You are holding a burning desire in your hands. A desire to equip more people at handling the society of knowledge far more maturely than is happening today.
A growing part of us contributes knowledge into the labour market. All boards, executive boards and management teams contribute knowledge. However, we still behave as though we are living in the industrial society.
We have set our working hours on industrial time and use our brains as if they were machines. There is an absurd expectation that the brain can produce a gentle stream of knowledge in a uniform quality at all hours of the day.
It is, however, physically impossible for our brains to live up to this expectation and the book's goal is for you, as a reader, to get to know your whimsical brain better – and to give you better tools for creating knowledge time.
It is about brain welfare. Just as we have welfare of the elderly, animal welfare and many other important areas within the welfare state, it is my wish to encourage everybody to learn to take better care of their brain in the society of knowledge.
I am far from the only one calling for the need for us to learn how to take care of our brains. A new wave in society has emerged and my contribution to this wave are The Brain Fables.
Leaders play an extremely important role in the society of knowledge, and in my opinion, leaders have a duty to establish proper frameworks for brain welfare and knowledge time.
However, so do all knowledge workers. We are all responsible for creating a mental framework when “producing” knowledge.
Even if mental frameworks are being developed, it is ultimately the individual's personal acceptance of taking responsibility for his or her own mental state that creates the result.
We are all leaders in our own lives. The first step is to relinquish the victim mentality and take responsibility. If you are dissatisfied, then do something. And begin with your thoughts.
Why? Because you are responsible for your brain.
Your brain is malleable, and your thoughts create the shape of your brain. A tiny new step every day turns into new neuronal pathways which your thoughts will follow.
You cannot change your past, but should you want to you can choose to create your future. It is not a question of whether you can. It is simply about whether you would want to.
Fables have a specific quality. They tell stories which your brain is able to remember due to the images materializing inside you and because your senses, emotions, and feelings are awakened as you read. We remember much better if new knowledge is linked to an image – and best of all, if the image is related to emotions.
Let the images grow inside your brain and let yourself be touched by the story. It strengthens your memory while reading and it affects your beliefs about the world and about how much you yourself are capable of. The result is that you strengthen your abilities to tackle your sly brain – even in pressured situations.
Many people have asked me to create illustrations of the characters in the book, but the story below describes exactly why I have chosen not to draw any of the fable characters:
In the autumn of 2019, I read aloud the first chapter of The Brain Fable to my 14-year-old daughter. Her immediate response was: “Would you like to hear what my Hippocampus and Amygdala look like?” She then gave me the finest descriptions of these two parts of the brain which she had never heard of before. When, a few months later during a biology lesson, her teacher asked if anyone in the classroom knew about our fear centre in the brain, she thought of the Amygdala.
The Amygdala had become her own little character with its own personality inside her brain and with which she has a connection today. Within a short period of time, she learned to collaborate better with the Amygdala than many adults I know – and it even happened WITHOUT us talking further about the Amygdala here at home.
This experience discouraged me from drawing the characters in the book. I learned that without my illustrations, you will have the ability to create your own personal characters inside your brain.
Nonetheless, the Neuronal Forest has been illustrated to give you an overview of the fable.
You can download and print the map on www.brainfable.com.
Fables can be read in several ways, and this applies to this book as well, of course. I will mention two different reading methods within the next couple of pages which can help inspire you even further.
Reading method 1:
Read the book as a thought-provoking fable where you meet the inside of your brain, and you encounter Hippocampus and Amygdala, drink cogni tea at the Frontal Lobes’ and start relaxing with melatonin honey from the Pineal Gland. Be carried away by the story without being aware of your learning. Your knowledge of the brain is automatically stored as you read. The more you empathise with the story the more you will remember about the brain. Knowledge connected to emotions will adhere to your memory.
Create your own characters and should you prefer the Amygdala to be female, you are very welcome to stick to that. Although the Amygdala is male in The Brain Fable, you can freely decide whatever suits you the best. You are in charge. For example, one of my readers has a female Amygdala and she calls her Amy instead of Mygge.
If you wish to read the book in this way, you can jump directly to “Part one: Hippocampus gives a tour of the brain”.
Reading method 2:
Use the book for specific and conscious learning about your brain. Should you wish to learn more along the way, I recommend you begin with the section “Basic Knowledge of the Brain” where I briefly describe the various functions of the brain.
If you wish to learn more about the brain, you will find more thorough descriptions on www.brainfable.com where you will find inspiration for concrete learning through the book as well. Several readers have told me about their learning, and this has been a real revelation to me: The benefits of the book are almost as different as the number of readers who have written to me. Some have become more aware of their time, several have begun using a new language for employee meetings, for example. One discovered that he was about to go down with stress again and remembered using his tools to get on top of it, one discovered that he is able to follow his dreams without having to leave his job, some have begun going for walks without their mobile phones and one has been reminded of his childhood brain giving him a much better understanding of his children. These are a few examples of the feedback I have received from my readers.
Therefore, I am not able to tell you exactly what you will to get out of this book. I simply provide a platform of knowledge. What concrete learning you take with you all depends on your personality, your brain, and your situation. Please remember that everything must be seen in context, and should you read the book again in two years, I am certain it will bring you a new experience.
I am a big fan of Spencer Johnson’s book, Who Moved My Cheese? and it is no secret that his book has been a source of inspiration during my writing process for The Brain Fable. His use of the word “cheese” helps us all talk about our relation to change, about loss, and about tackling changes which we cannot avoid encountering in life. He knows how to make the intangible tangible and he demystifies key elements of change which we all seem to be able to recognise in ourselves, without being particularly proud of them.
In The Brain Fable, I have invented a series of words which have nothing to do with neuroscience just as “cheese” has nothing to do with change. In return, they can provide us with a new language about the brain making our behaviour more tangible to talk about. “The Wall-of-Thoughts” can be used to describe “thought clutter” or the experience of forgetting what we were about to say in the middle of a sentence. “Cogni tea” (“cogni” is pronounced as in cognition and “tea” as in a cup of tea) reminds us of our ability to be aware of our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours.
