HOW HUMAN BRAIN WORKS IN SAVING NEW WORDS
By: Mitsalina Ardini
We are learning about the brain at an unprecedented rate. Jeri Janowsky, a top learning and memory neuroscientist at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, says, “Anything you learned two years ago is already old information. . . . . Neuroscience is exploding”. In the coming years, we can expect new and more accurate technologies to further illuminate the brain’s mysteries. For now, the following are the “workhorses” of neuroscience.
The adult human brain weighs about 3 pounds (1300-1400 grams). By comparison, a sperm whale brain weighs about 7800 grams, which is only about 6prcent of your own brain’s weight.
Human have large brains relative to body weight. Close to the size of a large grapefruit or cantaloupe, it’s mostly water (78 percent), fat (10 percent), and protein (8 percent). A living brain is so soft it can be cut with a butter knife.
From the outside, the brain’s most distinguishing features are its convolutions, or folds. These wrinkles are part of the cerebral cortex (Latin for “bark” or “rind”). The cerebral cortex is the orange-peel thick outer covering to maximize surface area (more cells per square inch). In fact, if it were laid out, the cortex would be about the size of an unfolded single page from a daily newspaper. Yet it is only a grapefruit-sized organ. Its importance can be attributed to the fact that it makes up critical portions of the nervous system, and its nerve cells are connected by nearly 1 million miles of nerve fibers. The human brain has the largest area of uncommitted cortex (no specific function identified so far) of any species on earth (Howard 1994). This gives humans extraordinary flexibility for learning.
We have two cerebral hemispheres, the left and the right. They are connected by bundles of nerve fibers, the largest known as the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum has about 250 million nerve fibers. Patients in whom it has been severed can still function in society. This interhemispheric freeway allows each side of the human brain to exchange information more freely. While each side of the brain processes things differently, some earlier assumptions about the left and right brain are outdated.
In general, the left hemisphere processes things more in parts and sequentially. But musicians process music in their left hemisphere, not right as a novice would. Among left-handers, almost half use their right hemisphere for language. Higher-level mathematicians, problem solvers, and chess players have more right hemisphere activation during these tasks, while beginners in those activities usually are left-hemisphere active. For right-handers, gross motor function is controlled by the right hemisphere while fine motor is usually more of a left hemisphere while fine motor is usually more of a left hemisphere activity. The right hemisphere recognizes negative emotions fster; the left hemisphere notices positive emotions faster (Ornstein and Sobel 1987). Studies indicate the left hemisphere is more active when we experience positive emotions. The importance of this information will become evident later in the book. But for now suffice it to say that the old biases about music and arts being “right-brained frills” are outdated.
How Human Brain Works in Saving New Words
What the human brain does best is learn. Learning changes the brain because it can rewire itself with each new stimulation, experience, and behavior. Scientists are unsure precisely how this happens, but they have some idea what happens.
First, some kind of stimulus to the brain starts the process. It could be internal (a brainstorm!) or it could be a new experience, like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Then, the stimulus is sorted and processed at several levels. Finally, there’s the formation of a memory potential. That simply means the pieces are in place so that the memory can be easily activated. As educators, it’s...
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