Wordpretzels, I think it’s time that I revealed my academic side; therefore, please imagine me perching on the edge of a large desk in an oak panelled room, sucking thoughtfully on the arm of my spectacles, about to reveal some amazing facts regarding the wonders of the brain.
You may not be aware, but at (almost) voluntary work, I often give presentations that include some information about neuroscience, an area of research that has revealed some amazing things about how we think, act and feel. All of these studies have taken place over the past 25 years, so it’s all very new and exciting.
Early man only possessed a very basic, reptilian, limbic brain.Now, the limbic brain was responsible for telling us all we needed to know at the time, satisfying our basic needs: namely sleeping, eating, not getting eaten and the other thing.
Of course, as we evolved, we developed a cerebral cortex, meaning that we are able to intellectualise, have a sense of self awareness, memory and communication skills. Of course, this means that we can retain voices in our heads telling us what to do, with differing results. Running around telling people about the voices in your head can get you locked up. Or ordained.
So, it’s worth considering how my and other male brains have adapted to cope with the modern world.
For example, in situations of danger, the limbic system rules. Primitive man, confronting a savage, predatory beast, wouldn’t have their cerebral cortex taking charge and sending messages such as, “Gosh, what a fine animal. Lovely coat and beautiful teeth.”
No. The limbic system would override this with one message. RUN.
The same system survives even in our 21st century, technological world, when your partner says, “Help me to choose curtains” or “What about redecorating the sitting room?”
In fact, the simple statement, “I’ve been thinking”, is enough for the limbic system to push the escape hatch and get you out of there.
Similarly, brains such as mine have been evolved to block some things and welcome others with open arms. Research has shown that human beings innately find science difficult, since science will allow us to discover that life is totally random, there is no meaning, there is no such thing as self, that our brain patterns fool into thinking we’ve thought something when in reality our bodies and brains have already decided, which ultimately means we are no better or worse than ants, designed to reproduce and die.
So, how do we learn things? Well, it’s all in the neurons, tiny little critters inside your brain, approximately 100 billion of them. When your brain is stimulated, an electrical impulse is sent through the neurons, creating a chemical impulse, connecting them together. These connections mean that the myelin sheath of the neuron thickens, a process known as myelination. This creates a pathway in the brain, creating a memory; the more often these connections happen means that the retention of whatever is being learned becomes stronger, like wearing a path across a meadow.
However, something happens to my neurons in certain situations. No myelination process seems to take place in my brain during certain situations whilst in others, it’s immense. This may have something to do with the introduction of testosterone at a very early age. Here are a few examples:
Reduced myelination process:
- Instructions from Lady Barton St Mary to take the rubbish out and fix the dodgy light fixture is scrambled into spend an hour trying to write witty things on Faceache before watching the football on TV with a beer and a big packet of peanuts.
- Talking to any financial institution, where lack of myelination means that no pathway is found at all and you end up in a ditch completely pissed. Metaphorically speaking.
- Going upstairs for a specific reason, doing something completely different before realising hours later what you meant to do.
- Trying to understand what physics is all about. Even when you really want to.
- Memorising all those facts and figures you need for next week’s meeting.
- Buying presents for Lady BSM. That ideal gift you noted in the back of your brain has fallen down the little gap between your corpus collosum and your skull, meaning you’ve bought the wrong perfume and a leopard skin kimono that she wouldn’t wear even in a dire emergency.
Increased myelination process:
- Recalling lyrics and track listings on any Stranglers album from 1977 to 1982.
- Quoting lines from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
- Knowing the comprehensive fixture list of all rugby games involving Gloucester Rugby or Arsenal FC.
- Using prior information to correctly predict the banker’s offer on Deal or No Deal.
- Being able to participate in a detailed conversation about TV programmes from your childhood, i.e. Captain Scarlet, Magic Roundabout, Hector’s House, Magpie and Blue Peter.
Of course, I could go on, and often do, according to Lady BSM. There are things that we never seem to be able to learn.
I mean, would it be worth the time to learn the names of all the members of Coldplay?