Hope you have had a great summer!
… You may remember one of the disappointing moments in the recent Olympics.
A member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team slipped and fell off the balance beam.
And that cost them a gold medal.
People wondered how a star athlete could mess up like that.
And fail to do something she had done thousands of times?
The papers quoted a cognitive neuroscientist from University of Chicago.
Sian Beilock explained, “The balance beam is a ridiculously hard activity.
Billions of neurons are firing in the brain to produce this exquisitely coordinated movement.
And athletes need to let their bodies do what they’ve trained to do.
Without thinking about it!
And once they start thinking, it’s all over!”
… Her words started my neurons firing!
“Billions of neurons are firing in the brain to produce this exquisitely coordinated movement.”
And I started wondering.
How many neurons need to fire in our brain for us to do something simple?
Something less “exquisite” than standing on a balance bar.
Of course, I had no idea.
So I figured, why not ask the expert? And I e-mailed Sian Beilock.
“How many neurons are fired in the brian to enable us to do the simple act of walking?”
She was kind enough to respond very quickly.
“Good question, but I’m not sure I can give you a good answer. Maybe this will help.
First, the brain is always active, even when we are doing nothing. Neurons are firing all the time.
And just because something is “simple” as you say?
That does not mean that less neurons are being recruited to do the job.
Different brain areas may just be talking to each other in different ways.
In my work, I use MRI to look at brain activity.
The smallest brain area it measures is 3mm x 3mm x 5mm.
And to give you an idea of size?
There are approximately 100,000,000,000 neurons in the brain.
And each neuron is around one hundredth of a millimeter!
So we don’t usually talk in numbers of neurons per se, but rather parts of the brain.
… It’s something to think about. Especially if this confused you!
We watch Olympic athletes and we say “Wow!”
And we get up and walk?
We don’t even think about it. And we take it for granted.
“Been there. Done it!”
Which is why Jewish tradition tells us to make a bracha, a blessing, every day.
Thanking G-d for the miracle of walking! For directing all those neurons!
So do yourself a favor.
(Especially if you’re having “one of those days”!)
Next time you get up to walk? Make the blessing!
“Blessed are You our Lord, King of the universe, Who directs the steps of man”.
And if you already say it every morning?
Tomorrow, really say it!
… This simple blessing can remind us all.
Walking is not simple.
But, to borrow the words of the cognitive neuroscientist?
Walking is an exquisitely coordinated movement!
All the best,