I’d like to begin this post with a little exercise. I want you to count how many ‘Fs’ are in the following passage:
Remember what your answer is and we’ll come back to it in the next post. At the moment, I’d like to briefly switch gears and share some interesting facts about the brain.
In the brain neurons don’t communicate directly with each other because they don’t actually touch. Instead they secrete chemical molecules (called neurotransmitters) which travel across the gaps (called synapses). Neurotransmitters can link neurons in an almost infinite amount of ways. Indeed, the average neuron communicates with between 1000 and 10,000 other cells! The patterns that regulate these links are called neuro-pathways and here is a good explanation of how neuro-pathways work, taken from ‘The Brain 101’:
“Say you touch something without looking at it. Your brain will check: Was what you touched cold? hot? wet? soft? hard? slick? rough? and so on. These answers will enable it to compare features of what you touched with things you have touched in the past: water, skin, glue, metal, sand, bananas, tree bark, whatever. It will use these comparisons to determine what it most likely touched.”
“What if it’s something you’ve never touched before? Let’s use a snake as an example. Your brain might ‘save’ your ‘first touch’ of a snake to use as a point of comparison for future touches.”
Because neurons that fire together wire together, the neurons associated with the physical perception of a snake get wired to the neurons associated with the concept of snake. The same is true of thousands of other objects and experiences we take for granted, as David Brooks explained in a section we shared in an earlier post.