Like football, like life

football player being tackled and landing on his headI just read about the WBUR Poll: For Head Injuries, Football Fans Support Regulation, But Haven’t Changed Viewing Habits, and it got me thinking. I’m a big football fan. Even though I don’t watch every single game, I still love the sport. I also love to watch boxing and MMA.

Even though I know what it’s doing to the contestants — potentially causing brain injuries that will screw them up, sooner or later — I still love to watch the sports.

There’s something about seeing people wade into a fight and then come out on the other side (victorious or not) that’s very cathartic for me.

I think that’s because it reminds me of my life. I feel, on any given day, like I’m wading into a fracas of some kind. Either it’s work, or it’s just the everyday occurrences, or it’s dealing with the slings and arrows of the world. But whatever the nature of it, I feel like I’m getting beaten up… like another “team” is gunning for me… and like the players and fighters I love to watch, I have to keep my act together and keep going, till the end of “regulation play”.

I think that I’m not alone in this. A lot of people I know feel constantly attacked by life. We know we’re gonna get roughed up. That’s a given. We know it’s gonna hurt. We know we’re going to get pushed and pulled and trampled in the process, but we have to keep going.

Like the players on the field.

And like those players, we take a calculated risk, every time we engage with life. We know the odds may be stacked against us, but we still keep at it. We stay in the game. And like so many of those players and fighters, even when we should probably sit out to let our brains recover, we head right back in there, as soon as we can. Because that’s the only way we know how to be, how to act, how to get along in life.

Personally, I cringe, when I think what’s being done to the “heroes” on the field and in the ring. I know what’s being done to their brains. But life is rough. It’s tough. It beats you down and knocks the stuffing out of you, time and time again. Football players and fighters are like our proxies. We fight to live, they live to fight.

And just about everybody can relate to that.

Head Trauma From Playing Football Cause Brain Changes Even When There’s No Concussion

New research suggests head impacts from a single football season can result in brain changes in high school varsity players.

Source: Head Trauma From Playing Football Cause Brain Changes Even When There’s No Concussion

But logically, really, how can REC support a “replacement hypothesis”?

replacement-hypothesisThis the question that’s been pestering me for the past day or so.

Maybe I’m missing something here. That’s entirely possible. I’m no stranger to the concept of radical embodied cognition (REC). Although I’ve only recently come across this new approach to cognitive neuroscience, I’ve believed it for years. It’s how I’ve long understood much that I believe about the brain and its difficulties after concussion / mild TBI.

In short, I believe that a brain injury, no matter how initially mild, can unleash holy hell on the injured party — not due to the initial injury itself (though the axonal shearing / diffuse axonal injury and acute neurometabolic cascade don’t help matters any), but through the extended disruption of the overall “cognitive ecosystem” — a network which includes brain and body and external environment.  Disruption to the external environment includes strained social connections, interruptions to interpersonal intimacies, as well as disruptions of the perceptual processes which enable cognitive contributions of brain and body.

So, REC really offers a fantastic scientific approach — with an emerging body of research (woot! woot!) to substantiate its claims.

So, I’ve been reading a bit about it. On Saturday, I read Andrew D. Wilson’s and Sabrina Golonka’s 2013 paper “Embodied cognition is not what you think it is” and I really enjoyed it – particularly the parts about REC discussing a replacement hypothesis of embodied cognition.

… if perception-action couplings and resources distributed over brain, body, and environment are substantial participants in cognition, then the need for the specific objects and processes of standard cognitive psychology (concepts, internally represented competence, and knowledge) goes away, to be replaced by very different objects and processes (most commonly perception-action couplings forming non-linear dynamical systems, e.g., van Gelder, 1995).

At first glance, it seemed to make sense. Standard cognitive explanations for behavior have never sufficed for me. They’ve always seemed to fall short — and I attributed that failing to their myopic avoidance of environmental interactions, including physiological ones.

But I’ve been puzzling for the past 24 hours about how REC can support a “replacement hypothesis”, where the representations and processes of the brain can be replaced by an embodied cognition approach.

If REC by definition involves the entire “cognitive ecosystem” of brain, body, and environment, how can we possibly get rid of the computational piece of neurological understanding? Seems to me, it’s part of it. And while I do believe we need to extend our understanding beyond the echo chamber of the representational view (which seems an echo chamber par excellence), I think that dismissing it outright and replacing it with something else actually costs us something valuable — something we can use.

The need to replace one theory with another strikes me as a bit too narrow. It’s territorial, and the either-or approach comes with a cost. It also provokes push-back from perfectly capable and skilled individuals, who could actually contribute their expertise and insights in a constructive way.

It makes no sense to me, to kick the cognitive psychology folks to the curb, when the areas they’re focusing on are actually part-and-parcel of the full cognitive ecosystem. Rather than excluding and narrowing, why not include and expand? There’s some seriously interesting work being done in a multitude of areas, and I believe if we follow them all to their logical conclusions, their findings can — and will — strengthen the whole, rather than limit it.

For my money, I think these theories can all strengthen and enrich each other. We don’t necessarily need to dismiss one to make room for the other. They can act like layers in a fine piece of laminated furniture — all the more beautiful for their contrasts. They can add much-needed dimensions to the discussion, covering similar territory in very different ways.

If our embodied cognition really consists of everything, how can we comfortably dismiss/replace anything?

