Houston child advocate and neuroscientist Bruce Perry likes to say that “no matter what business you’re in, first and foremost, you’re in the brain change business.” And if you’re in the Operational Wisdom Business, it’s probably a good idea to know how what you’re trying to change actually works. And it’s probably an equally good idea to start knowing how your brain works as early as possible. Especially whether or not your TUBB5 gene is running mutant on you.
Before we get to the TUBB5 gene though we might take Bruce’s advice to heart, first by teaching fathers and mothers-to-be about the basic developmental unfolding of baby’s brain. We would teach them about neurons – brain cells that work like teeny tiny batteries and fire electrical signals (action potentials) necessary for every human function. We’d also teach them about the “off switches” (inhibitory neurons) that keep all those batteries from discharging at once. Then we might teach them about the connections those brain cells make. And how to maximize those connections, since they are so necessary to process the energy and information of life. Like a computer with 2KB of RAM versus one with 10KB, brains with more “batteries” making more connections are able to process significantly greater information with considerably greater speed. More is generally better when it comes to early child development.
Once they have the basics down and know many of the environmental and behavioral events that contribute to neural enrichment – things like safe, bully-free environments, mindful nutrition, contingent communication, skillful socialization – we might teach them the many things that parents can do to optimize the expression of the TUBB5 gene. It’s the TUBB5 gene that turns out to be primary coding agent responsible for growing neurons and enriching neural connectivity in the brain – the Massive Synapse Forminator. Humans possess roughly 19000 genes (fewer than a nematode!) and they are encoded in long strands of double-helix DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid); we’ve long known the TUBB5 gene is responsible for microencephaly – children born with abnormally small heads and brains as a result of mutations in TUBB5 adversely affecting the generation, migration, and differentiation of developing neurons.
By implication then, we can hypothesize that TUBB5 not mutated, in combination with other factors, drives healthy neural unfolding and connecting. TUBB5 rocks!
And once you have your TUBB5 in good working order, next on the list of brain enhancements would be over-expressing the TLX gene. TLX has been found to be primarily responsible for rapid learning and longer and better memory retention and in simply building larger, more connected neural networks overall. This too, can be affected by skillful parenting practiced in conjunction with the complex neural art of stress management. Wherever we go, there we are; it’s useful to have sufficient neural resources available so we can be there mindfully present.
JNK All the Way
But wait! We’re not done. Another factor influencing brain organization and function turns out to be your JNK inhibitory interneuron signalling pathway (which I bet you could have guessed!). Inhibitory interneurons lay down wiring (axons) all through the brain and perform a function exactly opposite that of excitatory neurons – as I mentioned above, they prevent those batteries from discharging electrical action potentials. They are essential for proper brain function – we can’t have all our brain batteries firing at once. One hypothesis is that inhibitory interneurons are what work to hold traumatic memories in check in the brain. Except for when they don’t. Because the supply of inhibitory interneurons is unique and finite in number, if we have an early developmental history of traumatic experiences, we are going place our allotted supply into service early, theoretically causing them to be in short supply later, making us more susceptible to trauma exposure which can result in PTSD. The brain then has a compromised ability to keep horror under wraps. It’s considerably harder to make good decisions when our traumatic history is being constantly overlaid onto the present moment (That experience is often later marked with the phrase, “What was I thinking?”).
Crossing Up Chaos
Another recent study which I have little doubt is connected to wise decision-making is this one: brain connectivity differences in men and women. Turns out women have better cross-hemisphere connectivity. This allows for all kinds of easy access to things that men have to work much harder, as a general rule, to access. Things like seeing the big picture. And … feelings. It’s not that men don’t have feelings or can’t get in touch with them, it’s just that as a cohort, they have to expend much more energy to gain access and expression. In places and with people who are safe. As this study suggests, one way for men to accomplish that is to … actively parent. Another way is to partner with a good, cross-hemispherically connected woman who knows how to turn you on through both hemispheres. :-)
Wisdom in the world needs enriched, integrated brains to consistently show up operationally. Enriched brains, demonstrating an abundance of robust connectivity (synapses) turn out not to need much formal instruction in Wisdom. Wisdom seems to be an evolutionary, natural by-product of profound, enlightened, neurally-enriched child-rearing. Highly developed morality as researched by Theory of Mind in children is one way we know this to be the case for natural Wisdom. But even so, depending upon environmental circumstances and stressors within us and around us, there are no Wisdom guarantees. As Antonio Wood, an early psychiatrist mentor of mine once warned: the world can make even the sanest of us crazy at times.
And if you have little of the above working for you, don’t hesitate to get advice from people around you who have a lot of it working. All of us are generally wiser than any one of us.