Neural Pruning vs. Long-Term Potentiation

“The only use of knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present.”

Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947)

Our brains are probably the most complicated part of our bodies. It literally runs everything from all our voluntary function to most of our involuntary function. Isn’t it crazy how the brain named itself? I always thought it was funny that the brain can think about itself but not understand how it works.

Well, we actually do understand a few things:

  • The brain is made up of neurons, cells that communicate with each other using electricity
  • Neurons communicate through small gaps called a synapses with various electrochemical neurotransmitters
  • We have specific synapse connections for each activity that we do
Synaptic Connection (2019) – Christopher S. Mukiibi
Inspired by True Events.

An interesting feature of these synaptic connections is that they slightly change depending on what we need to survive in our environment. The brain strengthens the synaptic connections we use often and tosses out the stuff we don’t use to give more processing power to the useful synaptic connections.

Our brain is kind of like a computer. It needs RAM to run all of the programs properly so it automatically deletes synaptic connections we haven’t used in a while. Our miraculous brain does this through two processes:

Neural Pruning – the process that our brain uses to “make space” for useful things by deleting the things that we don’t use often. This is why we forget things that we haven’t done in a while.

Long-Term Potentiation (LTP) – the process which our brain uses to strengthen synaptic connections that it considers useful. For example, putting your pants on is a useful skill since we do it every day. So our brains build strong connections for those synapses and putting our pants on in the morning is an effortless task. This is a large reason why we don’t have to think hard about how to put on our pants.

The more often we fire a pre-synaptic signal we decrease the amount needed to trigger the same post-synaptic response. This is fancy pseudoscience talk for the more we do something, the less effort it requires to do it again.

R is the ratio of the average electrochemical concentration of the pre-synaptic signal and the average electrochemical concentration of the post-synaptic response.

This is useful to know when studying things like math, science, or any class that seems like a lot of effort to understand at first. Yes, it takes tremendous effort to fire your chemical electric signals when you first try something. But it does get easier as the post-synaptic ratio gets bigger.

R decreases over time. It starts at a value of 1 and infinitely approaches the asymptote Y= 0

Assuming consistent practice the R value should decrease over time and the synaptic connection should be giving off a much stronger response than the signal.

So what does this all mean for students?

It means that all of the new skills and information that we will be learning will seem difficult at first, but you can trust that if we keep practicing then it will get easier. However, if we stop practicing, then our brain will dump the old stuff to make room for the new stuff. We have to use our minds often and use them consistently or we’ll end up with 3 pounds of useless grey matter in our skulls.

Reality-Possibility Exchange

“You can be anything you want, just not everything you want.”

David Allen (1945 – )

When we are young, a great part of our excitement comes from the idea that we can be anything we want. Our lives are huge amounts of potential just waiting to manifest into something real. Children get a rush from the idea of becoming astronauts, doctors, firemen, teachers, mermaids, and superheroes when they grow up but as we get older we realize that we may not get to be all of these things. At some point, we have to trade out our ability to be anything for something finite. I believe this is one of the biggest markers between children and adults. Adults inherently have less potential to manifest than children and it drains them of their energy. This is why kids seems so full of life and adults are a little more dreary. We are in love with the idea of potential and possibility. It is the lifeblood of our souls. But at some point we have to make the Reality-Possibility Exchange.

The Reality-Possibility Exchange is not something that comes across us one day. It is something that we have to actively bring about in order to make anything of serious significance. We must decide to trade our possibility with reality and this tends to be a painful process.

We are in love with what could be and the realities of what is usually fails in comparison to the potential we see in things.

Making this exchange is not something we like to do but it is something that must be done in order to create. Initially the project will be way under satisfactory standards, but over time with great care, the project can turn into something that far exceeds the imagination.

It is okay to do something badly at first and improve it later. This took me years of making literally insane mistakes to learn. I would get so upset that pure genius wasn’t flowing from my fingertips at every moment. How arrogant.

Making this exchange is different than being unsatisfied with our work. It is more of a practice of humility and a way to take pride in the things that end up becoming reality.

The Dangers of Not Exchanging

If we refuse to make this exchange we will find ourselves in a few different situations:

  • We will be surrounded by a million ideas that we started but never came to fruition
  • We will be immensely unsatisfied with our ideas that have manifested into the world
  • We will find ourselves paralyzed from our delusions of believing that whatever we produce must be perfect, resulting in nothing at all
  • We will easily be stopped in the pursuit of our goals or during a hiccup in the creative process

“You can have your cake and eat it too. Just not at the same time.”

Jordan Peterson explains the idea pretty well with his analysis of Peter Pan. Peter Pan is confronted with the opportunity to make the exchange and could be a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t.

Not wanting to trade our possibility for reality can really stop us from accomplishing so many things.

It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we are only holding on to our possibility by not dedicating ourselves to something but in actuality we are trading our potential for failure.

We must make the trade, its way better to decide what we are trading rather than be a drifter and take whatever life gives us.