Dr. John Hart Jr. of the University of Texas, Dallas has devoted his life to understanding the link between physiological trauma to the brain and psychological disturbance. Recent events, such as the murder- suicide of Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher, and the tragic tale of Iraq veteran Tomas Young have made the research of Dr. Hart increasingly invaluable, but the truth is that the human brain remains largely a mystery.
With thousands of troops slated to return home from Afghanistan, the need for greater understanding of the function of the brain, and the ways to heal it are sorely needed before more lives are lost to preventable suicide or other violence.
Even the federal government has acknowledged the need for research that can offer some insight into the mysteries of the mind. President Obama – despite debates on federal spending – has earmarked $100 million in funds for mapping the brain. The intent of full-brain mapping is to help find new ways to combat such dire maladies as PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and traumatic brain injuries.
Dr. Hart is on the forefront of this new quest for knowledge, having spent years trying to help veterans with PTSD as well as those that have depression resulting from concussion – a condition known as Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy (CTE). Too often, he’s seen where the illumination of information might have provided a solution, but was instead left with the impenetrable gloom of ignorance.
“Since I started doing this, the hardest part of the job is sitting down with a family of any age and they look you in the face and they look in your eyes and say, what’s this mean for my son, what’s this mean for my dad, what’s going to happen?” said Hart. “So I think that part of this mapping issue is when you look at when people are impaired, we get better information to give to families and patients so they’re armed with it.”
In truth, it is unknown what mapping the brain may reveal. The hope is that it will be able to aid those that struggle with conditions like CTE and PTSD, but it could reveal even more. Once, the edge of maps read simply “Here there be dragons” and in many ways, that is how the current knowledge of the brain manifests. At some point there is nothing but a nebulous lack, a dearth of information about why the brain operates the way it does.
The desire of men like Dr. Hart is that somewhere in those murky waters lies hope and help for those who might otherwise be needlessly claimed by the malfunctioning of their own mind.