With “cogni tea”, the abstract concept of cognition becomes an image and a feeling inside your brain. The more you try imagining a steaming hot cup of cogni tea with a spicy aroma and taste served in a beautifully coloured mug, the easier it is for you to pull your image of conscious cognition forward in situations where you need to think strategically, prioritise emphatically, or make a risky decision. On command!
Here, the warm fable language is reprogrammed to a cool focus inside your brain. If you are thinking: “I do not like tea” just change it into “cogni coffee” or “cogni cocoa” – anything you prefer. Be creative. Take responsibility for your learning. Use the language of the book or make your own. It is about creating images and emotions which will make you fast, calm, and focused.
I hope you will enjoy the book and that you will read it with a sincere curiosity to become more familiar with your unpredictable brain.
Now, take off your inner tie or kick your mental stilettos into the corner. Sit back and enter the engine room of your brain where most things run much faster than you are able to control.
The cerebrum is the biggest part of the brain. It lies right beneath the skull, and it is split into a right and a left hemisphere. Research is now moving away from the idea that the left hemisphere is the more logical part and that the right hemisphere is the more creative part. There is a lot of “crisscrossing” between the hemispheres which activate them. The outer part of the cerebrum is called the cerebral cortex, inside the centre lies the limbic system and at the bottom lies the reptilian brain.
The curly outer part of the cerebrum is the cerebral cortex, and it is this part in particular that separates humans from animals. Cognitive thoughts: the cerebral cortex is responsible for our ability to speak and to understand languages. The cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes: frontal lobes, parietal lobes, temporal lobes, and the occipital lobes.
Frontal lobes are the CEOs or the conductors of the brain as they can make plans and think abstractly and strategically at a high level. This is where you will find the working memory. The working memory can handle complex thoughts, but it is only able to keep track of a few areas at a time and it can very easily get confused. If you have difficulties collecting your thoughts after a longer period of high concentration it might be due to an overloaded working memory. It would really cheer it up by giving it a little break. Give the brain a bit of idle time for just a couple of minutes before continuing.
Here different sensory emotions are received which are linked to previous experiences. In “The Brain Fable”, we will only touch upon the function of the frontal lobes.
The limbic system is situated in the middle of the brain. It is a set of brain structures which supports our emotions and feelings. Emotions are the body’s psychophysiological response to our experiences, and they appear after only a few milliseconds. Feelings, on the other hand, appear as the cognitive processing of emotions and are a bit slower. It is extremely hard to change our emotions, but we can practice controlling our feelings in order to move from any destructive feelings to more constructive feelings. The ability to control our feelings makes it easier for us to achieve a more appropriate behaviour – even in stressful situations – as difficult as it may be.
Various hormones are being produced in the limbic system and the limbic system sends out signals to other parts of the body for them to produce hormones there also. Our ability to remember and to comprehend time is mainly being directed from there. Other parts of the brain contribute to any time comprehension and memory as well.
Hippocampus is situated in the outer part of the limbic system and links up to the temporal lobes.
Amygdala, the pituitary gland, and the pineal gland, which you will meet in the book, are situated further inside the limbic system.
While you read “The Brain Fable” your limbic system will affect and awaken your senses and feelings inspired by the creative writing. There is a shorter route to the long-term memory from the feelings in the limbic system compared to abstract learning in the frontal lobes. There is therefore a good chance that your knowledge about the brain will be stored as images and feelings automatically. NB. This is a very simplified way of describing our memory, but I am keeping it simple in the book. If you wish to learn more about how your memory works, you can find a lot of compelling and factual books – and we are constantly acquiring new knowledge on this subject.
The reptilian brain is the oldest part of the brain – taking the evolutionary perspective into consideration. The term “reptilian brain” is used in connection with psychology, and you are not able to find it in a specific place in the brain, but it encompasses both the cerebellum and the brain stem. When talking about the reptilian brain we mean the functions that administer several biological processes that keep us alive. A couple of examples are the ability to breathe and our blood pressure. The reptilian brain also helps us survive danger. This may be through fighting, fleeing, or playing dead if we feel threatened.
The cerebellum is located at the back of the head below the cerebrum and although it is much smaller than the cerebrum it contains almost as many neurons. The cerebellum works as a command post for our movements. When the cerebrum signals that we want to kick a ball, the signals go directly to the cerebellum which then coordinates movement and balance of the body and through the brain stem. From the brainstem on top of the neck long neuronal pathways run down into the central nervous system along the spine. The neuronal pathways in the central nervous system affect our motor skills and thereby the movements of the body.
Neurons, also called nerve cells, store, transmit and receive knowledge in the brain and central nervous system. They consist of a cell nucleus which through an axon (transmitter) sends signals on to other neurons through dendrites (receivers). The neurons only have one single axon but several dendrites. They communicate with each other in several ways including using neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Until recently, many brain researchers believed that we do not develop new nerve cells after adolescence, however, with the help of new research methods, several brain researchers have found that we continue to develop new nerve cells throughout life. There is disagreement about how many nerve cells we have in the brain, but currently there are many researchers who believe that we have about 86 billion nerve cells.
Brain plasticity means that the brain can be malleable. The neurons create new connections between each other every second and we grow new nerve cells daily. What you experience and think about shapes the connections between the nerve cells. The more you use the same connections in the brain – through your behaviour and through your thoughts – the stronger the connections become. When these connections become so strong that you are no longer thinking about them you have developed a new habit. As you read this book your brain will change in relation to your knowledge of the brain. When you read repeatedly about the hippocampus and amygdala your neuronal traces – and with your new knowledge of these two brain functions – will become stronger and you will find it easier finding any knowledge about them thereafter.
The hippocampus is located between the limbic system and the temporal lobes and plays a central role in our memory – especially the long-term memory. The hippocampus shapes the short-term memories into long-term memories and along with other functions in the brain, these memories are stored anywhere in the brain. They are not hidden in the hippocampus as it only stores our memories. The hippocampus stores these memories as episodes and roughly in a historical order. This ability enables us to understand time in a chronological perspective.
