The Brain in Colour

By: Natalie Nims

Isn’t it weird that we know the least about ourselves? As a species, we have conquered nations and created thousands of societies paired with complex languages. Yet, scientists still work to figure out the very thing that sits in all of our skulls. The brain. Where does every thought come from? Those that crawl from our brains with their twisted vines and razor thorns. Or those that create the flutter of excitement. Something we cannot touch but still feel. What about passion? The trigger held in our brain that when pulled can shoot off sparks of adrenaline at the most random of moments. Words spill from our mouths as our bodies send shivers down our spines. The brain is studied in black and white, right and wrong, question and answer. Maybe it is time we see the brain in colour.

A dot. The tiniest pink dot inside of a transparent blob. Over nine months, the dot grows into a full organ sewed together with red string and embellished with blue beads. A bucket of mushy white clay splashed inside the blob along with slick black oil. Just a touch of evolutional magic and there you have it. A buzz is heard as if someone had turned on a radio. Then there were more buzzes and mumbles until they took up everything. At first, the brain wanted to do something to get rid of the critters but over time, they learned to live with the buzz running in the background. The first memory the brain ever made feels like the colour red. Strong and left an impression. It was made in the backyard back when they still had the swingset. They were on the green plastic seat and they felt the world moving in circles as they went higher. Their ears began to ring as they went closer to the bar that held up the swings. They were nearly about to flip over. Up and down, their chest heaved. A scream of joy escaped them and they let go of the rusty metal. The swing seat escaped them, leaving them in the air for a second before they hit the ground. The stale taste of metal filled their mouth. The grass below them had been dyed a dark red. A cascade of sharp pains vibrated in their gums, two teeth had been lost in the accident. Yet a jolt of excitement hit their chest. The reward for such exhilaration was pain and joy, there were multiple consequences. The formula to be followed is pain = despair, an animalistic realization but that is not what is happening here.

The brain grew older with its human, expanding and opening up new areas. They had been in seventh grade art class with their favourite teacher. The woman had such a burning passion for the subject. When she took a blob of yellow from her palette, she took it with quick urgency as if the painting in front of her needed to be finished at that moment. Her eyes widened with every stroke. During her demonstrations she didn’t speak to the students because of how entranced she was. As if it were just the painting and herself in a dimly lit room. That day, the teacher handed them a blank canvas and said,

“Draw what you’d like. Anything.”

Never had they been in possession of that kind of freedom. At first, they had no idea what to do. When they glanced around the room, every other child had already begun the rough outline of the drawing. The brain scrambled for an idea. Thoughts buzzed and hit each other on their way to the front of the headspace which just resulted in a haze of chattering. Not a single stone was left unturned, every idea ransacked for what little worth it may have. Until they found it. A beacon of light that stood on a pedestal. The most wonderful idea. Subconsciousness pulled at the red cords that were intertwined into the spongy pink cracks. Smack, dip, scatter. The thoughts that once ran uncontrolled across the atmosphere now hid at bay, awaiting for their safety signal. Anywhere except for the canvas had been turned black to increase focus. A strong vignette. The ring of the bell sounded just in time for the last drop of paint to fall. They looked back on it with pride. A self portrait made of squiggles and smudged lines splashed with messy green blobs that spread across the painting. Red vines extend from the back, reaching into the portrait’s hair. Yellow sparks glow from the chest and blue drips from the eyes. Yet the rest of the painted body is merely a collage of black lines, the clothes are not coloured in and neither is the face. The only colour radiates from the body parts. Their teacher walks over to collect the painting. She lit up like she had during past examples. Then she turns to them, a slow smile across her face and tells them something that will never be forgotten. A memory given it’s own room and revisited often. This single sentence shall become fuel and fire.

“This is the best painting that has ever been made in my classroom.”    

Praise creates dopamine. And dopamine is the most addicting drug, a drug you crave when it is not there and when you are not given enough your body shrivels. That happiness is lethal.

In Columbia University, a study was conducted similar to the one that occurred when the brain had aged 17 years. Their heart has been torn two times before. First time at 15 when a kind boy with locks of gold whispered promises in their ear that he had already broken at the time of saying them.

“I’ll never break your trust.” He told his group chat everything that they had ever vented to him.

“I love you.” They knew for a fact that was a lie. He knew too.

