How important is a brainwave? Well incredibly important, as a brainwave is the difference between whether we’re considered alive or dead. Not even a heartbeat is more important than our brainwaves, as our hearts might be beating but if there’s no brain activity a doctor will still declare you dead. Yet, you might be surprised, that despite being arguably the most important function of our bodies, scientists actually have no idea where brain waves come from.
So, what do we know about brainwaves? Well we do know that attaching silver chloride electrodes to our heads and connecting these to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine will give a visual representation of our brainwaves. In fact, scientists have had various successes using EEG machines hooked to people’s heads in their research projects.
Take the Your Brain on Poker study, here scientists were able to tell the difference between amateur and professional poker players by studying the areas of their brains that showed the most activity during certain plays in the game. The study was incredibly insightful because it highlighted key differences in the players such as levels of engagement, patience, logic and emotion.
This insight into our brains, via the use of EEG, has also led to medical breakthroughs such as the diagnosis of attention disorders through tell-tale brain patterns. This is thought to be particularlyimportant, as many attention disorders have previously gone undiagnosed due to the difficulty in diagnosis. With further research perhaps early diagnosis of illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s could become commonplace. Perhaps even a cure as we become more familiar with how our brains work.
With such successful studies using brainwaves and EEG, it makes you wonder, just how much more could we learn about our bodies by discovering more about our brain waves? Especially when you consider our entire consciousness is based on these brain waves.
Scientists are trying to get to the bottom of our brainwave origins, however it’s proving hard in practice. Take the Blue Brain Project in Switzerland, here scientists are attempting to create a computerised brain simulation that is so detailed it even includes individual neurons. The problem is, though, that this computer stimulation is never going to be fast as our actual brains without spending billions of dollars on a computer system that could replicate the speed of our brains, so it would need immense funding.
Another researcher called Dr Michael Cohen, assistant professor at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour in the Netherlands, has a simpler plan to try and find the origins of our brainwaves using rat brainwaves. Here Cohen is trying to bridge our understanding between how neurons and brainwaves are connected, building up millions of sets of data in the hopes of building a map of how our neural activity ends in a brainwave.
If either of these research projects are fruitful in discovering more about our brainwaves, the knowledge discovered could be fundamental in how we diagnose and treat illnesses associated with the brain in the future. It will be exciting to see how research into our brains progresses in the next few years.