Sorry, Mom, if I hadn’t told you about this… but one of the most impressive and lasting skills I learned at university was how to spin one of those fiberglass cafeteria trays on one finger, like a basketball. I also got reasonably good at foosball. And waterfights. And how to sneak a bit of milk onto the seat of a (white) cafeteria chair…

On a more practical note, though, by the third year of my psychology degree, I realized that I quite enjoyed the biological side of psychology. I began to concentrate on what we at the time called “Physiological Psychology.” I became fascinated by the fact that our nervous system is not just random connections, like a wiring harness in your car, but much, MUCH more purposeful and organized. In fact, as I have learned through my professional career as a psychotherapist, it is precisely that very purposeful organization which enables animals to function.

I’m referring here to mammals and, especially, to primates. Developmentally, the animal’s prenatal and early development results in the exponential growth of their central nervous system (CNS): a spinal cord with “a region of lateralized anterior cephalization” (a brain, with two distinct, but connected, sides).

Left to unfold without interruption/disruption, this CNS builds and organizes itself, increasing in complexity over time. A key element, however, is “without interruption/disruption”. Disruptions during that neural development act like a large stone dropped into a moving stream – the water which was previously flowing straight is suddenly cut off and forced to flow around the disruption. Turbulence is the effect; disorganization, at least on the short term, is the result. In many cases, small disruptions are bypassed and the developing system simply reorganizes itself and continues its forward progress. The more severe the disruption, however, the more severe and lasting the impact on the developing CNS. An early disruption can result in a profound reorganization of the CNS which can be life-altering.

That is just at the front-end, during early (first few years’) development. The second key element is “organization”, which results from an orderly, uninterrupted development. Assuming that early CNS development is not disrupted, the CNS will be organized, efficient, adaptable and functional. A well-organized CNS allows a person to execute motor functions efficiently and to manage a variety of cognitive (thinking) and emotional (feelings) tasks.

So, what I learned about as I studied neuroanatomy and neural function was the critical importance of the CNS working in an organized, coordinated fashion. Information is transferred throughout the nervous system by chemical messengers (neurotransmitters). There are a number of these, but common ones include Acetylcholine, Norepinephrine, Serotonin, Dopamine, and GABA (gamma Aminobutyric Acid).

Continued in tomorrow’s blog…

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