In this episode we will have an introduction to what are neuronal connections or neuronal pathways. It is a very important topic as throughout the podcast I will be making reference to this all the time since it is present in everyday life and is also one of the most important things I learned about neuroscience and the brain.
The first time I learned about neuronal connections (and neuroscience) was when I did a course on neuroscience about 4 years ago. So a big part of what I will share today comes from there, but also from what I’ve learned with books, philosophizing about the topic and my filter (you can hear about the concept of the filter by the end of the why of the better self show episode).
What are neuronal connections?
First let’s set some ground before defining what are neuronal connections or neuronal pathways.
At birth a baby has almost no neuronal connections in the brain or maybe a few hundred compared to an adult that has millions. Babies are like blank pages ready to learn all about life. So with time they start forming new connections and filling the brain with all sorts of inputs and skills, and this process never stops throughout life.
Although there are times were we have an easier time making connections. For kids is easier to learn some things than for elder people. In fact there are two times in life when neuronal connections are most easily formed, I think from 5-8 years old and from 13-15 years old if I remember well.
So neuronal connections are the knowledge that we have, or all the things that we know. All the things we do in a daily life are possible because we have created connections stored in our brain, form actions, memories, smells… Also new habits are neuronal connections. In essence anything that we do can develop or follows a connection already made.
For example, when you learn how to ride a bicycle. One foot after the other, keeping balance, turning the wheel, looking ahead, using the break.. All those actions need to be learned in the beginning but after sometime they become automatic. That is because connections are made and the stronger a connection the less effort the brain needs to perform.
2 metaphors for neuronal pathways
The first metaphor is inspired by a show on Netflix called The Mind Explained and the episode Psychedelics.
So imagine a sky resort in the morning after a snow storm with no marks on it. Then skiers come and start making paths on the snow. That can be a neuronal connection on the brain. The more a skier goes down on the same path then the mark is deeper and those are what I refer as strong connections.
The other example is to imagine a tree with new branches. Those branches in the beginning are weak but as time passes they become stronger. That’s another way you could imagine connections like in the example above but millions of it inside your brain.
Strong, weak, new, old.. but how does it all work?
The stronger a pathway is the less effort you need to perform that certain activity. But on the other hand it is also more complicated to replace. substitute or change that connection as it is so strong.
If you wanna change a habit, you will need to create a new connection to replace the old one. With time also make that new connection stronger so at some point it overcomes the already made connection and replaces it.
But I will talk more about how to change neuronal connections or to change habits on another episode soon hopefully, if you are interested 🙂
Why are the neuronal connections so important to us?
Our brains can’t be working and using all our energy 24/7, so that is why we create those strong connections. They allow us to go into autopilot mode not having to think so much about every single detail that we do saving energy for other tasks. Like when walking for example, we don’t need to think all the time how to move our feet, or when riding he bicycle like I said before.
Though, the tricky thing here is that sometimes we don’t want to go into autopilot mode because we want to change some ‘unconscious’ behaviors, but it can be hard when the connections are really strong.
Anyways this episode was an attempt to an introduction on how neuronal connections work. Hopefully in the future I can talk more about them. And last thing, in the episode of the state of nature I talk about animals and these connections are part of what makes us different from them.
I hope that you enjoyed the episode, that you learned something new and maybe even that you got some value out of it. I certainly enjoyed talking about the brain and if you want to share some thoughts or feedback please contact me anytime.
Thank you so much for listening, don’t forget to support the show if you liked it, and hopefully I will see you in the next episode, ciao!