Amygdala also belongs to the limbic system, and it controls our emergency centre, and this emergency centre never sleeps. Should you be alone with your thoughts whilst driving a car amygdala keeps an eye on your surroundings. This means that you have time to dodge a car pulling out in front of you without even having to think about it. Fear and anger are controlled by the amygdala in case you need to escape, fight, or play dead when danger lurks. The amygdala has the power of veto in the brain and as soon as you sound an alarm many different parts in the brain are incapacitated. This helps you to survive and to avoid many habitual injuries. If your hand touches a hot frying pan and you would have to think about removing your hand it would simply take too long. The amygdala makes sure that your reflex in removing your hand is as fast as lightning.
The pituitary gland lies in the anterior part of the limbic system and is the size of a small pea. It contributes to a large part of human development and behaviour through hormones. This may be the metabolism, growth, reproduction, and a wide range of functions in everyday life. The pituitary gland itself produces several different kinds of hormones, though not cortisol. This is produced in the adrenal glands and the pituitary gland uses a “start-up hormone” to affect the hormone production of the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are two glands located right on top of the kidneys. They produce several types of hormones that control our heart rate, blood pressure, sexual maturation, and other important functions. It is cortisol and adrenaline that are being produced in these adrenal glands.
Cortisol is a hormone helping you with extra energy when under pressure. It can be triggered by physical, biochemical, and psychological pressure. (“The Brain Fable” focuses on the psychological pressure). It is a hormone full of power which, among other things, strengthens your concentration and focus abilities when you need to find solutions in complex and or time-pressured situations. The hormone releases extra energy when the body needs it by breaking down energy stores (fat and muscle mass) and converting it into blood sugar which gives you energy. The hormone has several positive effects on the body. In addition to helping with concentration under pressure, for example, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect. Often cortisol is referred to as the stress hormone. The hormone has been named this way because it helps us with extra shots of energy in stressful situations – and because it has harmful effects on us such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating and heart palpitations if we push ourselves for a long period of time and thereby receive too much cortisol in the body. The harmful effect triggers stress so be aware of hectic or tense periods for extended periods of time. Pressure is not dangerous as such. On the contrary, it gives us energy and triggers positive reactions when we have reached a certain goal. However, give your brain peace to recover from pressure. Sleep and a calm mind, despite “the storm” around you, can help you keep your cortisol levels at a reasonable level – and you will be able to “keep it going” for longer as well. In “The Brain Fable”, cortisol is considered the concentration or focus hormone instead of the stress hormone. The cortisol levels in the body change automatically with your natural circadian rhythm. Do read the sections on cortisol in Chapter 3 extra carefully in order to acknowledge what you need to be aware of in relation to cortisol and how you can best use this wonder drug when under pressure.
The neurons absorb cortisol when they need to make an extra effort. However, they do not benefit from getting too much cortisol and they are therefore equipped with clever receptors that limit the amount of cortisol into our cells. Under normal circumstances, cortisol levels in the brain fall in the evenings and the receptors can relax and gather strength for the next day. This means that we are especially vulnerable to cortisol at this time and that we can get too much cortisol in the body if, for example, we push ourselves every night for several days in a row. If this continues for a long time, it will adversely affect our memory.
Adrenaline is also a hormone that helps us under pressure. It helps us supply our muscles with energy and raises the heart rate and the blood pressure. Because it is affecting the heart and lungs it therefore increases our pace both mentally and physically. Adrenaline releases sugar and oxygen to the muscles and prepares us for battling emergencies or sports performances. Adrenaline works together with cortisol in order to increase the blood sugar in stressful situations. If we get scared or frightened, adrenaline prepares us to handle the situation. This was tremendously convenient on the savannah when it made our ancestors run away from the lions.
Melatonin is one of our circadian rhythm hormones. It helps us fall asleep and is secreted from the pineal gland at about the same time every night. Melatonin makes us sleepy and need to go to sleep. Sleep is incredibly important for our brains. Sleep clears the brain from a hard day's thinking, and it enables us to begin a new day feeling fresh. (It is therefore a good idea to get a good night’s sleep instead of working late). In the morning, melatonin is replaced by another substance in the brain that wakes us up and which keeps us awake. However, because we still have melatonin in our body, we often just want to stay in bed. This urge disappears as we rise, become active and are surrounded by daylight.
Help the nerve cells to communicate with each other using electrical and chemical signals. The impulses provide electrical charges that send small “message molecules” (neurotransmitters) from one nerve cell to another.
The pineal gland resembles a small pinecone which produces the sleep hormone melatonin. The pineal gland is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which helps sending the hormone into the body and stops the supply of melatonin at about the same time every day.
Can be described from several brain functions. One function is the ability of the hippocampus to store all the episodes we experience in a chronological order meaning that we have control over the historical timeline. Another function deals with our perception of the present and whether time feels fast or slow. Norwegian researchers have discovered some nerve cells that arrange themselves in order or disorder, depending on whether we carry out monotonous tasks or tasks full of variation. When we experience something boring, the cells settle down, which then slows down the speed between the cells. This is what happens when we perceive time as moving at a snail’s pace. When we experience something exciting, the cells lie in straight rows and the tempo between them increases. This is the reason why we feel that time is flying by.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a nucleus (a bundle of neurons) in the brain which gives us a natural sense of the time of the day. Although SCN is located deep inside the brain and far from the eyes, it can sense whether it is light or dark outside. It can do this because it is located on top of the meeting place for the optic nerves that have access to the eyes. The master clock is a part inside the SCN which controls our sleep-wake cycle has a natural circadian rhythm of 25 hours. This means that if you stay inside a dark cave for a few days and without a clock, your own circadian rhythm will shift to a 25-hour circadian rhythm.
