“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.” – Emerson Pugh
The human brain is “the most complicated object in the known universe”, according to psychiatrist and child trauma expert Dr Bruce D Perry.
The biggest obstacle to changing how we treat the most vulnerable among us – infants and toddlers, i.e. the future generation – is the belief that it has little effect on who people become. There is a widespread creationist – though not necessarily religious – view of people as having a personality and brain that will follow a blueprint set by genes.
“Genes contain the information for the general organization of the brain’s structure, but experience plays an important role in determining which genes become expressed, how they will be activated, and the timing of that activation.” – Daniel J. Siegel
We are born with a multi-purpose learning machine whose 86 billion cells are almost all present at birth, but whose wiring is in great part custom-built during the first three years of life based on the infinite sensory, emotional and cognitive stimuli we encounter.
Main parts of the brain
[work in progress: text and illustrations of brain regions, size relative to other animals, energy requirements, wiring (axons, glial cells, myelin), neurotransmitters and hormones]
While the body doesn’t reach its adult height and weight until adolescence, by age three the brain has reached 85% of its full adult size. The last part of the brain to mature, the pre-frontal cortex, does so by age 24.
How the brain is built
From the bottom up and from the inside out, in a use-dependent way.
The importance of getting a good start “When things go right early on, they will tend to continue to go right and even to self-correct if there are minor problems. But if they go wrong at first, they will tend to continue to go wrong. (…) Parents don’t have to be perfect. But it’s important to know that young children are extraordinarily susceptible to the spiralling consequences of the choices we – and later they – make, for good and for ill.”
The importance of touch: “Physical affection is needed to spur some of the brain’s chemical activity. (…) At birth human touch is a novel and initially stressful stimulus. Loving touch has yet to be connected to pleasure. It is in the arms of a present, loving caregiver that the hours upon hours of touch become familiar and associated with safety and comfort.”
- Selection of articles on Neuroscience from Quanta Magazine
- Article – “The Power of Touch” (The New Yorker, March 2015)
- Video – “The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans” ( TEDx, Daniel Amen, Oct 2013)