Neurological Rock Stars – Robert Sarpolsky

Some time ago YouTube started spitting lectures about human behaviour at me by this bloke called ‘Robert Sarpolsky’. (1)

Robert Sarplosky is a lecturer at Stanford University in the US.

In the interests of science I decided to investigate and watch.

Initially, I was really stuck by the ‘Slash’ hairdo (of Gun’s N’ Roses fame) with a beard for intellectual credibility. What really struck me was this curly chimp lover’s quirky teaching style.

Neurology and behaviour shouldn’t be so interesting, but he manages to make what could be a series of lectures that make as much sense as ‘Lost’ and go way over Kiefer Sutherland’s ‘24’ hours of viewing REALLY interesting and valuable time spent.

The lectures that are available to watch are Stanford’s Human Behavioural Biology Module from 2010.(2)

Personally, I find them gripping and if you are also interested in this kind of thing then all 25 lectures are available to watch online.

One of the benefits of this course is that if like me you do not have the kind of background and finances that can get you a place at Stanford, the online lectures are the closest you or I will ever get to this world class course.

Sarpolsky cover’s human behavioural biology in a way that is really broad. The first lecture mentions some of the reading list recommendations such as ‘Chaos: Making A New Science’ the best-selling book by James Gleick that first introduced the principles and early development of chaos theory to the public.(4) Apparently reading this could be so life transforming ‘you may never need to meditate again’ I quote.

What I like about the way the subject is presented is that as the introduction of chaos theory suggests, the course content is diverse. The subjects may be viewed separately, but once they are woven together this is the first time I have seen a full western science course try to piece together human behavior and neurology in a way that acknowledges everything is interconnected.

I have to warn you that although the course is a GREAT deal more interesting and makes more sense than ‘Lost’ I still haven’t finished watching all of the lectures and need to go away and do a PHD on every single one, but for those fortunate to have PHD in genetics, or biology, neuroscience or even if you like me went to the university of ‘life’ this is a really challenging and rewarding series. Don’t be put off by the titles just get stuck in.

It covers topics like, evolutionary behavior, molecular genetics, area’s of the brain, schizophrenia and neuroscience. Perhaps just grazing through them will give you an idea of their flavour.

Anyone who wants to have a look at Sarpolsky’s work in a more accessible way, check out ‘Stress, Portrait of a killer’ documentary 2008. (4)

Human behaviour can be baffling, but you may never need to get lost in ‘Lost’ again.






What do Epilepsy, Autism, Hormones, Sleep, Music, Meditation, Exercise have in common? The Hippocampus and Neurogenesis.

This was my first full year of blogging and it has been an enormous learning curve.

Blogging has been an amazing way to connect with other people, read about life experiences, thoughts, emotions and ideas. Thank you to all the bloggers whose work I have read this year. It has been very enriching.

For me, I have been able to express myself in writing, and to say what I am thinking about – which is quite liberating.

Most of all blogging has helped me to make sense of epilepsy.

So, when I was looking back at all the subjects that came up in the last year, I was struck by how although very different subject areas were covered, a number of these topics  could all be knitted together in a ‘holistic’ kind of way via one area of the brain.

The hippocampus.(1)

Architecturally the hippocampus sits within the limbic system (2) fairly centrally inside the brain (towards the brainstem).

This area of the brain is implicated in; mood, memory, learning and spatial awareness. Because of these factors the study of the hippocampus has been important in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and depression.

Relatively recently scientists identified the hippocampus as one of a number of areas in the brain that is capable of neurogenesis into adulthood. (3) Neurogenesis is the ability of the brain to create new neurons.

For this reason the hippocampus crops up in lots of neurological studies.

Within epilepsy for example, some of the factors that aggravate seizure symptoms generally are sleep deprivation and stress. Sleep deprivation and stress negatively affect neurogenesis and there are a number of studies around the relationship with epilepsy and the hippocampus. One study in particular shows; abnormal neurogenesis in the hippocampus of people with epilepsy, increased neurogenesis in people with epilepsy and inhibited neurogenesis in the hippocampus, in particular a study relating to temporal lobe epilepsy (4). All of these problems can impact on mood, depression, memory and learning in epilepsy.

Having found information that epilepsy and autism can be linked I started exploring this area more and even found people advocating for both such as Epilepsy Action’s Advocate blog (5).