Hippocampus woke up abruptly. The brain was incredibly quiet – worryingly quiet. He listened carefully and could not quite believe it. Lately, Amygdala would have been running around like a madman by now because something would have scared him and triggered some kind of anxiety or rage. Today, however, was so quiet that Hippocampus was able to hear the deep and monotonous sound of the Neuronal Forest.
He looked cautiously and inquisitively out of the window and over at Amygdala’s house. It was all dark and the curtains were drawn. Imagine if this were the day that Hippocampus would be able do his job properly again? For several months this was exactly what he had been longing for. So far, he had only been allowed small pockets of shallow concentration and he had to admit to himself that he was not too pleased with the result. He had, of course, been able to store a bit of knowledge here and there, but he had been longing for a huge breakthrough in bigger thoughts.
Hippocampus tiptoed over to Amygdala’s house and listened at the door. Indeed, all was quiet. It reminded him of the good old days when the brain was able to immerse itself without having Amygdala running around making a scene about something totally irrelevant. As soon as Amygdala was in this particular mood there was nothing Hippocampus could do – apart from quickly hide inside his house until the commotion had come to an end. This was only possible, however, if he had been able to sense an imminent threat in time. If a threat appeared out of the blue Hippocampus would have to find another hiding place inside the forest instead.
Hippocampus, or Hippo amongst friends, lived in the Neuronal Forest where he looked upon himself as being a bit of a forester. (This was probably the best term he had been able to find for himself).
The Neuronal Forest was based in the brain of the owner and Hippo was not at all sure if the owner knew anything about what occurred beneath his skull and the rest of his body. Not that it actually mattered that much, according to Hippo. As long as the inhabitants of the brain had a good working relationship with the owner, all was well.
A lot had changed lately, however, and Hippo had to admit that he had a growing concern for what was going on. Not that he had to think about it right now, though.
Well, he was going to take advantage of this peaceful morning and just walk around inside his beloved forest.
Hippo knew how important his work in the brain was, but he never blew his own trumpet.
He was but a humble little lad who worked the most effectively when there was complete peace and quiet in the brain. He sometimes dreamed of having the same strength as Amygdala by being able to cut through everything and just do whatever he thought best for the owner. Unfortunately, he did not possess these abilities and he knew that it was probably for the best anyway.
The Neuronal Forest lay scattered around most of the brain. It consisted of beautiful neuronal trees with small, thick neuronal trunks and long neuronal branches growing in and out of each other. Every time Hippo saved a piece of memory, the Neuronal Forest would change a little. He loved walking amongst his trees and spotting all the memories he had saved all over the place. When the owner of the brain wished to hold on to a thought, Hippo would save it in a place where he would be able to find it as soon as the owner needed it.
Hippo lived in the Limbic Wilderness deep inside the centre of the brain together with Amygdala and other good friends. The forest was extra dense there, and one really needed to know one’s way around to avoid getting lost in the thicket.
The long neuronal branches extended from the neuronal tree trunks into the Limbic Wilderness and many of them also reached as far as into the rest of the brain. Some of those branches even connected with the neuronal trees all the way into the Cerebral Cortex.
The Cerebral Cortex was the bumpy outer part of the brain where Hippo enjoyed long walks as well. It was placed right beneath the skull and Hippo was very aware that it was an incredibly special and important part of the brain which separated the human brain from that of an animal.
As soon as Hippo found a hill in the Cerebral Cortex where he could enjoy the landscape of mounds and slopes, he felt most vital. He knew that all these hills and passes meant that there were even more trees and coiled branches around – although not as dense as in the Limbic Wilderness.
Yes, he was indeed immensely proud of the many trees in the forest.
Had the Cerebral Cortex been completely flat, he would not have been able to store as many memories – and he would not have had his lovely view either. Naturally, some of the slopes were quite steep for just strolling up and down and small caves had appeared in other places where he was able to hide.
Back in the day, when the owner of the brain was a child and playing hide and seek with his friends, Hippo had also had a lot of fun playing hide and seek in these caves. Life was so much simpler back then and the forest was full of those memories.
Sadly, the owner now needed these recollections less often and Hippo began to wonder if he would ever be able to locate them again should the owner suddenly require any of his childhood memories.
The memories that were not being used became more and more convoluted inside the coiled branches and the pathways leading up to these memories would start to overgrow. Nevertheless, if Hippo really set his mind to it, he would be able to find a way to retrieve those old memories.
Not long ago the owner had bought himself a lovely fluffy dog. Hippo worked extremely hard in trying to find any old memory from the time when the owner was a child. The owner wished to be reminded of all the pranks that he and his old dog had engaged in together all those years ago. Hippo had really enjoyed this task because everything had been so peaceful in the brain while the owner had been daydreaming about all the carefree memories of his old beloved pet. For a tiny while Hippo had even appreciated the memory of the smell of wet dog which had suddenly overpowered the brain.
Hippo was very appreciative when the brain was calm. This meant that everything was working as it should and together with all the other inhabitants inside the brain, he was able to perform all the tasks he had been born to carry out. It was in these more harmonious times that everybody had a better working relationship with the owner.
Beneath the Limbic Wilderness was the Reptilian Shrubbery where many of the neuronal branches were much longer – up to a whole metre long. They could reach inside the brain stem which was placed right above the neck of the owner. From there the longer branches reached down the spine and into the body.
The memories being stored inside the Reptilian Shrubbery were quite different.
Here, most of the memories had been inherited – through millions of years – from the brains of the human ancestors.
These branches helped the owner of the brain with all kinds of practicalities such as breathing by filling his lungs with air or to digest foods in his bowels. It was also these neuronal branches that made the owner run away from dangerous situations without having to think about it – or to prevent a potential accident. Hippo knew that the ones responsible in the Reptilian Shrubbery were working well together with Amygdala against any emerging risks or dangers.
Everything just seemed to be running on autopilot for the owner of the brain.
