The human brain is a fascinating organ. It is the great responsible for all our achievements, how we were able to thrive as a species, but we still know little about this magnificent thinking machine. Here are some of the great aspects we can’t ignore about the brain.
#5 Activity and Awareness
Let’s start with some numbers, shall we? Our brains are almost 60% fat and 75% water, with over 86 billion brain cells, with more than 10,000 different types of neurons, performing an average of 40,000 synapses. The brain uses up to 20% of oxygen and is capable of dozens of billions of calculation per second, which is definitely admirable for a piece of just 3 pounds. The brain also doesn’t feel pain, still developing until mid age and the more we use it, the better it gets.
Another fascinating thing about the brain is that it filters most of what we “think we perceive” about our environment, which makes us terrible observers in general. What we see is actually the neural processing result of the received signals, so it is technically true that we see with our brains. New neurons are produced through most of our lives, and reinforcing the mental activity stimulates that. The claim that we use only 10% of the brain is just a myth, as there is a constant activity for different functions throughout the organ.
One interesting fact is that many people think that our memories work just like on a computer. The truth is, the process of memorization and recall is more related to deconstruction and reconstruction of fragments in the brain, closely related to a context and/or event, like pieces of a puzzle that are put together to reveal the whole thing. Our brain capacity has no limit, and it actually creates new connections whenever we try to recall something. Also, learning new things literally changes the structure of our brain, so it is important to keep it active and engaged with novel experiences.
Sleep is very important for the consolidation and retaining of our memories, creating and organizing new pathways with the information we collected during the day. One inexplicable think is what we call Déjà vu, and some scientists believe that this phenomenon is closely related to how the brain processes memories. Some argue that it is some kind of bug that happened in the brain during the registration of the memories, others assume that it is a confusion between short and long term memory when retrieving information.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adjust and adapt to supply and/or enhance some of its functions under different aspects and circumstances. This involves the creation and specialization of neural pathways, in order to perform and improve the reliability and efficiency over certain tasks. The neuroplasticity reveals itself in many ways, but mostly when it needs to compensate damaged or impaired areas of the brain. The most common way though is simply through learning, which changes the physical structure of the brain.
Thanks to this flexibility, we are able to execute the most basic functions, even if our cognition and motor abilities are severely affected, due to an accident or traumatic brain injury. Our nervous system is malleable enough to adjust certain areas of the brain in order to compensate some deficiency. This plasticity is more predominant during childhood, bringing some benefits for learning and early memory formation, but it is also possible to reach it to some extent in adult life.
Dreams were always enigmatic, and since ancient times they were open to many interpretations and mystical meaning. There have been many dream theories, and the best known are those of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. For Freud, dreams are the manifestations of our repressed desires and are mostly connected to our sexual and emotional nature. Jung, on the other hand, considered that dreams were a way to reflect about ourselves through symbols, exploring a more mystical aspect of the dream and concerns about collective experiences and transcendence.
Although there is still some controversy between those two theories, many aspects of both are taken into account in the modern psychology. There are also some facts confirmed through research, like the one that everyone dreams, even those who never remember them, and what parts of the brain are deactivated. Dreams happen mostly during the REM, the fifth stage of sleep, and may have some relation with the consolidation of memories and ideas. Another intriguing subject is regarding lucid dreams – when you know that you’re dreaming and thus can have some degree of control over it.
This is definitely the most debatable topic about the brain. There are literally dozens of theories about consciousness, and it seems we are just scratching the surface around the subject. In many ways, consciousness is regarded as the way we perceive reality and the world around us, along with our feelings, actions, and purposes. Some argue that consciousness is something that happens outside the brain, as an essential representation of our true self. Many researchers tried to “identify” some sort of signal as the origin of our consciousness inside the brain, but nothing substantial was found so far.
There is no evidence that could indicate or even give us any clue about the true nature of consciousness. This debate has been happening for many decades, covering many disciplines around psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience. It is also hard to relate some rare events, like near death or out of body experiences, with the disconnection of body and mind, although we were able to reproduce some of these to a certain level. The concept of the soul seems something far from our reach, and is easily the most amazing thing about the brain, as we don’t know how much influence it has on this in this regard – if any at all.
The brain has shaped us as human beings, and many of its secrets are yet to be unveiled. The possibilities for this small thing in our body seems limitless, and only with time we will be able to uncover new things about it and at the same time, discover more about ourselves. The brain is something really enigmatic, and the more we try to understand it, the more we learn about how complex it is.
photo credit: Brain