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The brainstem

The brainstem is the oldest part of the brain, and is wrapped around the top of the spinal cord. Because of this age, this structure is shared by just about every creature that has anything more than a minimal nervous system.

What happens here is that the sensory signals coming from the body are processed, and the autonomic responses are sent back down the cord. This is where your automatic reactions like breathing, heartbeat, etc are regulated. It used to be the case that these functions were thought to be unalterable. More recent research, especially that on eastern masters, has shown that they can take deliberate control of these so-called automatic reactions.

Some fairly recent work by the institute of general semantics and others has show that you can add other new automatic reactions to this part of the brain. There is also the case of the child born with just a spinal cord and brainstem, who has a perfectly good personality despite not having any of the usual bits of the brain which are thought to be needed for this to develop. This shows that a lot of brain function is not as localised as was initially thought, although this only applies to birth. For those with damage, although there is some evidence of self-repair, there is not enough evidence to say that the brain can sucessfully re-task itself, although there is minimal evidence that this might happen more than was originally thought.

Wrapped around this is the olfactory lobe.

last modified 00:31 2005/08/09