in the brain as well as inflammatory reactions start increasing.

ad 2: the crh produced in the amygdale and the hypothalamus stimulate the pituitary to produce acth (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which stimulates the adrenal cortex to release cortisol. this is how energy is provided. however, cortisol is also a strong immune regulator and anti-inflammatory.
a strong production of cortisol restrains production of crh and acth, which gives vital protection and should prevent stress reactions from getting out of control. constant psychological stress destroys this protection after some time, leading to grave somatic consequences.

ad 3: cortisol blocks the production of cytokines (hormone-like messengers that are part of the unspecific defense), like interleukin 1 and 8 as well as the tumor necrosis factor. sensibility to infection increases, wound healing is slowing and the course of disease in general is influenced negatively.
coronary heart diseases, tumors, asthma, diabetes, skin diseases, the common cold and herpes infections up to multiple sclerosis and the course of many other diseases are negatively influenced or even caused by this.

good stress managament can make these symptoms go away, slowed down by negative feedback mechanisms. the prefrontal and orbitofronal cortex (cognitive centers of rationality) thus dampen the emotional limbic centers with the message: “dont worry, it's not the end of the world”.
if only the amygdale, which reacts even stronger to stress, would listen and play along!

Samstag, 12. Juli 2014

night gardens

brenscino 5, 2014

in the garden of the hotel brenscino in brissago

on the hillside atop of brissago lies the parkhotel brenscino, where guests are indulged with a wonderful view of lake maggiore and a huge garden.

the garden is a gem, created and looked after with much love and expertise, an eldorado for experiencing a rich biodiversity.

during two visits in the past four years, i took the opportunity to expand my night garden series. equipped with an led-flashlight, i indefatigably strolled through the garden after nightfall. i felt and enjoyed the comforting breeze of the night, heard a rustle here and a chirp there, the garden lit by a magically beautiful sky full of stars. i often moved the camera to create blurred images that would depict the scenery even better.

the difficult lighting conditions of the night are a challenge for every camera, since poor lighting inevitably leads to speckling at a certain film speed (iso). speckling on a photograph that was taken with a digital camera is a disturbance of pixels (elements sensitive to light) in brightness and color. this kind of “coarseness” of the image is not comparable to the “grain” on analog high speed film.

the bigger a sensor of a camera is, the less speckling will be visible, because the size of each pixel as well as the gap between the pixels increase with the size of the sensor. while smaller sensors already show speckling at iso 800, this does not happen with larger sensors until iso 3200 or even iso 6400. it is therefore important to pay attention to the size of a sensor when buying a camera, depending on the individual’s demands and expectations in picture quality.

speckling can, however, also be used intentionally. in certain situations, i personally appreciate the additional effect of blurriness and the thus achieved intensification of a mystical appearance of the photograph.

add the moon to this scenery and you feel as if you were in a midsummer night's dream.

the exposition shows selected photographs from the past four years and is open until july 17, 2014. a portfolio containing the night garden images is also available.


moonrise over rapperswil, 2008

the photo is called “moonrise over rapperswil” and was taken on a warm summer's evening.


the word stress is on everyone’s lips, but also in every brain, body and heart. even the world health organization calls it the largest health threat of the 21st century.

stress researcher hans selye described stress as a response and adjustment reaction of the body via the brain to an emotional or physical imbalance.

how many times have we longed for a break, but ignored our needs and kept on working instead of taking a rest? this leads to a release of stress hormones that help us to suppress symptoms of the exhaustion setting in, we can even increase our performance for a short time – we are “high” on hormones. we often stimulate our system with pick-me-ups like caffeine, nicotine or alcohol. however, after some time, dysfunctions such as reduced brain performance and reduced learning ability with higher error rates or general inefficiency set in.  the body gradually starts to rebel and various psychosomatic disease patterns appear.

every occurrence of stress leads to a stress reaction, which leads to a depressed mood on an emotional level, to signs of exhaustion on a physiological-hormonal level and for instance to lack of concentration on a cognitive level. heavy stress results in a blockade, we are jumpy, grow stiff and find it difficult to think. test anxiety ,for example, makes everything that one has studied for disappear. 

we either manage to overcome stress or stress overcomes us, while the latter – as constant psychological stress – can lead to serious secondary diseases.

until now, i have talked about stress in connection with overwork. i am convinced that signs of overwork (burnout) and the correspondent sequelae are mainly of other origin.

constant psychological stress should rather be called “relationship stress”, it is man in relation to himself and his environment, with all tasks raining in on him as well as challenges and harm (traumata).

