Brainpower: The Secret to the Survival of Our Species

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Have you ever wondered how some human beings experience incredible physical traumas only to emerge completely unscathed? Or how an individual can be lost at sea or trapped in some compromising situation for months or years, and turn up, not just alive, but relatively healthy?

Pushing The Limits

The groundbreaking 2008 series special called “Human Body: Pushing the Limits,” featured a number of these stories. From the cave explorer, Jean Luc who fell into a 15 mile maze of caves lost for 70 days whose brain saves him by conserving his energy, and supplementing lost calories with his own flesh. Or Steve who, stranded on a life raft alone in the ocean survives 72 days by learning to eat fish in a way to equip his body with everything it needed for survival.

We slow down time, giving ourselves time to process and utilize every bit of information entering form the senses to ensure that we perform accurately and at our peak best.

We’ve all watched movies and documentaries about the potential of the brain. Even many of our beloved comic super-humans and TV show heroes are mythicized embodiments of this power. Yet we seldom see it in action in non-fictional settings such as the examples above. We’ve gotten very used to watching people perform extraordinary physical and mental feats on our TV’s and in our beloved movies. Outstanding physical performances are often things that “those other” people out there do, not us. And I’m not speaking of people who are completely unmotivated.

As a runner and a martial artist I am a fairly athletic individual, but I still am convinced somewhere in the recess of my mind that the brain and body’s ability to perform extraordinarily is something that simply doesn’t enter the realm of my own direct experience. I have never dodged bullets or disappeared in the dark like a Ninja super-human. But since I began training outdoors as opposed to previously training in the comfortable confines of an air-conditioned indoor Dojo, I have noticed that my body is learning to use surroundings in ways that I could have never thought of before, had it not been exposed to a different environment. And I began to wonder if incredible physical feats are as impossible as we think, or if we simply need the right circumstance, or the right training to make it happen.

Fear: A Great Motivator

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Synapses are the structures that pass on neurotransmitters (spark)

What if, like those stories you hear in the news, you were suddenly and inexplicably thrust into the experience of immediate and paramount survival? Sheer, pure, real survival? How would your brain react under that circumstance? Yes, I admit it’s a pretty scary thing to think about, but this “fear” of pushing ourselves to go beyond our limits is simply the result of not knowing our own awesome and untapped abilities, and just how much we are capable of, simply by virtue of our natural survival instinct.

If you were in some such situation, here are some fairly mind-boggling things your brain (and body) might do:
  • YOUR BRAIN SLOWS DOWN TIME – Your brain literally processes and stores approximately 11 million bits of information every second into the unconscious mind (and that’s not counting the 100 trillion processes that have nothing to do with immediate sensory data). When the body is compromised, we have the ability to experience all of that information frame-by-frame which gives us the time to react to it appropriately. In a way, we slow down time, giving ourselves time to process and utilize every bit of information entering form the senses to ensure that we perform accurately and at our peak best.
  • YOUR BRAIN RE-PRIORITIZES THE BODY’S NEEDSHave you ever heard of a person whose hair started falling out due to stress? This occurs because times of stress thrust the brain into its infamous “fight or flight mode” which is an extreme reaction to immediate circumstances. A trauma victim, for instance, regardless of the nature of the trauma (be it physical, mental, or emotional), can remain in this fight-or-flight mode for the better part of an entire life. And while the brain remains in this hyper-aware state, ready to react at any minute, expecting the worst to occur at every turn… it forsakes processes which it deems unnecessary for immediate survival… Such as hair and nail growth, or the ability to experience simple pleasures such as laughter, or the privilege of learning anything new.
  • THE BRAIN OVERRIDES YOUR COMMANDTrue story! Do you think you’re in control of your amazing instrument? Think again. When your brain knows that your body has exerted too much or that the mind has experienced too much to process, it will literally shut you down. It’s similar to flipping a light switch on and off, or better yet, it’s akin to the way a software system will shut down spontaneously due to data overload. The body does the same thing. It knows that it cannot handle any more and it shuts down to preserve, regenerate, rejuvenate, process, and heal. Studies show that going to sleep after studying for an important test ensures a much higher level or retention than scramming more studying in without allowing the mind to rest. NASA scientist and author Bruce Damer actually solved the problem of building a moonrise in his dreams, during a state of rest. He found that he possessed the necessary knowledge for months but it all came together when he dreamed.

We do not have to “try-this-life-or-death-physical-challenge at home” to utilize more of that untapped 90% or brain matter every day. These mechanisms and processes are always accessible and can pave the way for better physical training, better reasoning skills, better reaction-time, better clarity of life purpose and vision, lower and regulated stress levels, a healthy metabolism, sharper senses, and the power to achieve whatever we want simply by virtue of imagining it.

I AM what I AM

Yes, I said it: imagining. No, it’s not some post-modern metaphysical taboo about attracting our desires. It’s actually, quite simply, a little something called Willpower, which is a) quantifiable by physics, and b) the sharped blade you will ever wield. It’s the mind’s ability to react to circumstances which we conjure on our own by virtue of this faculty “the imagination.” The Imagination is a sort of virtual simulation that we control. For this reason it can be difficult to keep in check… because our minds tend to wander. But if we can hone in on it and train it to only experience what we Will… then the extent of our training is endless… Our potential results are endless…What we can achieve is truly endless.

Herr Albert Einstein once said, “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics“. In our training and our everyday lives, our Brain is our greatest weapon. And we sharpen it by learning to expand the horizons of our normal experience to accommodate new ways of thinking and experiencing, training our brains to make greater use of its incredible evolutionary power.

UPDATED 07/28/14

Stephanie Onofri

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