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Mysteries of human brain unravelled

The human brain can heal itself, lie detector tests don’t work, and scientists still don’t know what dreams mean, according to a group of scientists who tried to unravel the mysteries of the human brain at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.

delhi Updated: Nov 21, 2010 00:22 IST
HT Correspondent

The human brain can heal itself, lie detector tests don’t work, and scientists still don’t know what dreams mean, according to a group of scientists who tried to unravel the mysteries of the human brain at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.

The human brain is more malleable than the brains of monkeys or rats, and can repair itself after an injury, said Pawan Sinha, an associate professor of vision and computational neuroscience at the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sinha and his team discovered the brain’s healing abilities after they started Project Prakash, which has helped restore sight to more than 700 children.

The results have already had an impact on how doctors treat children, Sinha said. “Opthamologists now provide treatment [for blindness] regardless of a child’s age.” The research done through Project Prakash could shed light on how illnesses like autism develop, he said.

A new treatment known as deep brain stimulation, which works by passing an electrical signal through the brain, could help treat everything from depression to spasms, said Ravi Gopal Verma, professor and head of the neurosurgery department at the Bangalore-based MS Ramaiah Medical College.

Verma recently used the technology to cure a woman who suffered muscle spasms that wouldn’t allow her to eat, sit up or use the bathroom on her own, he said.

The scientists also debunked popular myths about how the brain works.

“Even the best technology cannot distinguish between a truth and a lie,” said Sinha, rubbishing the use of these tests in legal cases.

“We have very little understanding [of dreams],” said Jitendra Sharma, professor at the US-based Harvard Medical School. But suppressing dreams does hurt the brain.

“Dreams aren't useless,” Sinha said. One piece of popular wisdom — that we use only 1 per cent of their brains — was just urban legend, though.

“All of our brains are actively used,” said Sinha. “If we were meant to use only 1 per cent of our brain, evolution would have made the brain a lot smaller.”