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The neocortex (“new bark”) is composed of the topmost layers of the cerebral cortex, the part that is visible when looking at the external surface of the brain with all its folds and ridges. More than two thirds of the cerebral cortex are buried in grooves or fissures known as sulci: these folds give it a much greater surface area within the limited space of the skull. There are six layers to the neocortex, each layer about the thickness of a business card, and each functionally distinct. The layers consist of (and are linked by) vertical columns of neuronal clusters called “cortical columns”. The communication between the columns and the layers allows for complex and sophisticated processing. It has been postulated that the top two layers provide an anticipatory function based on previous experience, and the bottom two layers attend to new information, while the middle two layers are devoted to forming a creative summation of the new and anticipated processing of the below and above layers (Hawkins & Blakeslee, 2004). It is also understood that the cortical columns in the left hemisphere are less cross-connected than those in the right; this correlates with the more connected and global view of the right hemisphere and the more linear and categorising view of the left. When we engage in the long-term practice of mindfulness—attending to sensations in the here-and-now—the bottom two layers of the neocortex are energised, adding thickness to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and insula, at the same time shifting prefrontal activation toward the left side of the PFC, increasing the ability to be approach-oriented and reducing avoidance...

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