constant psychological stress occurs when strains seem impossible to overcome from a subjective point of view, when one’s own social position and identity are about to be redefined or – and this is very important – after experiencing traumata.

psychobiology knows two types of stress, distress and eustress.

distress is known as the negative, threatening and morbid type, while eustress embodies the positive and challenging and is important for our motivation of being and creativity.

by the way, too little stress is just as harmful as is too much stress.

psychobiological healing can only be achieved by reducing stress, not only by reducing one’s work load for example, but mainly by general reduction or elimination of the often underlying and subconsciously operating causative traumata.

why do people react differently to the same stressful occurrence? stress tolerance apparently increases through experience of stress and expectation of stress or if i can see a (divine) “sense” in the event that traumatized me, i.e. after a natural disaster.

recognizing stress factors at an early stage and immediately eliminating them as well as accepting challenges that make us happy keeps us healthy and content. this is best achieved through the positive experience of mastering a challenge.

Mittwoch, 4. Juni 2014

the switch of consciousness

the switch of consciousness, 2014

i took the photo “the switch of consciousness” in the halls of the old secondary school (progymnasium, called progr) in berne as a part of a private project i’ve been pursuing for the past four years.

switch of consciousness

i’m referring to blog 6 on the topic of creativity, blog 9 about neurochemical connections and blog 10 on the topic of memory and conscious and subconscious storage.

brain research is trying to solve one of the last big mysteries: consciousness. but neither consciousness from a philosophical point of view nor a certain part in the brain for consciousness exist, just like there is no place for the soul in our body.

consciousness is a state of deliberate experience that i can tell people about.

background consciousness is based on my emotional experiences and shows me that this body is my body and that i have my own identity. i can also differentiate between reality and my thoughts and intentions. in short: i know that it is (only) me who thinks, feels, experiences or even decides and acts.

actual consciousness means that i, on the one hand, notice occurrences in the environment or in my body through my senses and, on the other hand, experience emotions and needs, i.e. hunger. this also includes purely mental activities such as thinking and remembering.

most of the daily happenings, however, don’t require consciousness as our brain can process many things that don’t even reach our consciousness. this is called implicit perception – implicit learning.

the explicit operation mode of consciousness is required when it comes to learning new things – this is even fostered by consciousness! learning new things is achieved by creating neuronal lanes and groups (nerve cells are created and organized in new groups). the working memory (=cortex) plays a key role in this process. after the “roads” (lanes) have been developed, strengthened and automated, the activity of the working memory is being reduced. with automatization, actual consciousness turns into nothing but a limiting factor – everything is done unconsciously – we can even do it in our sleep.

since sensations reach us faster than we can process them, we need a working memory to buffer data. this is done with the help of the neurotransmitter dopamine which i introduced to you when talking about creativity in blog 6.

this information is stored in the cortex for a short amount of time until it has been analyzed, classified and compared to previous experiences

dopamine therefore ensures a slow, cognitive processing of information in the cortex. 

the stress hormone noradrenaline is released in the locus coeruleus (blue core) in times of stress and prevents the effect of dopamine. this causes the working memory to turn itself off in favor of parts of the brain that are not part of the cortex. noradrenaline thus fosters fast, analog processing of information that is not accessible by our consciousness.

stress and the release of noradrenaline thus lead to a shift in the brain from a conscious, slow mode to a fast and subconscious one. noradrenaline is incidentally a chemical precursor of dopamine – both are of importance for the development of psychological illnesses

the stress hormone noradrenaline in the blue core plays an important role for shifting between consciousness and subconsciousness. (noradrenaline is also produced in the adrenal glands, where it leads to bodily stress reactions in combination with adrenaline).

unconsciously working brain structures, located deeply in the brain and particularly in the limbic system, come into effect in this way. switching off the working memory complicates or precludes the learning process and with that our receptiveness and also creativity. stress kills the ability to think as well as creativity

among many other structures, the amygdala (almond core – memory for fear and feelings), the mesolimbic pathway with the nucleus accumbens (luck and reward system) and the hippocampus (sea horse – the declarative, episodical long-term memory) are part of the limbic system.

it is thus not astonishing that our stress plagued society is severely suffering from psychological and physical diseases, as though it seems that we turn off our conscious control through our behavior and are thereby making way for automated and morbid brain processes.

i will continue talking about findings from stress and trauma research in future blog posts. this will allow insights into how we are experiencing the world, how we are guided and what possibilities we have to steer our boat ourselves. according to findings in brain research and quantum physics, the extent of these possibilities is, however, far from certain.

sources: gerhard roth, klaus grawe