The reflexes and impulses hurtled through the forest without the owner even having to think about it – and Hippo was very conscious of the fact that he had to be very aware of all the activities going on down there. It made Hippo smile thinking about how Amygdala would always boast about his highspeed tempo. If the owner needed to react quickly, Amygdala would always point out that he would be faster than Hippo would be able to find a memory. Nevertheless, Hippo was extremely impressed by Amygdala’s superfast abilities. If the owner put his hand on a hot pan, Amygdala would jump up, and before Hippo or the Frontal Lobes were able to react, the owner had already pulled his hand away.
Hippo appreciated that his old friend was proud of this reaction time. He had to admit, however, that he was getting a bit anxious about Amygdala, or Mygge as Hippo called him, who was becoming quite ill-tempered lately. A lot more than usual. He pushed that thought aside and suddenly felt like paying the Frontal Lobes a visit.
The Frontal Lobes lived in the anterior part of the brain just behind the owner's forehead. Their residence was like an impressive entrance hall, almost like a foyer, where the thoughts of the brain glided in and out.
Here, new, and old memories, new and old whims, unusual ideas, thoughtful assumptions, sensory reflections, and daydreaming were lit up as live images on a giant dome-shaped wall which over the years had been named “the Wall-of-Thoughts.”
Hippocampus enjoyed visiting the Frontal Lobes even though there were not as many neuronal trees as inside the Limbic Wilderness.
There was, however, room for the big and pompous Carrousel-of-Thoughts. The impressive Carrousel-of-Thoughts stood in the middle of the entrance hall where one could sit in a soft chair watching the many thoughts and impressions flowing through the brain. They were thoughts coming from the outside, typically through the senses, and those coming from within came through the memories inside the Neuronal Forest.
Every time the Carrousel-of-Thoughts had rotated once, the pictures on the Wall-of-Thoughts were replaced by new thoughts and the previous thoughts would be forgotten.
Hippo loved sitting in the Frontal Lobes’ Carrousel-of-Thoughts helping to store all the thoughts that the owner of the brain would like to retain somewhere inside the Neuronal Forest. He would then be able to find them again as soon as he needed them. If there was one thing Hippo was proud of, it was his ability to organise all the many impulses and observations that constantly poured onto the Wall-of-Thoughts. The owner was only able to notice a fraction of these impressions on the Wall-of-Thoughts, as most just flowed unnoticed through the brain. Hippo had once read over the shoulder of the owner of the brain while he skimmed through an article about human brains and conscious thoughts whilst presiding in the yellow waiting room at the dentist.
The owner had been more preoccupied with the particular “dentist smell,” almost like chemical cloves, than with the article itself. Even though his eyes had been looking at the words in the article, the owner had not read the article properly. Hippo had, however. The article stated that American brain researchers had concluded that ordinary people were only conscious of 5% of their thoughts. The remaining 95% just flowed through the brain without being noticed[i].
Hippo was a bit unsure if the article in the magazine was correct, but he was quite content with the 5%. However, it annoyed him immensely that the owner didn’t pay more attention to what was going on inside himself.
While skimming through the article the owner did not even spot what had been written about the 5%. He was still only thinking about the distinct “dentist smell” but Hippo had saved this information just in case the owner would be needing it one day. The fact that the owner of the brain did not notice his own thoughts was one thing, but that he did not even discover his emotions, which some of the thoughts created, astonished Hippo.
If the inhabitants of the brain felt that he needed to be careful they kick-started all kinds of emotions for the owner to discover. Nevertheless, the owner ignored them and continued with whatever he was doing.
Most of the day, the Carrousel-of-Thoughts just rotated without the owner of the brain thinking about what he wanted to save or retrieve. This meant that Hippo did not need to stay in the carrousel all the time and fortunately could look after his forest instead. It was the job of the Frontal Lobes to keep track of the Wall-of-Thoughts and the carrousel would rotate by itself if the owner did not set the pace.
Even though the Wall-of-Thoughts was enormous it only had an extremely limited capacity. On top of that, the Frontal Lobes got easily confused. They lost track if too much arrived at the same time which the owner wanted to keep. Especially if Hippo could not keep up and got behind archiving thoughts inside the forest. It was important for the owner's memory that Hippo stayed in top shape all the time.
The owner of the brain called the Wall-of-Thoughts his short-term memory and the memories in the Neuronal Forest his long-term memory. Hippo was actually quite pleased with these descriptions of the brain’s memory abilities.
The Wall-of-Thoughts showed all the thoughts appearing in the brain and they could be maintained for a short period of time. When the carrousel had rotated once, the thoughts on the wall had disappeared in order to make room for new thoughts and impressions. In the Neuronal Forest, however, the memories were stored for years and could easily be retrieved even if they had not been used for a long time.
Hippo, though, was far from happy with his own description as Hippocampus means seahorse in Latin. Many years ago, apparently several brain researchers had been of the conviction that he looked like a seahorse and then decided on the name. Hippo was actually rather offended by this. Not that there was anything wrong with seahorses – they were incredibly beautiful animals, he thought.
Nonetheless, he did not think that he resembled one and he could not understand that the owner of the brain had agreed on calling him a seahorse. Still, Hippo was basically a very contented little resident inside the brain.
Occasionally, Hippo jumped off the carrousel-of-Thoughts and collected impressions from The Wall-of-Thoughts which he thought the owner of the brain could need at a later date – exactly as he had done with the 5% of the conscious thoughts at the dentist.
He stored them all around the forest in an ingenious system so that he could help the owner with creative inventions and ideas which the owner was not even aware he had access to.
This system was called the subconscious and although it was not located in a specific place in the Neuronal Forest – but hidden all around – Hippo thought it was an excellent term for his system of “secret thoughts.” One day researchers would probably discover how it all correlated but so far Hippo was satisfied with the interpretation.
The subconscious also contained a lot of other things which influenced the owner's personality and behaviours. These would include attitudes, identity images and preferences.
For Hippo, it was easiest to use these secret thoughts and attitudes when the owner of the brain was not aware of what he was thinking. When the owner controlled The Wall-of-Thoughts himself, many other ideas were pushed aside, and the owner mostly only discovered Hippo's secret thoughts when he just let the thoughts flow.
