FERTILE MINDS

FROM BIRTH, A BABY'S BRAIN CELLS PROLIFERATE WILDLY, MAKING CONNECTIONS THAT MAY SHAPE A LIFETIME OF EXPERIENCE. THE FIRST THREE YEARS ARE CRITICAL

Rat-a-tat-tat. rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat. If scientists could eavesdrop on the brain of a human embryo 10, maybe 12 weeks after conception, they would hear an astonishing racket. Inside the womb, long before light first strikes the retina of the eye or the earliest dreamy images flicker through the cortex, nerve cells in the developing brain crackle with purposeful activity. Like teenagers with telephones, cells in one neighborhood of the brain are calling friends in another, and these cells are calling their friends, and they keep calling one another over and over again, "almost," says neurobiologist Carla Shatz of the University of California,...

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