The mystery of brains

Most of the time, parenting isn’t excessively difficult. Children progress in coherent, predictable ways from one day to the next as skills evolve, understanding grows, bodies adapt and so forth. Every so often there’s a sudden leap, and the impossible becomes easy, the unthinkable becomes the thought. These are always startling and tend to come without any kind of warning.

A lot of it has to do with how the human brain develops when we’re young. My grasp of the technicals isn’t superb but the gist is that the brain has physical structures, and the way in which paths are formed between brain cells shapes how we are able to think. Child development psychology flags up that there are some things young children just aren’t capable of thinking about. Then the brain changes, and *ping* you’re on a new level. It can be startling to watch. Some of the manifestations are simple – going from sky as blue line across the top of a picture to a sense of how objects exist in relation to each other is one of those transitions, but not a challenging one.

Sudden shifts in the way a child is capable of thinking are also very exciting times. As adults we tend to get this less, our brain growth has mostly settled. Perhaps more importantly, we don’t seek it. When allowed to develop naturally, children are voracious in their quest for information. They want to know everything about everything. How we support and teach them inform whether than continues or not. A child who hears ‘because I said so’ and ‘because it just is’ will learn not to bother to ask. The child for whom learning is turned into a miserable chore won’t stay inspired to learn, that natural hunger squashed. And of course children whose hunger for input is fed by television and computer games, who get a steady diet of empty noise and meaningless drivel by way of content, cannot develop much. I recognise that there is educational content out there, but when the aim is to pacify the child and make them easy to look after, the effect is…. Pacification.

From what I can tell by observing my son, and what I remember of the process myself, the sudden brain leaps don’t really register. You forget that you couldn’t think that way before, the new way becomes natural so quickly and there’s not much incentive to question it. Sometimes, you don’t notice how much your own capacity to think has changed. As adults, we’re both less likely to change, and more likely to notice it. Revolution between the ears is a very big deal once you’re physically mature. It is possible, though.

How we think, and the structures we have physically in our brains, develops over time and with use. The person who devotes a lot of time to music does, I gather, have a visibly different brain structure to someone who doesn’t. What we do with our brains shapes what we are able to do, informs what comes easily, determines where we might go next. Anyone who dedicates themselves to a spiritual path, or a path of personal growth, is very precisely working to keep their brain developing.

There are a great many people out there I could wish a mental revolution upon. I wish they could change with the sudden explosion of insight that hits my child every now and then. There are so many people who seem to have stopped thinking, questioning, wondering and growing far too early, settling into the comfort of their own narrow world view and filtering out everything that doesn’t fit. Far too many of them have also taken up careers in politics. But in adults, Road to Damascus moments are few and far between. Grand epiphanies don’t turn up unsought, eureka moments will not come to the person who wasn’t looking for an answer in the first place.

Brains are such fabulous, mysterious, exciting things. I just wish people would notice that more, celebrate the wonder that is us a bit more, think a bit more…

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “The mystery of brains

  • John Andersen

    Great post! That is so much more eloquent than my usual, “What’s wrong with people?” ranting.

  • Alex Jones

    One area of child brain development is that children until about age 12 think in concrete ways, that is they can only think in literal ways; then a leap comes where they can think in abstract terms.

    In adults the only way they get a leap in development is through the gain of wisdom, which they can only do through the doing and sensory experience. I can say that no wisdom will be gained from sitting on their arse all day watching Eastenders and playing FIFA on their computer.

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