Neural Circuits

In this article we are providing you with an easy to understand description of the most complex computer in the world, your nervous system. Extracts have been taken from Susan Greenfield’s book, Mind Change, ISBN 978846044304. Her description of the nervous system captures the simplicity yet complexity wrapped in an easy to understand analogy.

The two extract below capture a) how the nervous system is organised and b) how the nervous communicate with one another. So please read on, you will not be disappointed…

To get an idea of how the brain is put together, think of a busy city like Peterborough (Susan used New York, but Peterborough is closer!); the anatomically distinct brain regions would correspond to boroughs, within which would be districts then neighbourhoods – in brain terms, smaller and smaller groups of cells. By the time we arrive at a block, street or line of houses, we are at the basic unit of neuronal communication; the individual gap (the synapse) between any one brain cell and another. And the house on the street? That would be the neuron itself, the rooms within it are the organelles, literally the little organs that keep a brain cell alive. (2014, pg 50)

Rooms and houses change over time, representing the tastes and activities of the residences (i.e. the environment). Your organelles and therefore the neurons are no different and change in accordance to their environment. Their environment is governed by your actions, choices and the external environment you live in. Consequentially, your brain regions are continually changing in response to your actions, choices and environment. This changing terrain is called plasticity and governs your ability to learn and adapt.

There is a physical space between one neuron and another which Susan defined as the street or spaces between houses. These spaces are where neurons talk to each other, just like we do. Susan please continue…

Neurons are the basic unit of the brain, just as a person is the basic unit of an organisation or society. Like a person, a neuron is generic, and yet at the same time an individual entity. A person changes gradually over time, and a neuron will also adapt, show plasticity. A neuron gradually makes connections via a small gap (a synapse) using an intermediary, a chemical messenger (a transmitter); actually direct physical contact is possible but features less. Similarly, a person gradually builds relations with others by indirect contact via a language; touching is rarer. With both chemical messengers and languages there’s enormous diversity but an adherence to the same common principle: communication between two independent entities without any direct physical connection. Both languages and transmitters come in a wide range of varieties, but they can be categorised into families, defined by geographical provenance (for language) or chemical structures (for a transmitter) respectively. The actual mode of communication in both cases has parallels in that all languages and transmitters can use simple signals through to complex and sophisticated ones. (2014, pg 51)

We hope this has provided a useful insights into how you work.