My wife recently introduced me to a series of CDs by Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology specializing in Neuropsychology. In the series, she talks about the development of the human brain. My wife and I had an hour to kill in the car on our way for a weekend jaunt, so she thought I might enjoy listening to it. Boy, was she right.
I’m taking a moment for my Freedom Friday series to talk a bit about the human brain. By no means will I pretend to know everything about the human brain—but I’ll mention what I’ve learned.
What interested me was the idea of learning. How does the brain learn? Is there a physical change in the brain when someone decides they want to learn a subject? Or does that knowledge somehow get there because some people are smarter than others?
The brain has two hemispheres, right and left. Both hemispheres work together. Past science once suggested the two hemispheres worked independently—the left dedicated to logic (eg. science, mathematics, etc.) and the right dedicated to creativity (eg. music, art, literature, etc.) . Science has now discovered the brain works as a complete unit with both hemispheres working together. They’ve also discovered an interesting interaction that takes place between the two hemispheres they didn’t understand before.
The right hemisphere processes information from detail to big picture. The left hemisphere processes information from big picture to detail. The brain works best when the information it needs to process has a logic to it. If the information lacks organization, the brain goes into a default mode and shuts down not accepting new information. The only way I can describe this default mode is a person becomes unresponsive to the knowledge and would rather be out surfing with Beach Boys music playing in the background.
The brain also contains what’s called dendrites. Dendrites makes it possible for the brain to remember. Healthy dendrites have an actual physical appearance in the brain that is stalky, thick and branch-like. If you’ve ever seen a head of broccoli, that is what the human brain looks like underneath. Obviously the color of the brain wouldn’t be green, otherwise it would be a) weird, b) make us zombies. The thicker the dendrite, the more powerful a memory.
Short dendrites are known as floppy cells. Floppy cells occur when the brain absorbs a piece of information but then discards it. We all know the condition as short term memory. When the brain needs to remember five minutes’s worth of info, it creates floppy cells.
You must be wondering, what happens to the floppy cells when we don’t need them anymore? Good question. This is where sleep becomes comes to the rescue. When a person sleeps, the brain cleans away the floppy cells and stores them in an inaccessible part of the brain. The storage capacity of the brain is about 300 million years. I’d place a winning bet that we have enough capacity in that noggin of ours to store five minutes worth of garbage in there, don’t you think?
All right, having said that, what is the result of this brief discourse regarding the human brain?
When a student is in the process of learning a new subject, there’s an actual physical change in the brain that takes place in order to retain the new knowledge. As the student learns, dendrites grow thick. Anything not needed, the brain cleans away during sleep. As the student continues to learn, the student becomes smarter. The physical changes in the brain allow that to happen. Barring disease, the brain is the only organ that continues to grow in spite of getting older.
In other words, don’t let anyone say to you that you’re too old to learn. You’re never too old to learn.
Have you ever studied into the human brain? If so, what do you like about it?