the creative mind

The Creative Mind

The other day I was having fun designing a blog for my pregnant niece, and it made me think a lot about operating systems and web platforms and hardware and software and the whole process of creativity and, as always, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Here’s what happened: I’m not a “from scratch” web coder, so I installed what’s called a “theme” for my niece’s website and used it as a springboard to create a look that would capture her life and style.
A lot of work goes into designing the look of a website, but it has to pale in comparison to all the work that goes into creating themes, or “platforms” on which creative designs are based. By the time I get my hands on designing a website, all the hard prep work has been done, and I’m presented with a lovely spring board that allows me to jump and flip and fly wherever my creative juices lead.
The same idea goes for computers. The pre-loaded invisible operating systems allow the creative add-ons called software to build whole worlds in the visible realm.
That made me think of our brains and minds, and how we are born with an incredible pre-installed operating system that equips us to collect, sort, prioritize, store, and combine information without conscious effort. The brain allows the mind to then decide which arrangements are better, prettier, most logical, etc.
We can soar because from day one we have been gifted with so much invisible capacity.
Enter Alzheimer’s. I look at Mom and see someone whose mind has been ravaged to within a spec of conscious thought. Yet her brain is constantly performing incredible mathematical calculations. When she steps up a single step, for example, her brain calculates the exact height that her leg must be raised, sends down information to the quads to contract and the hamstrings to extend just enough for the foot to move up and forward in an arc that will terminate in the top of the step. Or, as a more knowledgeable person would describe it:

A cycle of walking is the period from the heel-strike of one foot to the next heel-strike of the same foot.
At the time of heel-strike, the ankle is in slight dorsiflexion and the anterior leg muscles contract in order to prevent the forefoot from slapping down. The muscles progressively relax to lower the foot and weight is transferred up the lateral side of the foot and then across the ball of the foot as the stance phase progresses. The last part of the foot remaining on the ground is the medial part of the ball of the foot and the great toe. This is termed “toe-off” and begins the swing phase.
At the time of heel-strike, the knee is slightly flexed on that side, with contraction of the quadriceps necessary to prevent collapse. As the stance phase progresses, this knee straightens, resulting in some upward motion of the trunk.
During the stance phase, the thigh abductors, particularly the gluteus medius and minimus, are active on the side of the leg that is in contact with the ground. This is in order to resist the tendency of gravity to cause downward movement of the hip on the opposite side. Additionally, the paraspinal muscles and lateral trunk muscles are active on the side of the swinging leg in order to resist downward movement of the iliac crest on that side.
The center of gravity moves upward and downward twice during each cycle, as is indicated by the bobbing up and down of the head. That is, the body is lifted as each limb is extended during its stance phase. There is also a slight side-to-side movement. The basic movements involved in walking are (1) flexion and extension at the hip, knee, and ankle joints and at the front part of the foot; (2) abduction and adduction, chiefly at the hip joint; and (3) rotation, mainly at the hip and knee joints.

All this Mom’s brain communicates to her muscles without her even looking down. It has taken information from her peripheral vision alone. There is a roar of information exchange between Mom’s brain and all other cells in her body even as we consider her mind “gone.”

Here I was going to draw a comparison between Mom’s Alzheimer’s and Dad’s Parkinson’s dementia and say that in Alzheimer’s it’s the software that gets buggy first and in Parkinson’s it’s the operating system. I was going to say that because of the way Dad could still carry on a conversation at times, yet he couldn’t make his feet do what they were supposed to; he couldn’t tell if he had shoes on or not; he thought his pain resided in a chair across the room; etc. It appeared that his operating system was eroding faster than that which had been created on top of it. And that in Mom’s case her operating system remained intact. But then I remembered that in Alzheimer’s it’s the very core of the operating system: the collector, sorter, categorizer, prioritizer (the hippocampus) that goes first.
So now I’m totally confused about how the brain and mind relate and deteriorate–which probably puts me in good company with many a neurologist.
I’m sure, though, that I’m in very good company with all doctors on this: we have in our noggin something far more valuable than anything Donald Trump has ever purchased.
What a gift–the brain!
What fun–the mind!