I had the pleasure of talking to Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD (Dr. Rudy Tanzi) with respect to rewiring and developing the human brain and the process of creating super genes. We also talked about the benefits of practising meditation and his work in discovering a cure for Alzheimer's and prevention of the disease.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD, is the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and the Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Dr. Tanzi is a New York Times best selling author. He is co-author of "Super Brain" and "Super Genes" with Dr. Deepak Chopra. Dr. Tanzi co-discovered the first Alzheimer's disease gene and is the co-author of "Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease".
My intention was to find out how we can develop a 'super brain' (a subject he wrote extensively about with Dr. Chopra). Dr. Tanzi said. "As Deepak Chopra and I wrote in 'Super Brain', you are rewiring your brain with every new experience and every reaction that you have to that experience". He continued. "If you use Dr. Dan Siegel's idea that the brain is an organ that's bringing you four different things at any one time: sensations, sight, sound and smell etc., images which are part of your imagination (a lot of that is envisaging memories of the past or what the future might hold), feelings and then thoughts. Siegel uses the acronym SIFT to describe this process. And so your brain is SIFTing all the time."
Dr. Tanzi emphasised that observation is essential. "Your brain is rewiring all the time based on those processes but the emphasis that we make is that you need to take the time to be the observer. Be the self-aware 'being' taking advantage of the gift your brain has given you in self-awareness to observe and be the witness of SIFT."
He re-emphasised the importance of monitoring our brain and reflecting. "In other words, stepping back at any given moment and giving yourself a chance to say, What are these sensations I'm experiencing? What are these images? What's my imagination doing right now? What feelings am I experiencing right now? What thoughts are going through my head? So in this sense the mind becomes like an ocean of SIFT and you become the captain of the ship, navigating that mind and when you actively observe the different processes taking place in the brain, you drive connection, you drive linkage between brain regions, you drive linkage between the regions of the brain involved with imagination, with sensory cortex of different types, with the amygdala and thalamus and areas of feeling and areas of thought and cognition."
The revelation that we can integrate all areas of our brain is fascinating. Even more inspiring, Dr. Tanzi reminds us that our brain creates our everyday reality. He went on to say. "Your brain brings you your world. Your entire world is brought to you by your brain, so how your brain is wired really defines the world you are living in. If you take time to observe what your brain is bringing you, driving connections between these regions, that brings integration - integration of mind and brain is what will then optimise the wiring of your brain to bring you the world that you will most enjoy and give you a good life. This is really the central basis of the book 'Super Brain'."
Sadly many people still believe that a 'super brain' is exclusively the domain of high achieving academics. However, Dr. Tanzi challenges this myth. "The super brain does not depend on knowledge. A super brain depends on being aware that your brain is bringing you thoughts, and along with those thoughts your brain is bringing you feelings and imagination, while also incorporating sensory information about the world around you."
Dr. Tanzi went on to elaborate on 'how' to develop a super brain. "To develop a super brain, the key word is 'integration'. Meaning, you are allowing your brain stem and your limbic system (feelings and some of the basic instincts of survival such as fight or flight) to integrate with the more recently evolved frontal and pre-frontal cortex that bring with it a sense of self, purpose, meaning, and creativity, in which case you're now blending the part of your brain where you imagined your world and who you are in the world with the part of your brain that ensures you survive in the world."
Dr. Tanzi continued. "When you balance the survival parts of the brain (which are the older parts of the brain for survival) with the newer parts of the brain (that bring a sense of self-awareness and meaning and purpose and creativity), you not only survive but you thrive. So the integration of brain regions brings you from mere survival to, I guess for lack of a better word, thrival."
Feeling our emotions without internal resistance is very effective in the process of healing emotional wounds and enhancing the human brain. Dr. Tanzi expanded on this. "Don't try to control it, don't try to regulate it and don't try to edit it or filter it. Simply by 'observing' will bring balance that converts you from a base-line brain, (which simply permits you to survive and do the bare minimum) with your reality map to support that 'survival' into actually 'thriving', where the brain integrates information at all levels and this is what makes great things possible."
Dr. Tanzi suggested that some of the greatest minds in history accomplished brain integration. "Da Vinci, Mozart and Galileo had all parts of their brain firing. I like to use this term 3D brain because I think about the survival part of the brain and the brain stem as the drive to survive. I think about the limbic system feeding our fears and desires as the desire to live and to achieve. Then I think about the frontal cortex as the vision, the creativity, the meaning, the purpose and that's the dream. So when you have the drive, the desire and the dream all together that's when great things are possible; that's the 3D brain, that's when you have a super brain. It simply begins with integration by observing what your brain is doing in those different regions and taking the time to do that."
I wanted to find out how Dr. Tanzi views consciousness. I asked him frankly, does consciousness direct the brain or does the brain govern consciousness? Dr. Tanzi replied. "It really depends on how you define consciousness. Without a brain obviously you're not conscious. The medical definition of consciousness is 'awareness with attention'. So for example, you could be in a coma and have an awareness that's entirely internalised even down to just a small part of activity in the brain, but you don't have attention to the outside world. So the scripted definition of consciousness is to be aware of your world and to be able to have attention where you combine attention to the world with awareness."
He continued. "From a neuroscience standpoint, you say, 'well the brain is producing consciousness, i.e. the brain allows you to be aware and to focus your attention.' So from a medical stand-point that's the definition of consciousness - the brain produces consciousness, but from a more metaphysical, spiritual and theoretical standpoint you can say well where did the brain come from? Does the brain exist as a physical entity in a particular universe or is the brain itself a product of a more primal awareness? And what I mean by that is that we take for granted that there is existence."
Dr Tanzi directed his answer to the importance of realising 'existence'. He emphasised. "We have to go back to the fact that the first thing there is, is existence. Without existence, you don't exist. Well, what is existence? To exist one must be aware of existence. So to me the primal basis of existence is awareness and everything including ourselves and our brains are products of awareness." While Dr. Tanzi agrees on many things with his co-author, Dr. Chopra, he has a slightly different perspective on the consciousness debate. "I know that my co-author Deepak Chopra talks about consciousness as being primary. I like to use the word 'awareness' because I think awareness doesn't require attention."
This interview will continue in part two (soon to be published). Dr. Tanzi talks about producing super genes, practising meditation and several factors which can help in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
Christopher Dines' new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.