Your brain is not a computer

Your brain is not a computer

We have started to think that our brain is some sort of computer. It isn’t. We don’t know a whole lot about the brain yet but we do know that both human and animal brains are remarkably adaptive, learning and changing to help us achieve our primary ambition – to survive. We can reorganise our neural pathways – the link between the brain’s neurons – and mould them. Hence the term ‘plasticity’. The brain tunes itself to your needs.

A startling, and seldom recognised, conclusion from this is that our brain is creative. It perceives the relationship between what works and what doesn’t and reorganises and even regenerates itself to make use of the information. For many years of my life I was taught that our brains slowed down generating new pathways at the age of about 20 and became fixed at 40. After that, I was told, they became addled. It’s not true. MRI technology tells us that new neural cells are regenerated throughout life. You can still learn to think better.

But you won’t if you treat your brain like a computer. You know the old saying ‘garbage in garbage out’, well, that applies to the brain, too. And you need to think hard about the meaning of the word garbage in this context. Every word you read, every picture you see, every thought that runs through your mind contributes to your brain’s ability to develop further. If any of them is garbage you get a double whammy – wrong supply to the brain and wasted time when you could have been inputting the right feeds.

Our brain is not prefabricated like a computer. It is, if you like, a set of building blocks. How you assemble these determines how well your brain will work, not just at the routines of life, which we want to be semi-automatic, but at the growth of personality, the ability to handle new technology, the way to see that our 100 or so years on the planet are fulfilled.

Frightening as it is, every time we give someone a solution we are potentially damaging their brain. If they apply that solution unthinkingly, if their brain has been taught to obey without question, we threaten their ability to correctly answer the next problem or opportunity. A sticking plaster is good for a small wound, bad for a torn-off limb. You need to think.

Changing the way someone thinks is perfectly possible. They must have the determination to do so. Once they have that they can be taught to question, to expand their thinking beyond the box, to allow far-reaching, even far-fetched, ideas to permeate their mind. It is from this approach that new ideas, new businesses, new processes are developed. This is how we nudge the brain into being its adaptive self for our benefit.

We already think about our bodies in this way. It is time we started to think about our brains not as computers but as living, growing blossoms. A colleague used to produce the most beautiful orchids in the world. He talked to them as he tended them. We should do the same with our brains.

When did you last speak to your brain?