Creation by Subtraction

Be thankful you’ve lost much of your mind since your youth. /

Once hidden and enclosed in a great rock,
I came down, against my will, from a great ravine
In the high mountains to this lower place,
to be revealed within this little stone.

—from Michelangelo’s Sonnet 275

Though many forms of visual art are additive—oil paint is spread over a canvas, charcoal is scraped onto paper—marble sculpture is subtractive. When Michelangelo approached a raw block of marble, he envisioned his task not as creating something entirely new, but as removing everything unessential. He chiseled away superfluous material bit by bit until only the sculpture remained.

Like the marble dust surrounding the sculptor’s creations, the connections between the neurons in his brain—called synapses—were also being chipped away. By the time he was an adult, the artist had lost nearly half of these connections.

This massive reduction in synapses was no crisis. It happens in every healthy human brain—even yours.

From before birth until age 2, infant brains experience an explosion of synaptic development. Each of the 100 to 200 billion neurons in a child’s brain reaches out to form connections with other brain cells. At birth, a baby has about 2,500 synapses in its visual cortex for every neuron. But by age 2, that number has grown by 600 percent. If the connections in a newborn’s brain look like the country roads in West Texas, those in a 2-year-old’s brain are a map of downtown New York City.

So far so good, right? It’s no surprise that toddlers’ brains develop at an astonishing rate. Between the time a child utters her first word and her second birthday, she adds an average of 17 new words to her vocabulary every week. ...

Follow The Behemoth on Twitter and Facebook.

Also in this Issue

Issue 39 / January 7, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 39: Your brain’s missing links, the scales of justice, and why seeing sin is such a relief. /

  2. Hallelujah, I’m a Miserable Sinner

    It’s only after we meet our Savior that we understand how much we need him. /

  3. Why God Delights in the Metric System

    Fairness and justice were difficult before we looked to creation for our measurements. /

  4. Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes

    “Shall I devolve into dust bunnies?” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 39: Links to amazing stuff.

Issue Archives