Introduction to Neuroscience

Neuroscience is the study of the brain in a biological level in order to understand its behavior and cognitive functions or how people think. It is a multidisciplinary science that combines psychology, anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, mathematical modeling etc.

Science is a religion of skepticism

M. Scott Peck

Scientific thinking is not an easy process, neither is reading and understanding scientific articles or research. It requires a lot of mental effort; something I will be talking a lot in this blog. However, I will try to make this process easy and understandable while moving on to higher levels of information and critical thinking which I hope you will be able to follow! There is one question I try to keep in mind while reading not only scientific materials, but reading in general, listening or thinking: “Am I looking at all evidence or only what supports my beliefs?” I suggest you do the same!

Visualization is one of the most important features our brain uses to focus, therefore I will use images (as the one above) as a technique for brainstorming. Before introducing the theory I will be working on, I first want to explain some of the main terminology used in the image, because these terms will be used a lot in the future blogs.

Neuroplasticity– is the ability of the brain to adopt to changes by reorganizing synaptic connections. This allows us to learn or even recover after a traumatic brain injury. I want to emphasize that all humans brain have this ability, however the peek is from newborn to 25 years old. After 25 years old, to get those changes we have to go through completely different processes. The neuroscientist Andrew Huberman talks about this and some research done on this topic.

Neurogenesis – is the process by which new neurons are formed. I did a presentation on this topic for my Human Body and Brain class, and is very interesting. It was believed that neurogenesis happens only in children, but later was discovered that it takes place in the adult brain too. However the research is limited in humans, and so far from research is known that very few new neurons are formed in the adult brain.

Neurochemicals– such as neurotransmitters and neuromodulators are molecules by with the neurons communicate with each other. Neurotransmitters are released in the synaptic cleft and can be excitatory or inhibitory (fast acting) versus neuromodulators can be released at any part of the brain, are long lasting and play a role in the flexibility of the nervous circuits.

Our nervous system is primed for learning, however as I mentioned before learning requires mental effort. Understanding mental effort, what it is, how it works, what are the mechanisms and why our brain has developed such mechanisms can shed light on decision making and behavior. While this can have a wide range of applications, we are interested in its application in education and scientific thinking.

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