The best times to post ideas onto the Wall-of-Thoughts were when the owner was relaxing and not doing anything in particular. This would be if he zoned out occasionally or was having a shower. The nights were also good for posting thoughts and previously Hippo had had an effective and successful collaboration with the owner. Late at night Hippo would post ideas onto the Wall-of-Thoughts and the owner of the brain would discover them the next morning just before getting out of bed.
Back in the day, the owner would sometimes wake up filled with euphoria because he had had a brilliant idea. He would then quickly find pen and paper and write it all down.
Lately, however, the owner had begun looking at his mobile phone as soon as his alarm clock had sounded. He did not notice all the good ideas that Hippo had prepared for him during the night. In fact, Hippo had completely stopped lighting up ideas on the Wall-of-Thoughts in the late hours of the night because it had turned out to be of no avail whatsoever.
Hippo got extremely disappointed when it dawned on him that the owner of the brain was no longer interested in the early morning ideas.
No, he certainly was not happy with this development at all, and it seemed that the owner was becoming more and more absent-minded.
When the owner finally became aware of the thoughts on the Wall-of-Thoughts, Hippo quickly had to find his seat on the carrousel. That way he could obtain memories for the thought process and store the new thought constructions in his cunning memory system.
Hippo was instantly made aware if the owner started thinking for himself. With lightning speed, Hippo was back on the Carrousel-of-Thoughts ready for an efficient recollection service.
The owner was able to slow down the Carrousel-of-Thoughts and freeze an image if he discovered something exciting on the Wall-of-Thoughts. Hippo would then help him archive this memory somewhere in the forest.
Sometimes it could be really hard for the owner to stop the carrousel. This usually happened if he was thinking too many thoughts simultaneously. Especially thoughts of concern could cause the carrousel to keep rotating without the owner being able to control it.
Some of Hippo's absolute favourite moments were when the owner managed to stop the carrousel and concentrate on something exciting.
It was also possible for the owner to get the carrousel to reverse if he realised that he needed a thought they had just missed. The carrousel could only reverse by one rotation. If the thought materialized further back than this one rotation – or if the owner could not reverse the carrousel far enough – then the thought had been lost and could not be recreated.
Luckily, Hippo had a little trick up his sleeve: he was able to stick the shadow of a thought onto the back of The Wall-of-Thoughts. If the same thought reappeared later, the owner would discover it because it matched the shadow, and he was then still able to save this thought.
The owner of the brain frequently had to concentrate quite hard. This had happened as a pupil at school and now working on very influential assignments. When concentration was needed, the owner slowed down the carrousel in order to gather thoughts on one topic. He would then light a large light board which was situated on the floor right in front of The Wall-of-Thoughts. The more intensely he focused, the bigger the Light Board became. At deep concentration, the Light Board was covering for a larger part of the Wall-of-Thoughts, and it helped the owner shut off from all other impressions. This meant that he was able to maintain his focus.
With a large light board, Hippo was hard at work, and he ran back and forth on the paths alongside the neuronal trees to find memories for the thoughts of the owner. Hippo loved it and although the owner gradually had more and more difficulty stopping the carrousel and keeping the Light Board switched on, Hippo was more than ready when he finally succeeded. He felt unbelievably valuable, and he could see how the forest flourished when it came to arranging, saving, and creating space for the results of the immersion work.
Hippo was very well aware how important all that exercise in the Neuronal Forest was to him. He needed his muscle mass to be able to – at lightning speed – take all the shortcuts along the fastest paths to the thought depots. It made the owner of the brain exceptionally fast with an extremely well-developed and razor-sharp memory.
Yes, they had a good collaboration indeed, Hippo thought, blushing with pride.
The owner called the Light Board “the working memory”. When he had to work on something specific, he drew thoughts from both his short-term memory and his long-term memory putting them onto the Light Board. He was then able to work on them in deep concentration – typically in close collaboration with the Frontal Lobes.
When the owner of the brain went into a deep state of concentration, Hippo often had to find pathways in the Neuronal Forest that he had not visited for a long time. Sometimes there were pathways that he was only able to access if the owner wanted to cross them himself. The owner was able to enlighten routes through the forest where Hippo could find special memories that he could post onto the Light Board.
Without the owner, Hippo would not have access to these areas, and he was actually fine with that. Ultimately it was the owner's brain and thus the owner himself who had the overall responsibility for the brain's content and for its functions.
“Good morning, Mr Hippocampus,” said the Frontal Lobes as soon as they saw him.
Hippo was incredibly pleased with their polite manner.
“Would you care for a strong cup of cogni tea?” they asked. They had just got out of bed because the frontal lobes do sleep at night.
“Yes please. Many thanks,” Hippo nodded and sat down in one of the comfortable chairs in the carrousel in order to watch the thoughts drifting past the Wall-of-Thoughts.
Hippo enjoyed the mornings before the owner woke up completely and before the cogni tea had been drunk. Thoughts and senses just flowed silently without anyone relating to them.
It was certainly not boring – just peaceful. Sometimes a little remnant of a dream popped up and if the owner noticed the small dream fragment, he could become curious and slow down the carrousel trying to catch the rest of the dream. This would now happen a lot less frequently, though.
The Frontal Lobes were very adept in constructing large and advanced thoughts. These thoughts particularly began to unfold when the owner was studying. Back then, the owner had to learn how to handle nuanced theories and then sharp-wittingly connect them with everyday life and other demanding methods and analysis models. The Frontal Lobes adored abstract knowledge and they were experts in instructing all the inhabitants of the brain to support this complicated practice professionally.
As the Frontal Lobes were now needed more often, they learned how to brew an ever-stronger cogni tea.
Everyone who drank the cogni tea made them think cognitively.
