How does the brain work?
Neuroscience is very complex. Some of its functions are much too important and this information should not be exclusive only to the scientist. Everybody needs a basic understanding of it. I’ve simplified it and put it into layman’s terms. Hopefully I’m not wandering too far away from truth by simplifying it so much.
The brain is made up from billions of neurons. These brain cells get an electrical charge when stimulated. For example, The neurons that are connected to your big toe will ‘fire’ when the toe is touched.
- Neurons that fire together will wire together.
- Neurons that do not fire together do not wire together.
That’s all well and good but how does that help me pay the rent? Why is it worth my time to read further?
When you understand these principles, you start to understand some problems and blockages that you may have encountered in the past. We’ve all felt times where our back is against the wall. Aren’t you curious of what that wall is? I certainly wanted to know! I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE TO FIND OUT WHAT SOME OF THE CAUSE IS!
Lets get back to ‘Cells that fire together wire together’.
Imagine a baby learning how to stand up. It’s a baby. It doesn’t know very much because it doesn’t have many neurons that are connected together.
Lets say that the baby stands up but is leaning to the left. The left foot will feel more pressure on it than the right one will. At the same time this is happening, the balance organ in the cochlea will also feel that the baby is leaning to the left. Meanwhile, the eyes will see that the horizon appears as though the baby is leaning to the left. These 3 cells start firing. It’s actually more like 3 groups of cells and each group has 1 million each. However, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll say that only 3 cells are firing. When these 3 cells fire together, they reach out and connect together. Balance is the name of this new ‘road’ that connects these 3 cells together.
The rode ‘Balance’ is only a one lane road and therefore the baby isn’t very good at balancing. The infant will age and eventually build hundreds of thousands of lanes when he becomes good at balancing. This is a simple example (perhaps oversimplified) however it shows how our own thoughts can build roads that we don’t want. (and can make our life hell. There will be more of that on future pages)
Roller coaster rides are thrilling. It’s fun to feel the thrill of danger without actually putting yourself in danger. Watching a scary movie is the same. The adrenaline rush is a hit of energy that can take us away from our current moment! Watching television drama is also entertaining. We can experience the tidal wave of endorphins that trigger our brain into instant action. We can get the excitement of a shoot-out without actually being in the danger of a shoot-out! The adrenaline rush is fun! TV networks compete with each other for viewers. The more entertaining, the more viewers. Sensationalism, excitement, and exhilaration is what brings in the most people. Unfortunately in the pursuit of this, realism often takes a back seat.
The most obvious ‘adjustments in reality’ are those of car crashes. On television, cars often erupt into a fireball. They can become airborne as they defy the laws of physics. A car that crashes into another will somehow obtain lift and makes a sensational tumble end over end as it crashes!
The special effects (FX) of car crashes require vigorous modifications to the vehicle. A cannon that shoots a telephone pole (instead of cannon balls) is welded inside. The recoil of the cannon provides enough lift to project the car into the air! Many gallons of rubber cement are placed inside to provide the fuel for a spectacular fireball! The results are thrilling to watch although they’re FAR from the truth of how car accidents really are.
False information can be entertaining. However there are some drawbacks. Remember the brain is storing this information. Even if we know the information is fake, the continual repetition of it can confuse us so that we start believing it to be fact.
A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.
Daniel Kahneman Nobel prize winner
Remember how the baby learned to balance? He built roads called ‘balance’. This multi-lane road was created because the three cells that fired at the same time started to connect together. Imagine if one of these 3 groups of cells were giving out false information!
For example, as the child moves, endolymph fluid pushes on the miniature hair cells in the semicircular canals in the ear. When the hair feels movement of the fluid, this stimulates and ‘fires’ the appropriate neuron in the brain. So far so good. That’s what’s suppose to happen. However let’s say that the toddler has a medical problem with the cochlea in the ear. The hair cells in the balance organ are giving a false signal! The erratic messages between the semicircular canals and the brain would make it difficult to balance!
In the medical example above, it’s easy to see how false information can affect us. It’s not so easy to see how the false information from television can be harmful.
Networks compete with each other. Sensationalism usually wins out. Take for example a late night police drama. The TV shows that exhibit the most murders, rapes, and child abductions are the winners.
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When you watch TV drama day in and day out, you keep seeing murders, rape or some other heinous crime. (and can start believing that the real ones happen just as often as they do on TV) At the same time that the ‘Danger’ cells are firing, another group of cells are firing as well. The cells that say, “This person is a stranger” is firing. When these groups of cells fire at the same time, they start connecting. This builds a road of ‘caution’.
This works the other way as well. When a stranger is seen, the group of cells that signal, ‘Danger’ are automatically fired. This is because THEY’VE BECOME CONNECTED TOGETHER! (built a road between them) How big this highway is depends on how often you seek out TV drama) To make a long story short, whenever you see a stranger, you automatically think about possible dangers. Caution is a good thing. However, an overbuilt road of ‘caution’, also builds the road of mistrust or in extreme cases, paranoia. (small wonder why anxiety is an epidemic) As caution and mistrust become overly active, the urge to seek out TV drama increases. The person may actually become addicted to the cascade of endorphins in the same way that a person can be addicted to morphine. The ‘joy juice’ that comes from dopamine can be thrilling! Trying to give up TV drama can be almost like trying to give up smoking!
“I can quite watching police dramas whenever I want. I just don’t want to.”
It’s common knowledge that a diet of 70% fast food and ice cream will affect your body. However, it’s a relatively new idea that what you feed your head also makes a difference. In short, a drama junkie will INTENTIONALLY expose themselves to false information for the sake of entertainment!
OkOkOk.. I understand the effect of false information. However this ‘brain damage’ is amazingly small.
YES IT’S SMALL. That’s part of the problem. It’s so small that it’s hard to comprehend that it will ever amount to anything! It’s hard to take this threat seriously. Meanwhile the endorphins can be intoxicating and lots of fun. Why stop this?
Many small things add up. Although this is well known it’s still hard to comprehend that it will make a difference. To illustrate the difference, substitute ‘false information’ for ‘small handfuls of sand’.
The island is so big that small handfuls of sand make almost no difference! It’s almost laughable to suggest that playing in the sand will effect the island at all! It takes a bit of thinking to realize that it does. THAT’S THE OTHER PROBLEM! When emotion takes charge, logic is forced to take a back seat! The more emotional, the less rational and the faster we’re looking for (or making up) facts that support our view! This results in that the more emotional we get, the quicker we are at shooting down all the reasons to reduce our TV drama viewing!
Remember the analogy about building roads in the brain? The toddler became good at balancing when he made a highway of hundreds of thousands of lanes. Each handful of sand represents one lane. One handful of sand amounts to almost nothing. However hundreds of thousands of them make a big difference.