How does the brain work is an enormously important question. There is a revolution taking place in our understanding because of advanced computer controlled imaging technology like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The most complex structure
The brain is the most complex structure known to science in the universe. Read about brain facts here.
It is an organ of incredible sophistication that gives us the experience of ourselves and our world around us. Every thought, emotion, feeling and perception we’re all generated by your brain.
It also controls your body with all its systems and organs right down to a cellular level. Everything you have ever learned from walking and talking to riding a bike and mathematics was all learned by your brain.
All your memories, your entire identity and sense of self are all generated by your brain.
Brainwaves and neurotransmitters
Biologically speaking, how does your brain work? Everyone has heard that the brain uses chemistry (neurotransmitters) and electrical impulses (brainwaves).
Brainwaves are generated by groups of neurons all firing together within a certain frequency. This firing is produced by electrical impulses that travel through the dendrites, which are the branches of the neurons.
When the electrical signal reaches a synapse (end of a neurons dendrite and beginning of another neuron’s dendrite) it triggers a neurotransmitter that floats across the synaptic cleft (gap between synapses).
This in turn triggers an identical electrical impulse that travels down the dendrite and when measured are called brainwaves. Different frequencies trigger different neurotransmitters.
Neurons that fire together wire together!
The brain takes sensory inputs from the eyes, ears and body and converts them into chemical and electrical impulses that travel along neuronal pathways to different lobes and then fan out in a specific pattern of neuronal firing.
If it was something you were seeing those impulses would end up in the Occipital lobe where different types of specialized neurons would fire that recognize different features like shape, edges, colour, movement, etc.
The brain is “soft” hardwired
The brain is constantly changing its wiring patterns each time you experience or learn something new. It encodes information in the patterns of neurons that fire together.
If they do this repeatedly (learning) they join more of their dendrites together (hardwiring) and this consolidates the learning into long term memory.
When you remember something, a series of neurons fire together in exactly the same way as when you originally experienced or learned it because they wired together. That is how the brain works. So how you learn and remember is based on patterns of neurons firing in a certain way.
As you experience or learn new things, your brain is constantly adding new connections and as you forget or don’t need things, it is pruning old connections. This is the “soft” part of the hardwiring known as brain plasticity and neurogenesis.
Brain structure allows the brain to use different types of neurons, neurotransmitters, and brainwave frequencies in different combinations in specific lobes of the brain to specialize in performing different tasks, for example, the Occipital lobe and vision.
The choreography of the brain
So how does the brain work? It is still not fully understood how the brain manages to combine all this information from different structures to create the seamless experience we all have.
However it is obvious that the brain is an incredibly smart system that self regulates or tunes itself so that it’s parts work together in a precisely time choreographed dance of electrical signals and chemical messaging, connecting and disconnecting to perform every task imaginable to give us our experience of ourselves and the world around us.