How the Brain Works

When I was first interested in neurology, I tried so hard to find a website that explained, in plain English, a good introduction to how the brain works.  Now that I’m done university, I can see why it was difficult.  However, this article is intended to fill in those gaps and do my best to (hopefully) provide what I wanted back when I started.  I hope that it helps at least 1 person.

First things first, the brain is complicated.  There is no simple way of explaining it.  Not a wiki article, no cliffnotes, sparknotes, etc.  You have to accept that the brain is a reflection of how we live and that is complicated.  However, not impossible.  Though the first step is to realize that there are a lot of variables involved and you have to imagine the working of the brain as an orchestra with various instruments playing at the same time being guide by a conductor.  However, don’t be mislead, it’s still more complicated than that.  In any case, I want to provide some sources and quick notes on how the brain works for newcomers.  The truth is, you’re not going to learn how the brain works in the matter of an hour or 5 minute read, it takes time.  So make sure you’re prepared for reading, and a lot of it.  There’s several routes to take, but I’ll provide the basics.

➡ Introductory Notes

The first thing you have to look at is if you’re after understanding the psychology or the biology of the brain.  The difference between the two is more or less biological vs psychological.  On the biological terms, you’re looking towards reductionism which is saying that all thoughts and behaviour is reducible to biological systems.  On the other hand, psychological concepts (and perhaps spiritual) are looking are more intangible things which I do not really want to delve into here.  If you are inclined to the psychological workings, then you ought to look into developmental psychology.  If you are inclined into the actual biological functions of the brain, then neurology and neuroscience.

➡ Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology looks at the progress of human thinking across their lifespan.  Given there is a lot of room for debate here, there is also still a lot of science.  I can’t really give basic introductory notes because there’s a lot to talk about.  However, I can suggest a book and I suggest:

http://www.amazon.ca/Developmental-Psychology-Dr-David-Shaffer/dp/0176416749/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1316641950&sr=8-2

I have had Wood as a professor and am pretty pleased with her background.  The book is well written for any person first interested in learning about human developing psychology.

I know it may seem like a cop-out linking to a book, so I should make a few notes here.  When it comes to developmental psychology and asking how the brain works, there are far too many variables in play.  Remember that it also varies so much depending on age, environment, and biology.  What I can suggest is doing a google search on Piaget.  Piaget has a great deal of research in developmental psychology with some notable videos too.  Here is a link to a video search which showcases videos of developmental psychology:

http://www.google.ca/search?gcx=c&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=youtube+piaget

Neurology

The first and most important thing about understanding the biological science of how the brain works is the neuron.  The neuron is the functional cell of the brain.  There are various kinds of neurons, but what’s important is learning the fundamental cell.  Also, it’s important to learn how neurons communicate with one another.  Once you have an understanding of the neuron, the rest of the brain will be much easier to understand.  Here is a video on the basic anatomy of the neuron:

How neurons communicate is via a neuronal system utilizing synapses.  That may sound complicated but what it means is that neurons don’t actually connect to each other.  There is a small space between their reaching limbs (dendrites) and they communicate in the small space between them.  It is in this space between neurons that exchanges are made to communicate pain, temperature, pleasure, sense, etc.  The small varying chemicals that are exchanged in this space are called neurotransmitters and you may have heard of at least one called endorphins.  Endorphins being the neurotransmitter which act as a natural analgesic to pain, or pleasure, etc.  Here is a video explaining synapses:

Once you have an understanding of neurons and how they communicate, it’s time to delve deeper.

Neurology

Here, I just want to share some links to sources that provide great details on how the brain works.  It was really hard for me to find them when I started, so I help they help someone else.  I will make a few notes I feel may be necessary, but they are mostly complete.  Furthermore, they are from notable sources.

The Society for Neuroscience released a Brain Facts primer on pdf for those likely who would be reading this article.  Please consider:

+ http://www.sfn.org/skins/main/pdf/brainfacts/2008/brain_facts.pdf

For a basic introduction for the common person, about.com gives a fundamental approach to the lobes of the brain.  I think that this is probably the most basic link I can provide in comparison to the others, but maybe the quickest:

+ http://psychology.about.com/od/biopsychology/ss/brainstructure_2.htm

The Centre for Neuro Skills is an organization dedicated to providing knowledge and support for brain injury.  Within their website, they provide an informational map of the brain which I found useful:

http://www.neuroskills.com/brain.shtml

Lastly, once you feel you have a basic understanding, I found some lecture material from the University of Washington on neuroscience.  It is real material taught in neurology classes and gives a great insight into what to expect if you were to enter to the program.  Please consider:

+ http://thalamus.wustl.edu/course/

Closing

At length, how the brain works cannot be explained simply.  It requires dedication and patience.  However, you will learn a lot and it will definitely change your view on you and others.  There are a lot of misconceptions and proverbs that cause a great deal of delusion over the true nature of the brain.  However, with a little research, it’s easy to uncover.

I hope this article helps.  I posted it because search terms for this site reveal a great number of people looking for this sort of detail so, please, if you have any question, ask!

~

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