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Saturday, May 22, 2010
A Talk About Brain Function With A Five Year Old
I was driving back to my house after karate practice with Will, age 8, and Ali (full name Alexexandrina) who is 5. Ali has started asking questions about neuroanatomy and physiology.
Ali: How does your eye blink?
Me: Your brain sends a signal down a kinda wire to the muscles around your eye. That message says, "Blink," and the muscles blink.
Ali ponders this for a moment. Meanwhile, Will is half listening to us and reading his comic.
Ali: How does your leg move?
I felt I could get a bit more complicated on this one.
Me: Your brain sends a signal down a kinda wire to your leg and tells the muscles to move. Then the muscles in your legs send a message to your brain to let your brain know the leg is moving.
I was feeling pretty good! I have answered somewhat complicated questions without sounding like an idiot. While I was basking in my ability to answer a 5 year old's questions Ali was thinking.
Ali: How does your brain think?
Oh-oh. That was no easy question. My undergraduate and graduate classes in neuropsychology were about to come in handy. I understood that, "How does your brain think?" question is one that no one really understands. My tactic was an old-school dad move.
Me: I'll tell you when we get into the house.
I played for time. Unfortunately, we were down the street from our destination. We got out of the car and went into the living room. Will was still reading his comic and Ali was looking at me with those big blue eyes.
I decided to go with the basics.
Me: This right here (I touched the back of her head) is where...
Will: That's where you see.
I turned to Will. He had looked up for an instant and went back to the comic.
Me: Right. This right here (I touched the front of her head) is where you do your heavy thinking. It also prevents you from doing stuff you know you shouldn't do. (That's impulse control for me and you.)
Ali was still looking at me - I hadn't lost her.
Will: What about the motor, motor something?
Hmmm... he seemed to remember a lot of from our previous discussions which is good (and bad... I talk a lot of smack).
Me: That's the motor strip (I ran my finger down Ali's mid part of her head (ear to ear)). That's where you control parts of your body, like your hands.
I tickled her belly. Ali was done with the brain lecture. They both ran off to play.
Sure I'm happy about a bunch of things from that conversation. What I feel especially happy about is that my kids will never hear from me any gibberish about a soul or spirit telling their body to move. My house is not a House of Dualism (Mind and Body made of completely different stuff)! No, we are good Reductionists! Hopefully they'll stay that way.
A story of science...