Shelves of paperback books

Building The Library

So as we discussed yesterday, you have a bookcase in your room and a bed and that's about it. So you've got books on the shelves and books on the floor and books you shoved under the bed, because fundamentally your brain is a nerd.

And all day long your brain lies on the bed goofing off, and when you need to know something it has to go get a book.

But we don't all have the same size library. So how does the library get built? What makes some people install stacks like the Library of Congress, while others use the free plastic piece of shit they got from the Doctor Suess book club?

Well, that's handled by a very complex process referred to as neuroplasticity, which I will vastly and inappropriately oversimplify here.

See, I want to be very clear about this: I'm going to talk a lot about brain science and how your brain works, but I'm not a brain surgeon or a neuroscientist or even a psychologist, and chances are you're not either... so if I start talking about the role of small-scale axon terminal arbor pruning and its role in synaptic development, two things are going to happen.

First, if you are one of those people (or something very like them) I am going to get it wrong and you'll send me nasty emails about how irresponsible I am. And that would suck.

Second, if you are not one of those people (or, again, something very like them), you are going to glaze over and go "what the fuck am I doing here?" and then you won't read any more. That would suck, too. Mostly for you, because you came here to learn how to become badass and if you go away you probably won't.

So instead, I'm going to continue using a collection of reasonably simple metaphors and analogies which should be more entertaining, while not being absolutely 100% accurate in terms of modern brain science. Even though on some level my inner geek is going "NOOOOOO you have to be as accurate as possible, think of the children" as though a mathematical examination of the calcium-dependent dynamics would actually mean something to most people.

Not to mention my general incompetence at providing any such thing in the first place.

So the basic metaphor is this: the library in your brain runs on a twelve to fourteen year budget.

Every twelve to fourteen years, your brain does a little spring cleaning. And the first thing it does is look at all the shit you've put on the shelves in the past budget period, and say "that's how much space we probably need for the next budget period."

Then it goes through the bookshelves you've got, throwing a bunch of shit on the floor because you don't fucking need it. (This is called axon retraction.) It looks at the stuff on the floor and puts the actual important stuff... stuff you probably shouldn't have taken off the shelf to begin with... back on the shelf. (This is called axon recycling.) And now, it takes all the books on the floor that you never fucking touched and shoves them all under the bed. (That's axon degeneration.) Finally, the rats in the walls eat some of the books you've shoved under your bed. (And that's axon shedding.)

You can use the fancy words in italics to look up the real shit if you want details. They're complicated.

Now it looks at how much space you've got left, and if it's less than you used in the last budget period, your brain puts up a new bookshelf. Literally, it explodes in a growth of grey and white matter to improve your brain activity.

So if you bought eight shelves worth of books, and you threw three shelves of them on the floor, then put one shelf of books back, you'd have six shelves of books left and you need eight shelves available. So your brain goes "six more shelves coming up!" and builds a new bookcase.

But if you only learn four shelves of shit in the next period, guess what? You've already got four shelves available. You don't need any more. So your brain says "fuck it, good enough" and doesn't make a new one. In fact, it won't even worry too much about throwing shit off the shelves or moving shit off the floor, it will just shove everything on the floor under the bed and congratulate itself on having such a neat and tidy space.

Now, tomorrow, we'll wind up the week by taking a look at what all this means to you, and how you can "hack" your scumbag brain to make yourself smarter - right now - and dramatically improve your potential the next time you hit one of these pruning events.