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Spider Webs: A Halloween Reminder of How Our Brains Work

by Dr. Sara Sawtelle


It is that time of year, the time when you see spider webs everywhere you look  real ones and fake ones. And they all make me smile. Why? Because spider webs are a model for how our brains work and how we can strengthen them. A spider web is my favorite way to describe something that is so hard to understand and at this time of year the imagery is everywhere!

A spider web how does that help understand our brains? Think of it this way a spider web is very connected and complex. All those interconnected threads are necessary and support each other in doing the web’s job. That is exactly the way our brains work. The parts of our brain do not operate in isolation. At the same time that we are using working memory, we are also using visual processing, and auditory processing. Our brains are deciding what to pay attention to, what to just handle subconsciously and what you to need to be consciously working with (Wait a minute, did I turn off the coffee pot?). Just like a well-connected, beautifully constructed spider web.

Have you ever seen a hole or gap in a beautifully complex spider web? Just recently, I did. In my back yard. As I watched, the hole in the web made sense in the model  it represents a weakness in the brain, where something should be connected but isn’t. What happens when there is a hole? Does the spider walk away, give up and just start over? NO. If you sit and watch long enough, the spider starts fixing the hole. Standing on the stronger strands and weaving the repair.

We can strengthen and build new connections in our brains as well, just like the spider does with its web. We can use our strengths to build our weaknesses. We can make that spider web of connections in our heads have fewer or smaller gaps.

So next time you see a spider web, stop and imagine it falling over the top of your head. Instead of shuddering, smile because Spider webs, like our brains, are beautiful things!

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