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  • Jane Litsey

Demystifying the nervous system


With big words like autonomic, sympathetic and parasympathetic, it’s no wonder why most people shut down, run away or go blank when their doctor begins talking about the nervous system. Perhaps we just need a language shift.

Broadly speaking, the nervous system is our communication system. It provides the brain with information about what is happening in the world around itself and the world within itself.

Imagine a tree. The top of the tree is the brain. The roots of the tree are like the nerves that communicate touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. The top of the tree relies on the sensing of the roots below to inform it on the state of its environment.

When the brain receives this information, it then has to make sense of its meaning and decide what action to take. The brain then communicates this action plan back down the nerves to the muscles to move the organism based on the information it has received.

In other words, the brain takes in information through its five senses, and decides how to move the organism based on the meaning of information it receives.

Senses (environmental input) -- > Brain (interpret meaning) --> Action (movement)

So how does the brain decide the appropriate action to take? Although the human nervous system has developed an increasing complexity over time, our human behavior is still informed by our animalistic past. If we go back to how our organism developed over time we see two priorities of any animal – survival and reproduction. Living long enough to get your genes into the next generation was the unconscious priority of any animal. So when the brain received information about its environment, action was also oriented around these two priorities.

Are you with me so far?

In the next post we will talk about how the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system developed around the priorities of survival and reproduction.

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