Hippo knew that when people think cognitively, they think about what they think, what they do, and how they feel. They may also find themselves thinking about why they think, act, and feel the way they do. Some people sometimes become very scared of harmless things such as giving a speech or just uttering “no!”. The cogni tea will, however, be able to give them the courage needed. People are then capable of facing their fears and to find out if the situation is as dangerous as they think.
Hippo enjoyed drinking a strong cogni tea because he loved to help structuring the big thoughts and save the experience that had materialised. The owner of the brain and the Frontal Lobes had a good working relationship. The stronger the cogni tea the better the owner could concentrate controlling the Carrousel-of-Thoughts and zooming in on the Light Board.
When things would erupt, Hippo would run back and forth at high speed between the Wall-of-Thoughts and the memories in the Neuronal Forest trying to provide complete and half-finished reflections. The Frontal Lobes would painstakingly mix them with challenging theories, and they would compose ground-breaking strategies and nuanced plans together with the owner. Hippo knew that this kept him in shape. He tensed his thigh muscles and noticed, much to his annoyance, that they felt a bit weaker than normal.
During the owner's studies, Hippo enjoyed looking at the many new forest pathways and routes developing between the neuronal trees. Sadly, it was at the expense of some of the childhood pathways, which disappeared in entangled neuronal branches, but they had to accept it. “You cannot have it all.”
The Frontal Lobes were conscious of the thoughts being posted on the Wall-of-Thoughts and what happened to them. They were very thorough with their work and specialists in thinking abstractly and rationally. Education was also one of their subject areas and they guided, with their usual accuracy, the owner in his behaviour among people and to stay popular within the family, his group of friends and among his colleagues.
During the night, however, the Frontal Lobes would be asleep. This meant that there would be no cogni tea available and that the Wall-of-Thoughts had been given a free hand. Hippo would spend the nights tidying up after a day's many impressions. He arranged and organised the memories and feelings which the owner had received during the day. Hippo then put everything in order alongside the pathways of the forest thus making it easier to find the memories at a later stage.
Hippo knew that his night-time clearance work was a messy affair for the owner as he generally was not able to understand his own nightly thoughts – if he was able to remember any of them at all. The owner called some of these clearance thoughts “dreams.” A particularly important task during the night was to throw away all the thoughts that the owner would not be needing again.
The clearance work was also Hippo’s task, and he was well aware of the consequences if he had not been meticulous enough. A lot of loose thought remnants and snippets of images would be stuck on the wall making it difficult for the owner to think clearly in the morning.
The owner's sleep was paramount for Hippo to be able to perform his duties and clearances during the night. Even a little nap in the middle of the day could help if the Wall-of-Thoughts had been terribly busy.
Although the Frontal Lobes were extremely competent at organising and directing the cognitive and strategic thinking in the brain, they also had their limitations. One of them was in failing to be able to archive any gains of the thoughts which were flowing through the brain. They were not able to evaluate exactly what to discard or what to save. This was where their abilities came to an end – even though the cogni tea would be extraordinarily strong.
Hippocampus was the expert in the brain when it came to prioritising and saving memories and making sure that it made sense to the owner – and more importantly – that they could be found again. Hippo was also able to structure experiences and thoughts in chronological order giving the owner of the brain a sense of time.
Even though it was difficult placing the thoughts in a perfect chronological order, there was, however, some control over the big image of the order of experiences. Had it not been for Hippo, the owner would not be able to remember when something had happened, nor would he be able to remember anything that he had experienced just a few minutes beforehand either[ii].
Hippo collaborated with several residents in the brain in order to make the extensive time functions work optimally. It was a collaboration that meant a lot to the owner – without the owner having to think too much about it.
The perception of time and whether time felt fast-moving or slow-moving was organised through a large Thought-Projector which lit up all thoughts onto the Wall-of-Thoughts. Experiences, senses, and all other images entering the brain were captured and engulfed by a searchlight which lit up thought-images on the wall.
Just before the images would hit the Wall-of-Thoughts, they would pass through a tube containing small spheres giving the owner the sense of fast-moving and slow-moving time. The tempo spheres, as they were called, moved in step with the owner's experiences. They led the thought-images through the tube and the more cluttered the spheres were, the slower the time felt for the owner. When the spheres, in turn, were in a straight line the projector’s beam of light would penetrate them and thereby give the owner the feeling that time was flying by.
The small spheres tended to get cluttered when the owner dealt with something boring. This would explain why time felt like moving at a snail’s pace when he was queuing at the supermarket. If, however, the spheres were formed in a perfect line the owner would get the feeling that an evening with his best friends – telling lots of amusing stories – would simply fly by[iii].
The Light Board in front of the Wall-of-Thoughts was also lit up by the tempo spheres and when the owner was working on something really exciting, he forgot all about time and disappeared into an almost intoxicating state of “flow”. He would even forget all about his new expensive watch – his pride and joy.
Yes, Hippo really appreciated the cooperation with the other residents of the brain. Especially with regards to the owner's perception of time and memory. He felt like a significant and indispensable forester inside the Neuronal Forest. It was, nonetheless, quite demanding to keep track of both memory and time. He needed peace and quiet to tidy up every night and to deliver a sensible job to the owner.
Hippo was not able to service the thought processes of the Frontal Lobes and tidy up the day’s thoughts as well. This was exactly why the nights were so wonderful for the owner's memory: when the owner and the Frontal Lobes slept tightly, Hippo could organise his beloved forest.
Recently, however, much had changed in the brain. The Frontal Lobes had begun waking up in the middle of the night and they were creating strange thoughts that made no sense whatsoever. Instead, these nightly whims left the owner extremely worried. To begin with, Hippo tried to help both the Frontal Lobes and to tidy up the memories of the forest simultaneously. After a while, though, he had to give up. Often, frustrated and hurt, he would return to his house staying there until the brain had somewhat calmed down again.
Whilst Hippo sat in the Carrousel-of-Thoughts enjoying the spicy taste of his steaming hot morning cogni tea, the Frontal Lobes began waking up and focusing on the tasks ahead. This way they would be able to get the owner up and running. Hippo found some memories which he thought the owner would be happy to see after a good night's sleep. However, these good and sleepful nights had gradually become increasingly rare.
