Brain expert Tara Thiagarajan poses in New York on July 27.Joana Toro
With a PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford University, Tara Thiagarajan (Madras, India, 49 years old) is the founder of Sapien Labs, an organization whose mission is something as complex as trying to understand the human mind. She arrived late, and by chance, to neuroscience, as she herself admits, after attending a class on that subject and being fascinated. The glare, a couple of decades ago, occurred when he observed in a laboratory through a microscope how neurons in a bat brain continued to move after being removed from the animal's body. The jump to the field of humans would not take long to arrive and came from the hand of the Seven Billion Human Brains project. Almost the same number of questions were left open.What is the difference between them? How and what makes them change? Does technology affect them? Thiagarajan answers by videoconference.
Is there a single brain?
No, there is no prototype brain, there is no "one" brain.
The human mind develops depending on the circumstances and life experiences of each person.
300 years ago the population was quite homogeneous, but today there are many different types of life, many different jobs and occupations that end up being reflected in our brains.
At Sapien Labs we massively use electroencephalography (EEG), since neurons communicate through electrical signals, and we record brain activity and analyze how the surrounding context affects the brain, be it social structure, education or the language.
Q. Do you also measure whether the brain benefits or harms the use of technology?
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. We know that as people consume more digital content, the changes in neural patterns are greater. I like to make an analogy with food to try to explain what happens if instruments such as mobile phones, tablets, internet are abused ... Years ago the diet was very basic, eating fruit was something unusual. Societies have been advancing and conquering better areas of well-being, such as having access to food that was previously impossible to obtain and achieving healthier eating, which has a favorable impact on our body. However, now we are at an explosion point where there is a lot of food, but most of it is not healthy, it is processed food, with chemical agents, it is what we know as junk food. It's about making the right decisions.Is eating too much bad? Well, up to a certain level it's good. But at a certain point, the abuse of that junk food ends up causing diabetes, heart problems ... It is not about whether the technology is bad or good, but about how much you consume.
Q. You maintain that the environment in which we live influences our brain, that it is not the same to live in New York City as in a town in India.
Does poverty or wealth create different brains?
Undoubtedly, the technological inequality caused by lack of monetary resources translates into the development of different types of brains, from the point of view of neural networks. I speak of stimuli: having the ability to travel, access education or interact with other people and, also, make use of technology. All of the above allows neurons to reorganize and form new connections, manage to connect with each other and have continuous exchanges in the brain. Part of cognitive ability is linked to how privileged you are and how many stimuli you have access to. The human body needs two dollars a day to consume the calories necessary to nourish itself and not starve. To feed the brain (with stimuli) you need $ 30 a day.This figure is unattainable for 80% of the world's population. With $ 30 you buy a lot of stimuli. With that money you make the leap to owning a mobile phone.
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P. Those stimuli to which you refer would then be shaping the brain.
The brain is plastic throughout a person's life.
All the other organs of the body do the same from the day we are born.
However, the brain does different jobs as we grow and age.
What the brain of a two-year-old child does is very different from what it does with 10 years, with 20 ... and so on until it ceases to exist.
The great quality of the brain is its plasticity.
And the more stimuli, the more plasticity.
Q. When does the brain rest?
The brain never rests.
When we sleep, the brain continues to work, it is when it takes advantage of it to
Just as garbage trucks do, which take to the streets at night or in the early morning, when the city sleeps and there is no traffic, the brain is accumulating
all day long
that end up being expelled through the lymphatic system.
Therefore, if you do not sleep and do not
, toxic residues accumulate that end up making you feel bad and not being able to perform your daily activities well.
Q. What is the
and what does it measure?
From now on I tell you what it does not measure: it is not a number that represents the level of happiness. The MHQ, in English Mental Health Quotient (coefficient of mental health), is a test that determines the mental well-being: the ability to be able to manage our life and face the challenges and obstacles that come our way. It is not a measure of happiness or satisfaction with life. Through a test carried out on the internet, the degree of mental tranquility with which one lives at a given moment is quantified from -100 to 200. That number changes, it is not the same before the coronavirus pandemic as after or during. Through questions that take about 15 minutes to answer, this coefficient is obtained.
Q. If I tell you that several friends have done the MHQ and we have obtained 72.2;
105.3 and 68.6 What is the diagnosis?
What is your MHQ?
[Laughter] It's very private!
That information I prefer to keep with me.
The truth is that the first time I did it I was disappointed because it was not very tall.
But then I looked at the challenges other people face every day and I stopped complaining.
In your cases, you are all average.
I don't think anyone has 200.
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