I am often asked why the brain incessantly chatters. It disrupts sleep. The noisy brain interferes with being able to pay attention. The uncontrollable chatter can create anxiety. It's a problem that affects every sentient being on the planet.
Understanding brain development might help us understand the noisy brain. However, I always caution that understanding the source does not necessarily provide a solution.
The brain is comprised of billions of neurons or specialized cells that form networks which communicate with each other for us to perform even the most mundane tasks. In fact, we are born with almost all the neurons we'll ever have. The brain's rate of growth is quite remarkable; a baby's brain will double in size in its first year, and by age three it will reach 80% of its adult volume. Coincidentally, children actually learn to lie at about year 3 or 4. During this period of growth, your memories will often be quite fuzzy even up to the age of 6 as the brain lives in a virtual state of daydream. This may also attribute to the brain's ability to learn faster at this age than at almost any other. However, the brain is often incapable of acting judiciously in a variety of situations. A child the age of 3 or 4 may run into a street without looking for traffic. This temerarious behavior is the result of brain function, or better said, lack of brain function.
The prefrontal cortex and other associated cortices (orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex), as well as other brain structures, play major roles in executive functions such as behavioral inhibition, problem-solving, planning, impulse control, concept formation, abstract thinking, creativity, and other functions. The development of executive functions is a gradual, progressive process that doesn't fully develop until adulthood at year 25 or so. Here's where the noise may actually become involved; it seems the more these cortices mature and develop, the more we chatter internally. For example, when a 5-year-old learns to ski, his skis get strapped on and down the slope he skis. He may fall now and then, but he/she seems fearless and quickly learns to ski. Now watch a 35-year-old. Internally, he/she is conflicted as the various cortices activate and chat begins. Is anyone watching? Self-consciousness. How should I place my knees? Planning. I hope I don't get hurt. Abstract thinking. The 35-year-old often takes far longer to learn to ski. We likely owe this to our various cortices that evolved over many thousands of years. They probably helped our progenitors escape the jaws of a sabertooth, but now they dominate our lives. We just cannot shut the chatter off.
So, while executive functions play incredibly important roles in our daily lives, they can also be quite detrimental - how quickly can you develop a second language compared to a 4-year-old?
Here's a significant question you must pose to yourself every day; What is the state of my brain when I pay full attention? Answering that question, or better yet, just watching your brain while it pays attention may be one of the most revealing and important things you'll ever do in the quiet of your room.
- Peter Freer, CEO & Founder of Unique Logic + Technology