7 Impulses That Are Actually Switches In Our Brain We May Someday Be Able To Control
A startling amount of things that humans being do, or even think they feel, comes from things happening in the brain—involuntary things that are of little consequence to our actual conscious decisions. More of these things are actually switches, in a way, within our brain that can be turned on or off, but it's not nearly as easy as it sounds.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have identified which brain cells in mice control their eating impulse. It actually overrides their stomach's real hunger when it comes to eating—if the brain cell is activated, the mice will eat much more than they technically need to. But if it isn't activated, they won't feel the need to eat, even if their bodies need those nutrients. There's deliberation about how this could help treatment of eating disorders in the future.
Like hunger, scientists have discovered that neurons in the hypothalamus actually cause animals to drink far more than they need to/ignore water when they're extremely dehydrated based on whether or not these neurons are activated.
The formation of new habits (take, for example, the compulsive need to crack your knuckles) is something that happens when very specific neurons of your brain are activated. Experiments with rats have shown that inhabiting these neurons from activating can actually cure rats from repetitive habits, but these procedures have been invasive, and not deemed appropriate for human beings.
This, too, is an urge controlled by neurons in the hypothalamus region. Lab mice have been turned into aggressive fighting machines and then turned into peaceful pacifists by having these neurons calmed by a technician.
First, it's important to know the difference between being unconscious and just being passed out. When electrodes stimulated the claustrum of a patient's brain at George Washington University, she stayed awake in a sense, but was completely unaware of her surroundings and did not respond to any stimuli.
Pain caused by nerve damage may have a bright future. A researcher at St. Louis University found that turning on a A3 adenosine receptor in the spinal cord as well as the brain ultimately blocked pain caused by nerve damage in rodents.
Like all things, the science behind this is a work in progress, but it's an exciting idea. A neurosurgeon at the University of Toronto has been working with electricity to see if he can find a definitive way to turn "off" the neurons in the brain that trigger debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and depression. The knowledge of which cells are which is already there—it's a question of how to use the electrical treatment.