Wonder on…

Another way of understanding the effects of TBI?

embodied-cognitionA few months back, I stumbled upon the relatively new field of Radical Embodied Cognition / Cognitive Neuroscience. I have to say, it seems like an elegant extension to what we know. And the principles it discusses seem to quite usefully explain some of the more puzzling effects that arise from TBI – especially PCS.

I’m still learning, still reading, and still considering. But there are a number of areas where its tenets really fill in the blanks about how and why PCS and TBI can be so disruptive for so many — even in the absence of measurable neurological damage.

It’s very exciting, and I look forward to exploring this more in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Research papers on post-concussion syndrome (PCS) and psychological factors

Happy reading!
Happy reading!

On PubMed I found over 500 papers for a search on “PCS and a history of psychiatric disorders”. You can see the full listing here – click to see the list

Check out Google Scholar’s listing, to see what’s been published regarding post-concussion syndrome and having a history of psychiatric disorder – to see the list

Happy reading.

Research papers on post-concussion syndrome (PCS) and psychological factors

Looking for the original post? It’s moved here – – to my brain injury research blog.

Holy smokes! This is so cool! 3D renderings of a brain – amazing detail

Check this out:§ion=science&ncid=newsltushpmg00000003&kvcommref=mostpopular

It is simply fascinating.

And fascinatingly complex.

Thank you, science, for making my evening complete.

Learning with all your senses

I just got a tip from about a new study that’s out about how movement and images can help with learning a new language – read about it here:

What interests me is not so much the foreign language thing (thought I wouldn’t mind brushing up on some of my high school skills), but the overall learning implications.

As I’ve said before, TBI recovery is all about learning. You need to re-train your brain to do things differently. You need to re-train your mind and your body to handle things better. TBI recovery is very much a learning-oriented phenomenon, so anything that helps you learn, is a good thing.

I think that the foreign language orientation of this study is also interesting, because after TBI, you can literally feel like you’re living in a foreign country. And sometimes you can’t make sense of what people are saying to you. That happened to me after a couple of TBIs I had in the past. Suddenly, nothing that anyone was saying, was making any sense.

At all.

It was like I was watching a movie with missing frames, or listening to a radio station with poor reception, or watching a video that had to keep buffering. Nothing was flowing well, and I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me.

So, movement and sensory input helps people learn and translate a foreign language. And movement and sensory input have been really important for my own recovery, though perhaps for different reasons. I use the same principles in my TBI recovery that parents use with their small kids, trying to have as rich an environment as possible, with cognitive challenges punctuating my day… along with rest… I try to get plenty of rest.

I want to give my brain plenty to play with, including music and interesting videos to watch and interesting papers and books to read. I got myself a tablet, and I read books on it — I’ve heard that the lighted screen actually helps the brain to process information better, and that seems to be the case with me. And of course, I need my exercise. Whether or not it’s related to what I’m learning, exercise is still vital to my recovery. You need oxygen to feed your cells and your brain. Balanced breathing. Stretching. (Which, by the way, has resolved my recent crazy balance issues that were making my daily life unsafe.)

It’s all connected, and it’s always nice to see new research coming out that confirms that for the scientific community.

Study Finds That Neurons Can Be Reprogrammed to Take on New Identities

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In work supported by The ALS Association and funded through The Milton Safenowitz Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program, researchers have for the first time reprogrammed a neuron from one type into another and have done so in a living organism. The finding will help scientists better understand how to control neuronal development and may one day aid in treating diseases in which neurons die, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The study was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. There is no cure and no life-prolonging treatments for the disease.

“This discovery tells us again that the brain is a somehow flexible system and gives us more evidence that reprogramming neurons to take on new identities and, perhaps, that new functions are possible,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for The Association. “For those working to treat neurodegenerative diseases, that is reassuring.”

Read the rest of the article here >>

Novel Brain Imaging Technique Explains Why Concussions Affect People Differently

BRONX, N.Y., June 8, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Patients vary widely in their response to concussion, but scientists haven’t understood why. Now, using a new technique for analyzing data from brain imaging studies, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center have found that concussion victims have unique spatial patterns of brain abnormalities that change over time.

The new technique could eventually help in assessing concussion patients, predicting which head injuries are likely to have long-lasting neurological consequences, and evaluating the effectiveness of treatments, according to lead author Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Einstein and medical director of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) services at Montefiore. The findings are published today in the online edition of Brain Imaging and Behavior.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one million Americans sustain a concussion (also known as mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI) each year. Concussions in adults result mainly from motor vehicle accidents or falls. At least 300,000 adults and children are affected by sports-related concussions each year. While most people recover from concussions with no lasting ill effects, as many as 30 percent suffer permanent impairment – undergoing a personality change or being unable to plan an event. A 2003 federal study called concussions “a serious public health problem” that costs the U.S. an estimated $80 billion a year.

Previous imaging studies found differences between the brains of people who have suffered concussions and normal individuals. But those studies couldn’t assess whether concussion victims differ from one another. “In fact, most researchers have assumed that all people with concussions have abnormalities in the same brain regions,” said Dr. Lipton, who is also associate professor of radiology, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein. “But that doesn’t make sense, since it is more likely that different areas would be affected in each person because of differences in anatomy, vulnerability to injury and mechanism of injury.”

Read the full release here:

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