Brain Function Q and A
The following questions are from subscribers to The Mind
Power Report. I do my best to answer them and/or provide
some insight and opinion. Included are questions about lucid
dreaming, image streaming and television shows that are good
for the brain.
Q: Are brainwave entrainment CDs more effective for relaxation
or meditation that just listening to classical music?
A: The original work on brainwave entrainment started from
the observation that certain classical music compositions helped
people relax by leading them into an alpha state. But the music
wasn't designed for that purpose (which is why only some compositions
seem to have the effect), so it seems that the newest products
would have to be better than music. I'm not sure if a side-by-side
comparison has been made in any scientific research, but it's
reasonable to assume that the effect is more pronounced when
it is intended than when it coincidentally triggered by parts
of some music.
Q: Is lucid dreaming really possible?
A: I have had the experience of lucid dreaming. I even recall
arguing with others in the dream that it was a dream, which I
proceeded to prove by waking up. :)
Q: I have some comprehension issues when reading. Then
I get easily confused when I try to tell people what I have learned.
Can you suggest something to help with this?
A: It's difficult to say from your short email what will help
because we are all different in how we learn, remember and use
or brain in general. But if you want to keep trying different
things, you can look the site map on the website for pages on
learning, study techniques, speed reading and such: Site
Explain things to a friend who won't judge you too harshly
if you get things confused a bit. Or try explaining things in
your own words in your mind as you read them. The practice of
imagining myself teaching what I'm learning has helped me clarify
things. Maybe it is also just the fear of speaking (I get that
at times) which makes it tough to think clearly at the moment
you try to explain things. Practice may help with this too.
Q: Have you tried image streaming as a brainpower practice?
A: I have played around with image streaming, but never practiced
it consistently. From what I have read, it does seem to work
Q: The brain is made up of different parts but I can't
remember the name of the memory part, the seeing part and the
talking part. What are the names?
A: Many parts of the brain are involved in memory, but short-term
memories are transferred to long-term memory through the hippocampus.
This is why the hippocampus is sometimes considered the memory
Seeing too, is handled in many parts of the brain, the primary
one being the middle temporal complex.
Verbal abilities also come from many parts of the brain. What
is called "Broca's area," in the lower lateral frontal
lobe may be the most crucial part.
Q: I've always been told that breathing through the nose
provides more oxygen, but I'm curious as to how this works. When
we exercise we instinctively breathe fast out of our mouth like
other animals, like we can't get enough oxygen through our nose.
How or why is it any different when we are not physically active?
A: For whatever reasons most of us tend to breathe too shallowly
when not exercising. Breathing through the nose involves the
diaphragm more than mouth breathing typically does. You can test
this right now and you'll notice that your abdomen extends more
when breathing through your nose. The diaphragm pulls more air
in and more deeply.
Interestingly, some runners train themselves to breathe through
their noses while running. I'm not sure if that will be an effective
new technique or if (for some of us) the small openings of the
nose just aren't up to the task, but if I find out more on this
I'll include it in the newsletter.
Q: Will playing chess increase your IQ?
A: It can't hurt to try. Mental activities like chess will
definitely keep your brain exercised, but there haven't been
many studies to see if you get an actual increase in IQ scores
from them. I play chess every week because I enjoy it.
Q: Can we really increase our IQ, and is it related to
A: There have been many cases of people increasing their IQ
score. The argument some scientists have is about whether they
just learn to take the test better or actually increase intelligence.
IQ seems to be more related to what is called "working memory"
(the things you can hold in your mind at the moment) than other
forms of memory, so some people work on improving that to increase
More important in my mind is the fact that we can learn to
use our minds better. For example, we can get in the habit of
asking more questions, or challenging assumptions. Either of
these will lead to more creative thinking. Whether we call this
an increase in IQ is not very important.
Q: I was wondering what the best sort of TV shows are for
A: I have never seen any studies done on using television
to improve IQ, but I think we can assume that if it is possible
the ones that make you think would have the most effect. This
would be somewhat individual I imagine. In other words, if you
want to become a better problem solver the program MacGyver
(only in reruns now), might help. Crime shows are potentially
useful because they get you to analyze the facts and try to solve
the case. The program Law and Order does that but also
deals with current issues that are controversial and so might
get your mind more active in thinking about politics and social
Certainly documentaries on many subjects, ranging from nature
to psychology, can add to your store of knowledge and might help
you better analyze things in the future as a result.
My guess is that television does more harm than good for most
people, but that is only because it is used as a passive way
to pass time, a kind of pleasant hypnosis or drug. But that doesn't
mean we can't choose to be more selective in what we watch and
how we approach our viewing of programs. If I wanted to use television
to at least add to knowledge and creative thought, I would skip
the shows that are purely drama and opt for those that teach
you something new or leave you thinking. Shows change all the
time, so I can't be much more specific than that.
Q: Can a person get brain damage from altitude from skydiving?
(This was in response to a news item I had on brain damage from
A: I don't skydive, but I understand that it is usually done
from between 10,000 and 14,000 feet - probably not high enough
to cause serious problems, especially given the short time at
that altitude. I haven't read anything about altitude sickness
or brain damage from skydiving (unless the parachute doesn't
open), but if I do I'll report on it in the newsletter.
Q: Some people do not study for exams but constantly play
video games every day and still get straight As? Why are they
so clever that they guess every question right? Does playing
games every day make them smart? I thought it decreases intelligence.
A: Video games probably don't influence overall intelligence
dramatically one way or the other, but may have an effect on
certain elements of intelligence (no strong evidence yet though).In
moderation they may be good brain exercise, and when played too
much they probably just take time from more productive activities
- like studying for that exam. But yes, some people are naturally
more intelligent than the rest of us in some ways. Some people
also have a knack for taking tests. And some people are probably
studying more than you know, but just not saying so.
Here's a page on tips for exams: