Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Ed and I have been reading What the Bleep Do We Know? - and it's taking us a long time to get through it because it is so deep - and intriguing, as it ties in quantum physics with theology and philosophy and biology - a fascinating read.

One of the chapters in the book discusses one incredible organ - the brain. Here are some random facts:

  • The brain is at least 1,000 times faster than the fastest supercomputer in the world.
  • The brain contains as many neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way - about 100 billion.
  • Number of synapses in cerebral cortex = 60 trillion.
  • A sand-grain-sized piece of a brain contains 100,000 neurons and a billion synapses.
  • The brain is always "on" - it never turns off or even rests throughout our entire life.
  • The brain continually rewires itself throughout life.
It was the last statement that gave me pause. Here is their explanation:

A fundamental rule of neuroscience is that nerve cells that fire together, wire together. If you do something once, a loose connection of neurons will form a network in response, but if you don't repeat the behavior, it will not "carve a track" in the brain. When something is practiced over and over again, those nerve cells develop a stronger and stronger connection, and it gets easier and easier to fire that network.

If you keep hitting the repeat button in the neuronets, those habits become increasingly hardwired in the brain and are difficult to change. As a connection is used over and over, it gets stronger, better established, like forging a path through tall grass by walking it again and again. This can be advantageous - it's called learning - but it also can make it difficult to change an unwanted behavior pattern.

Luckily, there's a flip side: Nerve cells that don't fire together, no longer wire together. They lose their long-term relationship.

I found that quite interesting. It does explain a lot, doesn't it? It explains how habits are hard to break, but it also gives hope that once a habit is repeatedly overwritten, it will eventually lose its power. This is called "rewiring the brain."

I've been thinking about connections recently because my Internet connection - my connection to the world, basically - has been in and out, in and out, no pattern, no consistency, and this results in a highly frustrating situation. I may have the connection for 5 minutes or 5 hours, never knowing when I start typing if I will be able to finish the post.

I really miss that connection to the world. And it's more than just paying bills online, shopping online, or checking today's headlines and comics. It's the connection with people, friends and family, that I miss.

I even miss being able to look up a piece of trivia. Ed and I will have myriad discussions on countless subjects, and there will come a place in the conversation (or argument!) where it comes time to prove whether I'm right or he's right - then Google here I come. At other times, we are both trying to remember a name or fact, and neither one of our old brains can come up with it, so we look it up. Those of you who are our age remember having sets of encyclopedias in our houses, which, of course, were out of date the moment they were printed. But it was the only way we had to look up anything back then. Now encyclopedias come on a single disk and they are updated constantly. And this is in addition to all the free information you can get from the Internet itself.

I heard on the news recently that, contrary to popular belief, the Internet has not made people less social. (A bleak picture had been painted of lonely, isolated people surfing the Internet instead of having relationships in real life.) Indeed, real life has emerged within the technology. It has in fact given people a wider group of friends from whom we receive advice, to whom we give advice, whom we encourage and support, with whom we cry and laugh and emphathize. The world-wide technological connection has not "depersonalized" us; it has widened our connection.

Well, I'm nearing the end of the post and I see the little lights on my modem are still bright green, and I haven't witnessed the dreaded "lights out" syndrome yet. Praise be! I do so like the connection!

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