Let’s face it the news is out, its 2018 and one of the biggest themes in the health industry is the idea of “how can you optimize and be the best version of yourself”. Whether it is physically through different training, diet, supplements, and all your habits. Or partaking in some activities for your mind such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi practices. As a holistic whole how can we become the best version of ourselves?
Neuroscience can help in us explore the human brain, as it is the study of the brain, and the complex organ that it is. It is also the organ we still don’t know exactly all that it is capable of. New in the literature of psychology is the concept of brain entropy. Research and science has shown that the brain is a very multidimensional organ that has different “compartments” that do different tasks. You could image your brain as a massive office building, just like the head office of your bank might look like. There are multiple floors in the office, and each floor is responsible for different tasks for how your body functions. One floor is responsible for the coordination of your body, moving it, keeping it balanced as gravity keeps you rooted. Another floor is responsible for language, memory, and behaviours. Another for reading, interpreting words into thoughts in your head. Another floor for vision, perception, the world in your own reality. Another floor for problem solving, critical thinking, speaking, and emotions. As you can imagine it, your brains building is a very deep-intricate system, and what neuroscientists are finding is that there are likely many more floors than you think.
What brain entropy is; it is the study of the number of different neural states a mind can be in, and how these different “offices” in your brains building communicates with each other. Entropy measures the variety of states possible in your system, what and how much can the brain access in itself? When is communication at its peak? When is it not efficient? Why does one level of your office have more leverage in decision making then the other? Why are you in a different neural state of mind in the morning versus the night, at work versus at home, awake versus asleep, outside versus inside, sitting down versus exercising. In all these examples your brain is in a different neural state then the other. How does brain entropy contribute to this?
A lot of variables are included in these questions of how our brains work. It is even more difficult because no brain is consistent to the next they believe. My brain works differently then your brain, maybe my office space is set up a bit different. I might have more employees on one floor, and a little less on another compared to your office metaphorically.
In a new research study published in Scientific Reports researchers hypothesized the idea that greater entropy would mean that your brain could process more information. They also studied how a psychostimulant, in this case caffeine, can help widespread entropy. De Chang conducted research on 60 participants; 30 male, 30 female, participants would take 200 mg of caffeine (your avg size mug of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine) and studied the brains activity while participants just layed down and rested. They found that caffeine increased brain entropy across the entire cerebral cortex, especially in the prefrontal cortex, visual cortex, and motor network section of the brain. This area of the brain is known as the level in your office building that would be responsible in cognitive behaviour, thought processes, decision making, and problem solving. Researchers also stated that this can be because of caffeine’s known beneficial effect on attention, and action.
Which we see outside the scientific world, a large percentage of the population associate caffeine and coffee with work and daily tasks. Many individuals start their day with a coffee, and continually drink throughout the day. You often hear “I can’t do anything until I get my coffee”, well this research shows maybe that is for the best. Coffee can help stimulate our brain into a state of mind that promotes thought, problem solving, and action. Things we will use in the day.
Shortly after another research study was conducted, building off of De Chang’s research studying how the brains contains a complex ability to be in different neural states can predict how you will choose to externally behave. Glenn Saxe, MD, and his colleagues studied how entropy and intellectual ability correlate. In their own words they defined entropy as “a measure of the brains overall flexibility and readiness to encounter unpredictable stimuli”. In theory they believed that a brain with greater entropy may be better to predict the outcomes of a complex chaotic world. Using the same methods as De Chang’s study but on 900 participants, found that greater entropy was positively associated with intelligence. Participants that scored higher on verbal and intelligent pre-study tests would also score higher in brain entropy, specifically in the left temporal lobe. Also there was a correlation discovered between greater entropy, and better reasoning.
So this research shows that in theory greater entropy in the brain can be a biomarker for better information processing, as opposed to low entropy which would be a result of repetition, order, stagnation in your life. To give you an example, Indiana Jones would have greater brain entropy caused by the amount of chaos thrown in his life then let’s say an individual who follows the same routine daily with a lot of order, and repetition.
This research shows that it is important to constantly try to evolve yourself, strive, learn more, ask questions, and put sometimes yourself in situations that are mentally stressful, vulnerable, but temporary. If you are an individual who lives a repetitive lifestyle only allowing your mind to do the same tasks, it already knows how to do, you most likely have a low entropy as your mind is always in the same state.
It is important to challenge your mind and try to achieve new neural states. This can be done through learning new skills, acquiring new knowledge, and trying new hobbies, habits. Imagine physically looking at your minds building again, image what your office space would look like internally. Are you proud of your office? How much more could you truly achieve in this life with action.
It’s a curious thought.
Easy Activities that stimulate body & mind:
- New skills
- Learn something new
- Think. Explore. Do.
Bare minimum, if you take anything from this it is nice to know that with your daily morning cup of joe, you are not only waking up, you are also boosting your brain’s ability to think and do in the morning.
New future that could be explored:
- Entropy and flow states
- Psychedelic drugs effects
- Entropy and happiness correlation?
- Da Chang, D. S., Zhang, J., Shang, Y., Ge, Q., & Ze, W. (2018). Caffeine caused a widespread increase of resting brain entropy. Scientific Reports, 8, 2700. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-21008-6
2. Saxe GN, Calderone D, Morales LJ (2018) Brain entropy and human intelligence: A resting-state fMRI study. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0191582. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191582