Neuroscience or Neurobabble

There has been a lot going on this month as I’ve stopped reading neuroscience articles, as I was doing the research, and started writing my Transfer Paper (12,500 words). I have been furiously writing, with the aid of a fellow student’s submission for guidance on what’s actually required and so far I have written 8,500 words with just the Literature Review between me and my first draft. Finding a ‘how to do the Delphi Method’ book was a breakthrough despite being about nursing research: The Delphi Technique in Nursing and Health Research (2010). I have to admit that I am nervous about this method as Delphi relies on a number of neuroscientists wanting to participate and they may not. Still, at the moment it feels a really good method to get me moving forwards so I’ll tackle that problem later – if it occurs.

In gathering together my Literature material I am coming across new articles as one bibliography leads to new reading and another bibliography and so on. I now understand the problem of knowing where to stop! Here are a few items that I thought you might like. They cover a fascinating array of topics.

First, a bit more on Seung’s Connectome book (remember some of this is hypothesis):

  • Four developmental phases: neurons being created, moving to their proper place, extending branches and connecting.
  • 100+ neuron types each with a distinct function.
  • Some neurons drain electrical current from a neuron and act as Inhibitors – reducing the likelihood of something happening.
  • Different synapses pass on different levels of current so not all neurons have the same influence.
  • Grey matter contains neurons, axons and dendrites. White matter only contains axons and is myelinated by white fat molecules. Axons bundle together in white matter like wiring looms.
  • 90% of axons stay within the brain. So it mainly talks to itself.
  • Brain information is restricted due to how long it takes to analyse. Apparently, one cubic millimetre of brain tissue would take a million person years to analyse for its connectome due to current computing power. Hopefully by 2100 a whole brain could be mapped.

Seung believes that the way neurons connect is heavily shaped by experience although the initial ‘wiring set up’ maybe similar and heavily determined by genes. There was also an interesting debate about how much rewiring can be done along with a discussion about understanding more about neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia.

This led me onto wondering about plasticity and an article called “Return to the Teenage Brain” which backs up Seung’s assertion that adult brains are less plastic, and for good reason. However, I think the quest has started on how to recreate our plasticity again although what changes with increased plasticity may not be totally in our control. If the whole brain becomes plastic how do you control which parts are changing and think of the energy required for that – teenagers sleep a lot for a reason.

Being slightly sceptical, my attention was grabbed by an article called “Coaching the brain: neuro-science or neuro-nonsense?” I agree with a number of the points where neuroscience is being sprinkled around to gain more coaching business, some neuroscience research claims are being overcooked by the press and many are from quite small sample sizes. I think neuroscience is useful to coaching and once it loses its ‘emperor’s new clothes’ status it will be good. The article “What psychotherapists can begin to learn from neuroscience: seven principles of a brain-based psychotherapy“ is a good summation of that if you can think of it in terms of coaching practice rather than clinical practice.

However, I hadn’t realised there was an interest to see if you can use brain scanning to prove the effect of coaching. Preceding ‘neuro-science or neuro-nonsense’ in The Coaching Psychologist journal, the main article “Perspectives and challenges for the study of brain responses to coaching: Enhancing the dialogue between the fields of neuroscience and coaching psychology” echoes my thoughts by saying that neuroscience perspectives “hold the ability to open new avenues in the study and validation of coaching approaches: by making it possible to compare how different schools might deliver results via enhancing specific brain functions and leading to differential changes in the levels of associated biomarkers, relevant information on the nature of each coaching approach may emerge. Consequently, multimodal techniques could be, at the brain level, shown to be more effective to improve wider range of skills.” (Dias, Palmer, O’Riordan, Freitas, et al, 2015). So as with medicine, neuroscience may help clarify successful coaching interventions whilst still allowing for varied practitioner application.

Finally, the World Science Festival lecture called “My Neurons, My Self” is a fascinating debate between neuroscience and psychology. For example “We are what we remember” and “If we had the same values, the same self, then asking ‘who are you?’ wouldn’t be worth asking”. In the Q&A there were some good questions: “If there were two exact clones, would they have the same Self?” and “If there is no free will then who is responsible?” I think that there was general agreement that although we do things via our neurons that they are continuously changing due to our experiences and what is happening in that moment as well as from our previous memories, experiences and our genes. It ended with their thoughts on the definition of the self: The self is our centre of deeply held values, the values that connect us to others who are like minded (J Prinz); We are what we have learned and remembered from our experiences, with a specification that that is reflected more in what we actually do that defines who we are rather than who we think we are (D Shohamy).

For me, I am realising it’s not the concept of the self I need to look at but rather the Core Moderator; the bit that decides how we work. (New name courtesy of my Coaching Forum’s ideas.)