It is what separates me from you. It is the brain , which gives meaning to the world around you. You are your brain and your brain is you.
We are what we are because of our brains. Each one of us is born with the same brain . What I mean by that is , we all have the same construct of the brain. The billions of neurons inside my brain are similar to the billions of neurons inside yours. So the natural question that arises is, why is everyone so different? Why is everyone unique? Why do I perceive and judge things in a different way compared to others?
I had these and several more such questions troubling me since a long time, so I’ve been reading about psychology and cognitive science and how the brain works. After all this time, I have a simple and basic picture of how our brains work to do certain tasks. So in this post, I’ll try to explain what I’ve come to know, in a simple manner.
To answer these questions at a primary level, we need to look at how our brain functions. Inside the brain, we have billions of neurons. According to Wiki, a neuron is an electrically – excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals. A chemical signal occurs via a ‘Synapse’ , which is a connection with another cell. Neurons connect to each other, to form ‘Neural Networks’. Neural Networks are basically pathways for a signal to flow . These neurons and neural networks are the core components of the ‘Nervous System’ .
Whenever any task has to be done, certain neurons are triggered and signals flow out of them. These are what are called synapses. Synapses can either be chemical or electrical. In an electrical synapse, the signal(or pulse) is transferred through voltage differences between the successive neurons , and in this way the pulse is passed from one neuron to another neuron or several other neurons. A chemical synapses is the transfer of signal through actual transplant of chemicals like Calcium ions between neurons. So for a certain task, a specific neural network is activated.
So lets say I touch a hot object, my hands sense this through a change of pressure on the affected part. This leads to a faster heartbeat , and in a certain more complex way this message reaches the nervous system. Then the neuron connected to touch would be activated and trigger a certain neural pathway connecting this neuron to several others. These include the neurons that involve past experiences and prior knowledge of danger and harm . These in turn will activate more neurons that will tell the brain that the hand is actually hurting , and it needs to be moved . So thus a neural pathway involving all sensory organs is activated and I finally move my hand away.
Another interesting thing , is the perception of colour (A discussion with friends got this topic into my head). Colour is not real. It is a construct of our minds. Animals percieve colour in different ways. You and I probably conceive colour in a different way. Colour is basically interpretation of our brain of different wavelengths of light. All this again happens due to trigger of various neurons that eventually builds up a network and we give that pattern a certain name .
Thus everything in our brain is the work of neurons. This helps us to look into our questions. What separates each one of us is not how are brains are created different, but how our pulses or signals flow between neurons. We can think of each one of us, having the same ‘hardware’ but running different ‘software’.
Our thoughts, perceptions, way of thinking, memories , dreams are all different. When we ‘think’, we actually are activating different neurons to form unique ‘pathways’, i.e neural networks. Our way of thinking , is our pattern of activating the neurons to create meaningful output. This is what makes each of us different. This way of thinking is different for everyone, and as we grow up the pattern takes shape based on past experiences , our memories. When a memory is stored, what basically happens, is the neural pathway for that task is being stored. I know there’s danger in touching a hot object, because sometime before I’ve touched something hot and have got hurt. During this task, a certain neural network had been activated, a certain path for synapses had been created. A memory has been stored. I’ve stored the pathway, and hence whenever I touch a hot object again, this pathway is instantly activated. My brain has told my body to respond in a certain way .
Thus thoughts and perceptions are just patterns of neuron activation. Thoughts are random because everything around us stimulates us and everything makes us trigger different neurons. But a lot of patterns are random and hold no further value and hence are discarded. But certain patterns are interesting or helpful and are stored. Memories are stored patterns.
When we dream, one interpretation is that, memories are being stored. The neural pathways are being ‘hard-wired’ in our sleep. Hence usually dreams are based on what has happened during the day, mixed with certain experiences of the past.
Our ‘way of thinking’, our sub-conscience is our root pattern of neural flow , being enhanced with our daily experiences and insights.
Everyone has been through different experiences since he or she has been born. Thus the patterns that we all have built in our minds , are all different. These patterns separate us as individuals. Based on prior experiences, our minds have been shaped differently . This has given each one us different insights , different interests, different ambitions ,different personalities. This has made us different from each other. This has made each one of us unique in our own way.
What I’ve written here, is meant to be an introduction to how our minds work. The topics of consciousness, thinking, dreams , neural networks and a thousand more sub topics involving our brains and us in general are immensely interesting. They are far from understood and probably will never be understood. But reading about them helps you understand yourself in a better way, and it helps you make sense of why , what is happening, is happening .My interest in all this , has been growing as I dwell deeper into it.
If one day we’re able to understand all of this completely, we may be able to create the smartest , human-like ‘Artificial Intelligence’ systems that are able to create and develop these neural pathways , probably electronic neural networks that work on voltage gradients, and such an artificial electronic fully developed ‘brain’ would be able to control an ‘electro-mechanical body’ to work like an actual human being.
Such a thing , would take decades or probably never happen because the brain is an enormously complex organ and it will take a huge amount of information processing before we even think of ways of creating such a system and sustaining it.