It was typically around this time that Amygdala began preparing for the day ahead. He preferred sleeping a bit longer than Hippo and although Hippo was very fond of his friend, he enjoyed the peaceful mornings before Mygge emerged with anxiety or anger over silly morning trivialities.
In recent weeks, chronic anxiety had become commonplace during the night. Hippo did not know why but Mygge had begun entertaining the whole brain with his insinuations about awful things and about what could go wrong.
Mygge was able to keep the poor Frontal Lobes awake all night and they were so polite that it would not occur to them asking him to calm down. Eventually, the Frontal Lobes would become so intimidated by all the stories themselves that they would wake up the owner. Chaos would now begin to ensue – in the middle of the night to boot!
After such nights, the brain began a new day full of chaotic thoughts and Hippo often felt sorry for the owner in the morning.
Even during the owner’s deep sleep – where Hippo's incredibly significant clear-up work would take place – were ruined by Mygge's mess. Hippo knew that over time it would be harmful for the brain and for the owner if it continued. To begin the day with a crowded Wall-of-Thoughts was in no way healthy for the owner.
During this night, however, it had been peaceful, and Hippo had even managed to take a nap in the last hours of the night before heading up to the Frontal Lobes. Just like in the good old days. Oh, how he enjoyed this morning!
Again, Hippo thought about how he had previously seen the owner get his best ideas in the mornings just a few minutes before getting out of bed. Hippo had always tried planting inspirational images from the night's work onto the Wall-of-Thoughts. He thought the owner could use them as an important piece to solve a difficult problem or perhaps to get a bright idea.
When Mygge was active, however, and the Frontal Lobes presented quirky and useless ideas during the night, Hippo's inspiration would not fit on the Wall-of-Thoughts. Hippo's ideas were often different from the ones the Frontal Lobes would come up with through their rationales and analysis. It was basically only if the brain was peaceful that the Frontal Lobes were open to new ways of thinking.
Hippo found it a bit limiting if all the new worldviews and solutions were created solely by the logical system of the Frontal Lobes. He believed that a new and completely different way of looking at a subject often gave even better ideas than the first result that had emerged. He sighed and pondered that, when pressed, the Frontal Lobes tended to see the world as black and white and would be overlooking all nuances.
However, Hippo was now sitting in the Carrousel-of-Thoughts with his cogni tea, waiting full of excitement for the owner to discover the well-meaning morning inputs that he had lit up on the Wall-of-Thoughts. The owner would have to discover these images before waking up. Otherwise, as soon as the owner had woken up completely, they would be replaced by new images and the carrousel would begin to rotate faster.
“What a peaceful morning,” Amygdala suddenly declared. “There must be something wrong!” Mygge had appeared without Hippo noticing.
“Good morning, my old friend” said Hippo and sighed quietly as Mygge jumped up on the Carrousel-of-Thoughts.
At that moment, Hippo's morning inspiration had disappeared from the Wall-of-Thoughts and the day’s unrest took off. The Frontal Lobes quickly jumped on the bandwagon-of-concern. They woke up the owner completely and Hippo reluctantly began to retrieve anxious memories.
Mygge was also given a cup of cogni tea, and he was sceptical as always. “This cogni tea is making me lethargic and slow,” he complained.
Hippo smiled to himself. Mygge was right in a way because if he could not react quickly, he could not help the owner pull his hand away from a hot stove or save him from other dangerous situations. Hippo thought to himself whilst smiling pensively that Mygge’s ancestors must have had many glory days when they had to save their owners from hungry saber-toothed tigers.
“But at least the cogni tea is not too strong at the moment,” Mygge commented dryly.
“Excuse us, Mr Amygdala?” asked the Frontal Lobes simultaneously and horrified. “Is the cogni tea not strong?”
They all tasted the tea thoroughly and had to agree with Mygge. It really did not taste as strong as usual.
“It has been like this for a while,” Mygge continued. “The cogni tea is getting weaker and weaker and I am actually rather enjoying it.” He laughed as he jumped off the carrousel and ran into the forest.
“Very strange!” Hippo thought.
[i] On many websites among psychologists, psychotherapists, coaches, and others who help people with self-development, you can read about an article from 2005 which describes that 95% of our thoughts run in circles and that we are only aware of 5% of the rest. The article should be supported by the National Science Foundation; however, I have not been able to find the source behind this article. When I contacted the National Science Foundation to access it, they were not able to refer to it either. The idea that we are only aware of a small part of our daily thoughts I am content with and that is one of the points with The Brain Fable as well. However, I cannot reconcile an article I cannot find, and I am therefore allowing myself to stay critical through Hippocampus’ remarks. If you, as a reader, have access to the source behind this research, I would love to hear from you.
[ii] The hippocampus is able to store experiences in chronological order giving us some control over time in an historical order. If we lose the hippocampus, we lose the ability to remember what happened just a few minutes ago. In 1953, a young man named Henry Molaison underwent surgery to have his hippocampus removed in order to put an end to his epileptic seizures. The result was that Henry Molaison lost his memory, which surprised the brain researchers of the time. Henry Molaison agreed to be at their disposal for further brain research. He participated as a subject in a large number of scientific experiments until his death in 2008 and thereby contributed to landmark knowledge for brain research. O’Connor, Joseph & Lages, Andrea. Coaching the Brain (2019)
[iii] Norwegian Nobel Prize-winning researchers discovered in 2018 that some cells (the book's tempo spheres) in this particular part of the brain are called the lateral entorhinal cortex (the book's Thought Projectors) and organise themselves depending on whether we are doing anything exciting or anything boring. If something is exciting, the cells lie down in equal order, and it feels as if “time flies by”. If something is boring, the cells are in disarray, and it feels as if “time is running at a snail’s pace”. Moser, Edward I, et al. Integrating time from experience in the lateral entorhinal cortex. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30158699/