The Infant Brain

In Our Time has just broadcast a programme on the infant brain. It has a very clear outline of natavism and empiricism and the competing theories of Piaget and Chomskey. There is also a good outline of how the brain works, learning and the main research techniques used by developmental psychologists.

Professor of psychology Denis Mareschal states that the brain is both simple and complex and is a statistical inference machine:

"The brain is both a very simple and very complex system. The building blocks of the brain are very simple. These building blocks are cells called neurons, very long elongated cells a bit like cables that transmit information in the form of electrical pulses. All these cells do is sense, pay attention to what signals are being sent into them. If the number of signals sent into them exceeds some threshold they start firing as well and start sending their own electrical signals. Thats all they do. They send electrical signals down their own cable and communicate to other cells across synapses, gaps between cells. They can't make the electrical signal jump across synapses, they secrete some chemicals called neurotransmitters. These bridge the gap and cause a little signal in the receiving neuron. Simple cells. simple firing of electrical signals. Where the complexity comes in is in the number of neurons we have and the number of connections between those neurons. There are about 10 billion neurons in the adult brain and most of those if not all of them are in place from birth, each of those makes an average of about a thousand connections, so there are about 10,000 billion connections". 

Link to: In Our Time: The Infant Brain

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