“You’ll always feel safe with me.” He knew that he was going to stand them up tomorrow at their own party. Their birthday. It was a scene straight from a movie, crying on the front porch as the rain dropped from the roof. For days on end, all they could paint was the rain. That’s all that made them feel. Then a year later, a girl with deep black braids and light brown skin truly made them feel safe. With cuddles and sweet strawberry chocolates. Yet she left too. One moment they were happily in love and then she drove off without a word. Each time the brain clouded. A twisted knot of betrayal winding in their gut. Each thought entailed the cheekbones and curves of their face between the fog of thoughts. The food she liked had been displayed in a corner of the mind. Every late night talk, hands held in each other’s sweaty palms was stored in that area. The pain of never being able to restock that area, only to watch as they gathered cobwebs and eventually faded into dust. The only thing that dragged them from the pit was art. That was when they made their best piece. Bright and plump oranges freckled with specks of brown paint dripping with glazy red blood, only a navy background to drag your attention too. From then on, they associated heartbreak with the colour orange. It was not until they were seventeen that they met a new lover. A girl with blue curls that loved to read and most of all, animate. They spent countless nights in the library reading until the words blurred into straight lines. The two drew together, lending each other snippets of advice. Whenever the girl, Hana, would give them a quick tip the mind would trip over itself to find a scrap of paper to write the advice on. It didn’t matter what was happening, they could be mid outline and they would still stop for Hana. They fall deeply in love with her. Maybe even more than they had with others. But when Hana showed up before school to tell them the news they did not cry like they had before. When she said,

“Maybe we can still be friends after this?”, they didn’t drag their nails against the door. And finally, when she left them forever they were not fazed. It was as if they barely felt it. The study made in California University was a test about the adaptation of the mind. Mice were given scents to smell for weeks. At the end of the week some neurons lost all reaction while others gained more of a reaction. The brain is not supposed to adapt like this, to do that. But it does. It adapts so you won’t die. Even if that means going further than impossibility.

How can it hurt to think?  When raw fear entangles itself inside you what can you do except cry. Lack of hope from anyone. The sick addiction of praise sinks into them leaving an unfillable hole. Then the buzz came. A single wretched horrible thought rose from the batch. The mind obsessed wanted it to be understood. Dissected it until it didn’t feel real anymore. When they finally wanted to leave it alone, the thought rose from the ashes at every turn because they had given it power. The night of October 27th was when it manifested. The tears that dropped so absently like they didn’t leave behind their bloodshot eyes. The weight in their gut made them sink low. The cold unrealistic pain. A fake wish that it could go back to normal when they didn’t know normal. In the dead of night when even the stars sleep they break. They crack at the edges and realize that the basis of their clay is broken. Yet they do not kneel down into the carpet and accept defeat. They pace and they walk the circles of their room. They wake up every morning, they eat, they breathe. As their mind threatens to eat them from inside out they keep living. To those who have felt that much, who have felt the silent screams of pain in your chest, who have felt your sorrow consume you so brutally, their heart goes out to you. To those who have felt too much. After reading this, you may wonder why the brain would dare to keep going? Why not just lay in bed everyday like you do when everything hurts? When they go to fill up a water glass and stare into the glassy clear waves, counting how many weeks it’s been since the thoughts first plagued them as they fill up with dark regret, why drink the water then get out instead of sitting there in pain? Because nothing makes sense. The brain is not supposed to work.

Passion, pain, and pulse. We want to leave something behind. We want to leave something beyond our reach from under the dirt of the grave. After their art is sold, their children are made, and their life has been filled, it is time to end it. That’s it. Death is not poetic or soft like many college literature students pouring over classics will tell you. Death is just the end, the finish line. Yet, not a single brain will think as such. They spend their lives grappling for their sacred purpose, what they shall leave and do until the end clock strikes. Even though most of the population is not remembered they will nevertheless attempt it. Some create art that sparks interest in the hearts of equal souls. Others pass things on to their children in their glorious wills. Either way, this is an ancient process. One that will continue to happen as humanity changes. Not a single other animal thinks this way because the human mind wants to reach further out than its natural place. It wants to break free from the chains it was born in and live immortal. For some the clock strikes early, the panic does not come from everything ending. It comes from the feeling that one has not achieved purpose. The light green airy feeling that comes with being fulfilled is snatched away immediately. Because we had to have been here for something. It is vague but we must find it. We must claw our way through questions to feel fulfilled. That is life, a quest to find answers. And out of a thousand, you will only find a single one. That is the one the brain holds onto.