Explore Your Amazing Brain

The Science of Positive Neuroplasticity and Lasting Brain Change

For thousands of years, philosophers, poets, mystics, and ordinary people have wondered about human experience: What is the nature of, and what causes, all those sensations, thoughts, feelings, desires, and sense of “me?”

The modern sciences of psychology and neurology have been slowly but surely establishing a body of knowledge about the mind and its relationship to the brain and the body. This emerging “science of mind” is in its infancy, and a certain humility is called for.

That said, enough information has emerged to begin connecting some of the major dots, shedding real light on some of our biggest questions. Dr. Rick Hanson has been collecting resources to help answer these questions, including:

Brain Basics

Easily understandable, basic information about the nervous system and how your brain works.

Recent News

Interesting articles about the brain, psychology, and the science of mindfulness and meditation.

Key Science

Fundamental scientific papers related to brain science, relationships, well-being, and more.

Understanding Neuroplasticity with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

In this video, Rick Hanson explains how we can use our minds to change our brains to change our minds for the better. This video was taken at the Greater Good Science Center in UC Berkeley as part of the Science of a Meaningful Life Series.

Your Amazing Brain

Perhaps the most complex object in the universe!

Your Amazing Brain

Although your brain is just three pounds of soft, gooshy tofu-like tissue–it has about 1.1 trillion cells.

There are 100 billion neurons in your brain, averaging about 5,000 connections each–called synapses– like having 500 trillion microprocessors wired together in a vast network.

When a neuron fires, that excites or inhibits its receiving neurons. Basically, the sum of all the signals a neuron receives determines whether it will fire–sort of like the dominant message from a crowd of people all shouting “go!” or “stop!”

Adding up all possible combinations of 100 billion neurons firing or not, the number of potential states of your neural network is at least 10 to the millionth power: one followed by one million zeros. (There are “just” 10 to the 80th power atoms in the entire universe.)

FAST AS LIGHTNING

Neurons typically fire 5-50 times a second, with millions and even billions of them pulsing together.

In the half second it takes you to clap your hands, billions of synapses have activated in your brain.

Most brain activity is lightning fast and forever outside of awareness. The slower stuff that we call thoughts and feelings is just the observable tip of an iceberg of lightning quick electrical, chemical – and possibly quantum – activities.

3.5 BILLION YEARS OF EVOLUTION

Human DNA is 98-99% identical to chimpanzee DNA. The crucial 1-2% difference is mainly about the brain–especially its relationship functions.

More than learning how to use tools, more than adapting to moving out of the forest into the grasslands of Africa, it was learning how to love and live with each other that drove recent human evolution.

IT’S ALWAYS HUMMING

Like a refrigerator, the brain is always “on,” with billions of neurons firing every minute in order to keep your body alive and ready for urgent needs.

Even though your brain is just 2-3% of your weight, it uses about 20-25% of the oxygen and glucose circulating in your blood.

THE MIND IS WHAT THE BRAIN DOES

What is the purpose of the remarkable complexity, activity, speed, and evolution of the brain? It is the mind.

The function of the nervous system is to process information. All the information in your nervous system is your mind.

Your mind–like any information–is not physical: you can’t touch it, but it is still real. The brain represents your mind.

Therefore, all mental activity–your thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows–requires neural activity.

NEURONS THAT FIRE TOGETHER, WIRE TOGETHER

Repeated patterns of mental activity require repeated patterns of brain activity.

Repeated patterns of brain activity change neural structure and function.

YOU CAN USE YOUR MIND
TO CHANGE YOUR BRAIN
TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

To benefit yourself and other beings.

For thousands of years, philosophers, poets, mystics, and ordinary people have wondered about human experience: What is the nature of, and what causes, all those sensations, thoughts, feelings, desires, and sense of “me?”

The modern sciences of psychology and neurology have been slowly but surely establishing a body of knowledge about the mind and its relationship to the brain and the body. This emerging “science of mind” is in its infancy, and a certain humility is called for.

That said, enough information has emerged to begin connecting some of the major dots, shedding real light on some of our biggest questions. Rick Hanson has been collecting resources to help answer these questions, including:

Your Amazing Brain

Perhaps the most complex object in the universe!

Your Amazing Brain

Although your brain is just three pounds of soft, gooshy tofu-like tissue–it has about 1.1 trillion cells.

There are 100 billion neurons in your brain, averaging about 5,000 connections each–called synapses– like having 500 trillion microprocessors wired together in a vast network.

When a neuron fires, that excites or inhibits its receiving neurons. Basically, the sum of all the signals a neuron receives determines whether it will fire–sort of like the dominant message from a crowd of people all shouting “go!” or “stop!”

Adding up all possible combinations of 100 billion neurons firing or not, the number of potential states of your neural network is at least 10 to the millionth power: one followed by one million zeros. (There are “just” 10 to the 80th power atoms in the entire universe.)

FAST AS LIGHTNING

Neurons typically fire 5-50 times a second, with millions and even billions of them pulsing together.

In the half second it takes you to clap your hands, billions of synapses have activated in your brain.

Most brain activity is lightning fast and forever outside of awareness. The slower stuff that we call thoughts and feelings is just the observable tip of an iceberg of lightning quick electrical, chemical – and possibly quantum – activities.

3.5 BILLION YEARS OF EVOLUTION

Human DNA is 98-99% identical to chimpanzee DNA. The crucial 1-2% difference is mainly about the brain–especially its relationship functions.

More than learning how to use tools, more than adapting to moving out of the forest into the grasslands of Africa, it was learning how to love and live with each other that drove recent human evolution.

IT’S ALWAYS HUMMING

Like a refrigerator, the brain is always “on,” with billions of neurons firing every minute in order to keep your body alive and ready for urgent needs.

Even though your brain is just 2-3% of your weight, it uses about 20-25% of the oxygen and glucose circulating in your blood.

THE MIND IS WHAT THE BRAIN DOES

What is the purpose of the remarkable complexity, activity, speed, and evolution of the brain? It is the mind.

The function of the nervous system is to process information. All the information in your nervous system is your mind.

Your mind–like any information–is not physical: you can’t touch it, but it is still real. The brain represents your mind.

Therefore, all mental activity–your thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows–requires neural activity.

NEURONS THAT FIRE TOGETHER, WIRE TOGETHER

Repeated patterns of mental activity require repeated patterns of brain activity.

Repeated patterns of brain activity change neural structure and function.

YOU CAN USE YOUR MIND
TO CHANGE YOUR BRAIN
TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

To benefit yourself and other beings.

Understanding Neuroplasticity with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

In this video, Rick Hanson explains how we can use our minds to change our brains to change our minds for the better. This video was taken at the Greater Good Science Center in UC Berkeley as part of the Science of a Meaningful Life Series.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

Rick Hanson, PhD is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times best-selling author. His books have been published in 29 languages and include NeurodharmaResilient, Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture – with 900,000 copies in English alone. His free newsletters have 215,000 subscribers and his online programs have scholarships available for those with financial need. He’s lectured at NASA, Google, Oxford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. An expert on positive neuroplasticity, his work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. He began meditating in 1974 and is the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. He and his wife live in northern California and have two adult children. He loves wilderness and taking a break from emails.

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