NEWSTROM – Our brain cells are like the sand of the Thompson River
LAST WEEK the mind topic was my bashed finger (the ring finger on my right hand) and the embarrassing question, did I arrange my own victim situation (18 bloody stitches) to get out of writing a math exam I was anxious about. I still have to write the exam. It was deferred until next week. Responsibility and continuity. I don’t know which I love more.
Continuity is really important to Brain Food. Also important is having eight quick fingers and a couple of thumbs to type with. If I had no hands at all, I’d type with my nose. Math would be even harder to do with my nose. I need all my fingers to hold my pen and do figures.
I restrict myself to a discipline of continuity because I plan to assemble these coggy ramblings into a narrative form somewhere between hysterical fig-tion and a Swedish Saga. You agents and publishers out there looking to pick up a lucrative prospect listen up. Lucrative for me… okay maybe a little bit for you too.
Time to bring another of my people, those grand scholars of how the human brain works and rewrites its own tale. In The Mind Within the Net Manfred Spitzer writes that, “There are about 20 billion neurons (brain cells) in the brain, each of them connected to as many as 10,000 others.”
Twenty billion! Wow! If each neuron holds a characteristic of mine, that is one hell of a lot of separate cells to keep all my ideas, habits, actions, thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, emotional feelings, resentments and plain ornery wrong headedness. But there they are, for life. Some of them anyway. Don’t know which ones I am going to toss yet.
What I do know is that this long-term experiment is about seeing how far I can get in understanding and being able to comfortably use college mathematics. At this juncture my marks are good in this basic math course that is nearing completion. I will go on to enroll in an algebra in September. I may add a physics course.
Those 20 billion brain cells that I am burdened with for life with each one interconnected to as many as 10,000 others is almost disturbing. Are most other people out there just like me? Tell me if you are. Tell me if you are not.
In the beginning of my recovery from drugs and alcohol counsellors helped me to understand that my thoughts, emotional feelings and actions needed to be the same if I wanted to be sane, consistent and likable. Since then I have lost a few friends but it was usually because I liked myself enough to not need them.
The list I have given above — ideas, habits, actions, thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, emotional feelings, resentments and plain ornery wrong headedness — is a big bite when considered along with the numbers of brain cells and their connections.
Clearly, Brain Food needs to not wade into complexities. Manfred Spitzer advises to take only manageable bites in becoming aware of the relationships between what we/I think we/I think and how we/I act. Strong agreement on this from me. The pace of carefully controlled learning is crucial.
To keep Brain Food out of the weeds is a constant challenge but I’m up to it. I expect to spend the next week patiently counting out grains of Thompson River sand into a ring box so I can help my readers understand how many 20 billion really is. It will be all to the good if I still possess 20 billion brain cells after that.
Here’s what I learned this last week. Be careful when handling big birch fire logs. Yes, of course. Here’s what I also learned.
To do math and write like this your neurons have to be on more than intimate terms. I do most things with my right hand. Recently I haven’t been able to do anything with my right hand. As a result, my right/left neurons have had a go of it.
Elon Newstrom is a Kamloops resident and part-time Thompson Rivers University student who is taking a mathematics class and self-studying the human brain.
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