How Humans Think

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brainOur ability to adapt to change is rooted in the neurochemistry of our brains, the product of millions of years of evolution. Receiving input from the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste – our brains construct a reality of the environment around us and drive our reactions, conscious and subconscious, to occurring events. The interaction between neurons and synapses, commonly referred to as the “Mind” as distinct from the physical organ in which the interaction occurs – the brain – has been the subject of research for philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists for thousands of years and continues to be unclear. Never-the-less, applying what knowledge we have learned about the Mind to understand how we perceive our surroundings and our relationship to the environment, we can better manage our responses to achieve happiness and satisfaction.
 
Any understanding of self must begin with an understanding of the physical organ we call the “brain”. It is a fascinating organ, the result of hundreds of million years of evolution. When you were born, you had almost all of the neurons (nerve cells) that you have today as an adult. Scientists believe that the brain develops “bottom up” – the more primitive functions that govern the bodily functions of life (the “autonomic functions) to the more complex dealing with emotions, language, and thought. Your brain equals about 2% of your body weight but gets 20 percent of your blood flow and oxygen.
 
While the number of neurons do not increase, the connections between these brain cells (synapses) grow at an incredible rate after birth. By the time a child reaches age 3, there are more than 1,000 trillion synapses, more in fact than you will need as an adult. As children grow, some connections wither and disappear, a process sometimes referred to by neurologists as “blooming and pruning”. Which synapses survive and thrive, rather than fade away, depends upon their use, how their environment stimulates some activities while ignoring others. For example, a child might recognize words in two foreign languages if both are used by parents around him. But if one language predominates and the other is no longer used, the ability to understand or speak the absent language will be eventually lost. Until the mid-1960s, most scientists believed that changes in the brain could only take place during infancy and childhood. As a consequence, characteristics like intelligence and personality were thought to be fixed.
 
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