-This is just part of an article I’ve written for the Middlesex University, London-
The human brain, with its thousands of millions of neural connections, seems to be the most extraordinarily complex organ that evolution has brought to life. Thus, our mind (feeling, emotional and creative) gives us a unique richness and unique abilities. Scientists say there is not a single human brain like any other, which means, therefore, that there is no mind like any other. It seems obvious that brain and mind, with their interrelated physical and psychological respective functions, make us precisely what we are. This doesn’t mean that brain and mind are unmovable entities, on the contrary, their capabilities of change and adaptation, their plasticity (‘neural plasticity’, a characteristic introduced by the psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910)), is a fact.
Our body is the medium that in contact with our environment receives and sends information to our brain, and it is this which, through complex neural activity, creates the information our mind processes and makes very personal and exclusive to us as individuals.
Although this statement could be more than obvious, I will explain this further, so as to be better understood and come to the right conclusions, and I hope to show clearly the influence of language and the healing power that writing can have.
It is through our body that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch (using our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and body). Our brain receives all this information, and it is then that our mind processes it on that very personal and particular way, influenced by our education, personal experience, culture etc., so then we behave as we do and take certain actions in our environment. Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, explains in a brilliant and concise way this relationship of brain-mind-behavior: ‘The body and the surrounding environment interact with each other, and the changes caused in the body by that interaction are mapped in the brain. It is certainly true that the mind learns of the outside world via the brain, but it is equally true that the brain can be informed only via the body. The second special consequence of the brain’s body aboutness is no less notable: by mapping its body in an integrated manner, the brain manages to create the critical component of what will become the self.’ Antonio Damasio. (2010) Self comes to mind: constructing the concious brain. New York: Pantheon Books.
Having said that, to my modest understanding it is quite clear that we are in many ways what our brain and mind ’want’ us to be, and it is our responsibility to use these their/our abilities the best we can, as much for our own good as for our environment and common wellbeing. We have already mentioned the plasticity of the brain. A healthy brain, with no damages, can affect the workings and determinations of a mind, and vice versa. Brain takes actions and generates a mind, but mind also acts and can transform a brain. Brain, mind and body are in a very intimate relationship, and they make a way of feeling, thinking, understanding life, and then behaving. ‘Your character is your destiny’, I read once I don’t remember exactly where. I really believe this. Of course our genetic, physical conditions, and social and cultural background and surroundings can limit and condition us, but we also have our will and intelligence, or what psychologists Peter Salovey, from Yale University, and John Mayer, New Hampshire University, came to call ‘emotional intelligence’, a concept that the psychologist and journalist David Goleman made popular (D. Goleman, 1995), and that we could synthesize like the ability to identify, control and modify emotions of oneself and others.
But, how could we better organize all the information our mind process so we can have a healthy life, without causing dysfunctions within ourselves? How could we better understand what our senses receive, and our feelings and emotions as a result of our mind’s processes, to feel better in the present, understand past traumas and plan a better future? To me, the answer stays clear: the reflection and organization of thoughts through language, and, in this case, through Creative Writing.
I’ve been writing since I was an adolescent, first songs and poems, then short stories, novels and articles. By doing this, I have tried to understand problems and traumas that have affected me. I really believe that without my writing I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. It wouldn’t be possible to understand where I’m coming from, organize my ideas to find explanations for what has happened to me and what happens around me in my everyday life, to plan in a positive way where I want to go… And I would have become a sick madman, desperate to find explanations and some way to talk to myself, talk to others and to heal.
‘Mind and behavior are the moment-to-moment results of the operation of galaxies of nuclei and cortical parcels articulated by convergent and divergent neural projections. If the galaxies are well organized and work harmoniously, the owner makes poetry. If not, madness ensues’. Antonio Damasio. (2010) Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious mind. New York: Pantheon Books.
Having already introduced the role that brain and mind play in our character and behavior, I think it is convenient to talk, also very briefly, about: firstly the strength and influence language has in our mental processes, and secondly what the written word can do for the regulation of feelings and emotions. I will then conclude and observe how Creative Writing can help to improve health, physical and psychological.
It was the scientist Roger Wolcott Sperry, Nobel Prize of Medicine in 1981, who discovered the different functions of the brain’s hemispheres and who stated the importance language and creativity have for the integration of those functions. According to his research, the left hemisphere is specialized in verbal and analytic functions while the right hemisphere specializes in non-verbal and global perception functions. The left hemisphere is rational and analytic while the right one is intuitive and imaginative. Language, involving the rules that organize rational thought, is a function of the left hemisphere, while imagination and creativity are functions of the right. ‘The main theme to emerge from the following is that there appear to be two modes of thinking, verbal and nonverbal, represented rather separately in left and right hemispheres, respectively, and that our educa¬tional system, as well as science in general, tends to neglect the nonverbal form of intellect.’ Roger W. Sperry. (1973) Lateral Specialization of Cerebral Function in the Surgically Separated Hemispheres. The psychophysiology of thinking. Studies of covert processes. Department of Psychology Hollins College. Roanoke, Virginia. 208-229
Twenty four years later, in 2007, Mathew D. Lieberman, professor of the Department of Psychology of the University of California, Los Ángeles, conducted neuroimaging (fMRI) research which demonstrated that putting into words negative emotions (‘affect labeling’) reduces the limbic system activity in general and amygdala in particular (which are in charge of the emotional brain responses). This definitely demonstrates that the written word can alleviate the negative effects of negative experiences.
‘These findings begin to shed light on how putting negative feelings into words can help regulate negative experience, a process that may ultimately contribute to better mental and physical health.’ Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labelling disrupts amygdala activity to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18, 421-428
Therefore, it is evident to me that through the Creative Writing process there is an integration of the verbal/rational and non verbal/creative functions of both hemispheres of the brain. Left and right work together. What occurs then is as much an integration of both hemispheres as a regulation of the limbic system and the consequent emotional balance.