Designed by Lisa Townley
It’s not love or money that makes the world go ‘round. We all know it’s caffeine — the world’s most widely consumed drug. But how does it influence the process of thinking, exactly?
Truth is, no one really knows.
Scientists have learned a lot about caffeine and how it affects brain cell biochemically. They know caffeine makes neurons more likely to fire when weakly stimulated.
That extra oomph caffeine gives to electrical pulses may sound like a good thing. And maybe it is. But not because caffeine is, like, amping up your brain.
The brain doesn’t work like a computer. This is important. Computers are, down to their very last circuits, logic machines. Abacuses. Tell a properly working computer to add 1 and 1, and it always gives you 2. Overclocking a computer would simply cause the computer to give you a 2 faster. Or cause it to shout TWO at you, and then explode.
Brains aren’t logic machines. They’re probability machines.
This is how a neurophysicist once explained neurons to me:
… when you put in the same input in two different instances, you might get two different outcomes, and you won’t really be able to predict which one you’ll get.
… [Uncertainty] can actually be a good thing. The unpredictability plays a role in generating variability. Just like in evolution, where new organisms are produced through variation, new behaviors can sometimes be generated by neuronal unpredictability.
Unpredictability might seem counterproductive for any sort of machine, mechanical or biological. What if your alarm clock worked that way? Or your car brakes?
If every thought has the potential to spawn many different responses, then it stands to reason that caffeine supports this process — this flowering of thought — by allowing lots of neuron pathways to be stimulated that ordinarily wouldn’t. Behavioral studies suggest caffeine helps you do simple tasks better (cleaning a house, shooting zombies in the head with a shotgun, etc.) But, interestingly, it’s not clear whether caffeine helps you do complex tasks (building a house, teaching a zombie how to operate a shotgun, etc.).
With more and more caffeine, the noisiness of the thought process may itself become distracting and hard to manage, and that could result in frustration and an inability to control one’s mind. Or worse. If you’ve ever experienced over-caffeination, you can probably relate.
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- corgiaddict said: Excellent post.
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- cardiomyopathic said: Now I really crave a mocha. Or a cappacino . Oh, my god. This post is just perfect.
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