The Unknown Capability
of the Brain
by Chris Kok
We have discussed the link between the ancient religious teachings (the Navagrahas of Hinduism in particular) and the health of 9 parts of the human brain. In this issue, we shall focus on the first cosmic influencer which is the Sun; referred to as Surya in the Navagrahas. Anatomically, the part of the brain that the Navagrahas were referring to was the Thalamus.
LOCATION AND FUNCTIONS OF THE THALAMUS
Figure 1: In Hinduism, Surya or the Sun God refers to the thalamus in the human brain. The thalamus is located between the Cerebral Cortex and the midbrain.
Thalamus is a dual lobed mass of grey matter located on top of the brain stem between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain – refer to Fig. 1.
One of the Thalamus’ key roles is to receive auditory, somatosensory (e.g sensing heat and the surface of an object that we touch) and visual sensory signals and relay them to the cerebral cortex (the cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain) for processing.
In a way, the Thalamus works like a telephone operator that routes incoming sensory messages to the relevant parts of the brain for information processing. For example, when we see an object, the visuals are picked up by the retina in our eyes. These retinal inputs are sent to the Thalamus which would route them to the relevant parts of the brain for processing which then results in us being able to make out what we see (i.e. the color of the object, size, shape etc). The processing of the information allows us to then respond accordingly. Similarly the sound waves that our ears pick up would be routed to the Thalamus for relay to the relevant parts of the brain for processing which allows us to make out what we hear (i.e. the tone, pitch, melody etc).
Apart from this, the Thalamus also plays an important role in regulating the state of sleep and wakefulness thus regulating arousal, the level of awareness, and activity. Which is why, damage to the Thalamus can potentially cause a coma. Working in conjunction with the cerebral cortex, the Thalamus is also a key component in motor control (i.e. controlling of movement).
ACCORDING TO THE HINDU TEXT
In the Vedic text, Surya (i.e. the Thalamus) symbolizes the Sun God. It is also known as the God of Light and regarded as the literal source of all life. It is supposed to be an aspect of excellence and wisdom. It was believed to be the generous deity capable of curing sick people and symbolized the brilliance in one’s life. Surya is considered to be one of the auspicious signs and Hindus are encouraged to place the sign of the Sun over their main doors to bring good luck. The Sun is also regarded as the symbol of the Male gender.
The underlying meaning of the Vedic text seems to suggest that one should take care of his/her Thalamus to ensure that he/she would be wise and excel in whatever he/she endeavours. In ensuring the health of the Thalamus and the body, one should expose the body to sufficient sunlight. In modern day science, it is a well-known fact that sufficient sunlight provides the body with the capability to synthesize Vitamin D which is crucial for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphate without which can lead to a variety of disorders (e.g. poor bone health, weak immune system, bone deformities and depression).
HOW WE DAMAGE THE THALAMUS
We need to understand that most of our diseases are contributed by our own attitude and habits. The attitude that is most damaging to the Thalamus is the act of “labelling”.
Labelling is when we predetermine and brand a situation, a person or an object with a preconceived perception of our own (often with a prejudice). An example of labelling is when we carry a prejudiced mindset about a person at work – perhaps we label the person as a difficult person to work with. That mindset in itself greatly influences our behaviour and emotional response towards the person; often leading to arguments and disagreements. Left unchecked, it may lead to us holding feelings of contempt and grudge.
When this same act is duplicated repeatedly with other people in our surroundings, the impact on our Thalamus, the Cerebral Cortex and ultimately our health will be disastrous. The act of labelling is extensively done by every individual in their daily life. It is the act of labelling that causes us to carry expectations as well. Try and examine the manner in which you speak to your own child about the need to finish his/her homework and the manner in which you speak to your friend’s child regarding the same subject matter.
Most often than not, there will be absence of any form of threat of punishment when you speak to someone’s child whilst you would be quick to bring in the notion of punishment when you speak to your own child. It is because we have labelled the child as “my own child” that our mind automatically switches over to one that carries an expectation of “how my child should be”. The same would not happen when we speak to someone’s child because we label that child as “a child that is not mine to control”. If you examine this carefully, you would also realize that even the tone of voice that you use would differ when communicating with your own child as opposed to your communication with someone’s child.
The act of labelling a situation can cause us to lose determination, lose courage, feel demotivated etc. If we label a situation as a problem, the mind responds to the situation as a problem causing us to worry and get emotionally disturbed accompanied by uncontrolled trail of thoughts on how worse off the situation is going to become. We are thus unable to find a solution to the situation. This is why many people find themselves trapped in a seemingly unresolvable situation.
Repeated acts of labelling leads to emotional disturbances which damages the Thalamus and reduces the thickness of the Cerebral Cortex resulting in depression if left unchecked. Watch out for our next bulletin in which we shall discuss the Hypothalmus which is regarded as the Moon or the God Chandra.