Abstracts Thursday, December 21st

Daniel A. Drubach, M.D. The neurobiology of free will and freedom of choice.

The question whether human beings have free will has been debated by philosophers and theologians for thousands of years. More recently, neuroscientists have applied novel concepts and tools in neuroscience to address this question. I submit that human beings do have free will and the physiological substrate for its exercise is contained within neural networks. I discuss the potential neurobiology of free will by exploring volitionally initiated motor activity and the behavioral response to a stimulus-response paradigm. I also submit that the exercise of free will can be affected in patients with the certain neurological disorders such as the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia. Clinicopathological correlation in patients with this disorder provides an opportunity to further elucidate the neural substrate for this fundamental human attribute. I also discuss the clinical correlates of the loss of free will in this population, which is a source of significant distress to patients, significant others and care givers.

Division of Behavioral Neurology. Department of Neurology. Department of Psychiatry. Mayo Clinic and College of Medicine. Rochester, Minnesota

Kenneth M Heilman M.D. Jews and Creativity

Jews have been awarded more than 20 % of the Nobel Prizes, in the last 5 decades, but Jews comprise less than one percent of the world’s population.  Some have claimed that Jew are more creative because they are genetically more intelligent as determined by IQ tests. There is an intelligence threshold that people must reach so that they can acquire the knowledge and skills that are required in their creative domain. However, after this threshold is reached, there is no strong relationship between creativity and IQ. Creative innovation is heavily dependent upon disengagement and divergent thinking. The brain’s frontal-executive networks primarily mediate these functions. Associative and convergent thinking are also important elements of creativity and it is the temporal and parietal lobes that primarily mediate these functions. Finally, creative products must be produced, and a drive for creative productivity is also mediated by the frontal-executive networks. Our brain’s development and functions are dependent upon both nature (genetically determined) and nurture (learned). From the earliest age, many Jewish children are encouraged to question. Questioning to many people is a form of disobedience, but many Jewish children are taught that disobedience in the pursuit of truth and justice is not insolence, but is desirable.  This form of disobedience gives rise to disengagement and divergent thinking, two of the critical elements of creativity. Nurture in the forms of learning and training can also alter the brain.  Thus, the Jewish peoples’ creativity may not only be related to their genetically determined IQ, but rather the learned propensity to earnestly question and seek better solutions, answers and products.

The James E. Rooks Jr. Distinguished Professor of Neurology. University of Florida College of Medicine and GRECC-VAMC. Gainesville, Florida

Dr. Barry Baumel M.D. Mindfulness: The Placebo Effect and Faith

We believe that there is a power that can perform miracles. With prayer that faith is powerful and can effect outcomes. Faith in medical treatments can be therapeutic and can improve outcomes. Sometimes people get better for unknown reasons.  In some studies more than 50% are cured with placebo. The placebo effect is an important part of healing.

We will describe the placebo effect and how it is the result of changes that effect biochemistry and psychology. This body-mind interaction plays out in understanding the efficacy of prayer as well as the possible health benefits of being religious or believing that what is broken about us can be fixed. Although there are physiologic changes, the idea that an inert material benefits us is a concept for which science has no complete explanation. Faith and belief in a higher power gives us the feeling of healing, well being and peace.