Within autism, the hippocampus is mentioned in studies relating to the importance of autism and working memory. (6) The reason I was looking at this relationship is because one of my friends who is on the autistic spectrum benefits highly from martial arts training. I read an article ages ago in ‘Martial Arts Illustrated’ magazine  about ‘Sandra Jane Beale Ellis’(7) who has autism and has spent her life helping people with autism to train in Karate (8). Recently someone posted a blog about how kung fu and tai chi training help people with autism. (9) These studies reminded me how much tai chi training helped me with seizures and how much my memory, concentration, co-ordination and overall health was improved by tai chi and karate training. Some studies of autism indicate that an enriched learning environment from a young age in autism can be beneficial to promote neurogeneisis (10).

Hormones such as cortisol negatively effects neurogenesis within the hippocampus (11) cortisol is elevated by stress. Studies relating to oestrogen show there may be some impact of this hormone within the hippocampus and co-ordination (12) I found this research interesting because of problems I have around oestrogen and progesterone and seizure control. Melatonin (13) studies within the hippocampus indicate that melatonin may have neuroprotective qualities and indeed other bloggers with epilepsy have said that they find melatonin supplementation to be beneficial (14).

This leads onto Sleep deprivation negatively influences or reduces neurogenesis within the hippocampus (15). I am quite interested in the importance of sleep in relation to this area of the brain, because it crops up a lot in my personal experience of managing seizures. Reading about Jill Taylor Bolt stroke insight caused me to think about how sleep influences the brain and why. The asdresearchinitiative also shows a study of how sleep pattern problems impact on autism. (16) During sleep the brain goes through a process of ‘pruning’ neurons, this process also happens at different times in life. (17) (18)

Music came up more recently in relation to the ‘Mozart effect ’ in classical music (19). Studies of the hippocampus in music show how the hippocampus is implicated in long term memory and stringing together music in the brain. The music of Mozart in particular has been used to train mice to carry out spatial tasks in mazes, and one theory is that music may activate the same pathways as spatial awareness in the brain. (20) Music can cause emotional responses and I was interested how the hippocampus is located in the emotional brain or limbic system.

Within meditation, Studies into meditation have shown that meditation influences neuroplasticity and neurogenesis positively within the hippocampus. (21)

Exercise studies show that exercise promotes neurogenesis within the hippocampus. (22) In relation to exercise and mental health exercise has been shown to have a positive influence on mental health and some studies show that this positively influences the hippocampus. (23) This could explain why life systems such as yoga or tai chi which incorporate meditation as well as exercise are very good for the mind and body, because they support growth in the hippocampus.

In the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney energy (24), is an area that I felt conceptually could be linked to neurogenesis by ‘pre natal chi’ (25) or Jing. This is because of the involvement of the Central Nervous System and stem cells in neurogenesis (26). I also thought that this could be carried across into ‘sexual energy’ or ‘kundalini’ in yoga.

Of course the hippocampus is only one small area of the brain and only one small part of the ‘whole body’, but I am interested that there are so many links with so many corresponding or similar impacting factors such as stress and sleep. The hippocampus is a bit like the ‘spaghetti junction’ of the brain! It is quite important how it fits into the whole body and mind because when it goes wrong or without it (such as was the case for poor Henry Molaison who had his hippocampus removed!)(26) things could get really messy!

The hippocampus is not the be all and end all of epilepsy and autism, or brain function; but I thought it was a good area to take a ‘big picture’ ‘small area’ snapshot into holistic mind body connections.

Normally I talk about one thing at a time, but it occurred to me that it can all fit together if you cross reference all these areas to help understand mind body health!

Happy Christmas and New Year! Wishing you all the best for 2013!



2) limbic system


4) epilepsy

5)      Epilepsy Action Advocate Blog


7) Sandra Beale Ellis blog

8) autism and karate

9) tai chi and autism

10)  enriched learning and autism

11)  cortisol

12) oestrogen and cognition

13) melatonin


Epilepsy Talk

15) autism research

16) sleep autism

17) pruning neurons in sleep

18) see webinar

19) Mozart effect


21) meditation and neurogenesis


23) exercise

24) kidney energy

25) prenatal Jing


27) Henry Molaison