recently have scientists been able to learn how the neural
network of the brain forms. Beginning in the womb and throughout
life this vast network continues to expand, adapt, and
learn. Take a look inside the brain at a cellular level
to find out how our three pound universe forms and even
how we learn.
a half-billion years ago, to when the first nerve cells
developed. The original need for a nervous system was
to coordinate movement, so an organism could go find
food, instead of waiting for the food to come to it.
Jellyfish and sea anemone, the first animals to create
nerve cells, had a tremendous advantage over the sponges
that waited brainlessly for dinner to arrive.
of generations of experimentation, nervous systems
evolved some amazing ways of going out to eat. But
behind all the myriad forms of life today, the primary
directive remains. Movement. In fact, a diminished
ability to move is a good measure of aging. Inflexibility
heralds death, while a flexible body and fluid mind
are the hallmarks of youth.
from the Greek word for "drive" or "propulsion." It
is the tendency of a material to return to its original
shape after being stretched. Elasticity
is the basic animal drive that powers your muscles,
giving you strength and balance – flexibility,
mobility, and grace.
from the Greek word meaning "molded" or "formed." It
is the tendency of the brain to shape itself according
to experience. Plasticity
is the basic mental drive that networks your brain,
giving you cognition and memory – fluidity, versatility,
you created neurons, the brain cells that communicate
with each other, at the rate of 15 million per hour!
When you emerged into the world, your 100 billion neurons
were primed to organize themselves in response to your
new environment – no matter the culture, climate,
language, or lifestyle. During infancy,
billions of these extraordinary cells intertwined into
the vast networks that integrated your nervous system.
By the time you were four or five years old, your fundamental
cerebral architecture was complete.
early teens, various windows of opportunity opened
when you could most easily learn language and writing,
math and music, as well as the coordinated movements
used in sports and dance. But, at any age you can – and
should – continue to build your brain and expand
life, your neural networks reorganize and reinforce
themselves in response to new stimuli and learning
experiences. This body-mind interaction is what stimulates
brain cells to grow and connect with each other in
complex ways. They do so by extending branches of intricate
nerve fibers called dendrites (from the Latin word
for "tree"). These are the antennas through
which neurons receive communication from each other.
well-functioning neuron can be directly linked to tens
of thousands of other neurons, creating a totality
of more than a hundred trillion connections – each
capable of performing 200 calculations per second!
This is the structural basis of your brain's memory
capacity and thinking ability. As a product
of its environment, your "three pound universe" is
essentially an internal map that reflects your external