The brain in two paragraphs
Your brain is the physical structure through which your mind processes everything: your thoughts, feelings, memories, perceptions, conclusions, decisions, attitudes, etc. Neurons are the tiny threads of tissue that act like pathways along which your thoughts and feelings travel.
There are 100 billion neural pathways inside your head! Your brain is a magnificently complex superhighway of connected routes.
Is your brain hardwired?
Scientists used to believe the brain was hardwired, that once specific neural pathways were laid down and strengthened by usage, these routes would remain in place permanently. But recent advances in neuroscience have found that this isn’t true.
We now know that the brain reshapes and behaves more like a group of muscles. When you exercise a particular muscle consistently, it becomes stronger and more capable. Neglect that particular muscle and it wastes away.
The same is true of the neural pathways laid down in our brain. The more you use a particular neural route, the stronger it gets and the easier it becomes for a thought pattern to travel down it. The less you use that route, the weaker and less effective it becomes until it is unusable. Like a broken-down road.
High School French
Remember high school French lessons? Learning was slow and difficult at first because there were no neural pathways along which French language could travel. These pathways had to be ‘laid down’ which you did through sheer repetition under the threat of upcoming exams. Then French became easier.
Why? Because your consistent use of French gave your brain the impression that this foreign language wasn’t going away, so your brain made the process easier by widening and strengthening the French routes. The same principle is true for guitar lessons, learning to ride a bike, fixing a car, performing the haka, or mastering Excel.
How’s your French today? You can probably remember a few phrases, but that’s about it. That’s because when you stopped studying that language, the disuse of the French neural pathways informed your brain that the synaptic material should be degraded to make room for more useful thought-routes. Use it or lose it is how we commonly describe this phenomenon. Neuroplasticity is the scientific term.