You can see your legs and arms just by looking at them. You can study your face and even your rear in a mirror. But you can’t look inside your skull … and that’s good news.
Many facts about the human brain we learned in school have been proven wrong in recent decades. Like the old myth that an average person only uses about 10 percent of the brain capacity. (But if you are James Bond, you may be using all 15 percent!)
Thanks to neuroscience and modern brain scanning techniques, we know a lot about that grey, fatty bulb called the human brain—and not only how it looks deep inside, but also how it works.
Just listen to this little girl:
Isn’t she smart?
But there’s much more about the human brain to tell.
Want to hear?
Then, follow me.
What is Your Brain Made Of?
Here’s just a fraction of what neuroscience has discovered in the past three decades.
- Your brain has grey matter and white matter. Grey matter makes up about 40 percent of the brain. It’s where the real processing happens. It gets its name because of its color, which comes from the grey nuclei inside the cell body. Grey matter includes dendrites and axon terminals of neurons, so it is where all synapses are. White matter is made of axons connecting different parts of grey matter to each other (in other words, the brain’s highways).
- The human brain contains approximately 644 kilometers (400 miles) of blood vessels.
- It has a huge appetite, using 20 percent of the body’s entire blood flow while representing only 2 percent of the body’s weight. Just five minutes without oxygen may result in severe brain damage.
- An average human brain weighs about 1400 grams (3–4 pounds), but it’s not the size that matters. Einstein’s brain weighed only 1230 grams (2.71 pounds). However, the neuron density of his brain was greater than average–there were more residents per square meter in that house, for sure.
- Just 2 percent dehydration will affect your attention, memory, and other cognitive functions. And 90 minutes of sweating can temporarily shrink the brain as much as one year of aging does.
- Another way to shrink your brain is by ignoring food rich in omega-3 oils. To do so causes shrinking equal to two years of structural brain aging!
- In general, men’s brains are 10 percent bigger than women’s, but the hippocampus, or the “memory center” of the brain, is typically larger in women … and in London cab drivers as well. Poor devils have to memorize 25,000 streets! What women have to remember is even more impressive, don’t you agree?
- The entire brain has between 50 and 100 billion neurons. A piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains 100,000 neurons and 1 billion synapses, all communicating with each other.
- Each neuron can transmit 1,000 nerve impulses per second and make tens of thousands of synaptic contacts with other neurons.
Here’s how connections between neurons, called synapses, look like:
- Brain impulses with information travel up to 268 miles per hour. This is faster than Formula 1 race cars, which have a top speed of 240 miles per hour. In the process, your brain generates about 12–25 watts of electricity–enough to illuminate a low-wattage light bulb.
- The brain can’t feel pain because it doesn’t have any pain receptors of its own.
- The brain of an introvert is measurably different from the brain of an extrovert. MRIs reveal that the dopamine reward network is more active in the brains of extroverts, while introverts’ brains have more gray matter. (Aha! That’s why we look more serious!)
- A healthy person uses most of the brain, even during sleep.
If you want to stay young and smart, eat your veggies, drink water, take omega 3 oils, exercise regularly and get out of the house!
Brainology, or How It All Works
So far, so good. But how do we translate all these impulses running through the brain with our feelings, thoughts, and everyday lives?
Here are some clues:
- The same part of your brain gets activated in response to both your physical and emotional pain. When you are scared of someone you depend on or engaged with a person you love, you feel both emotional and physical discomfort like stomach or heartaches, gut problems, or shortness of breath.
- Each time you do something new, experience something new or have a new thought, your brain builds new connections between particular brain cells. To make these connections strong, you have to do more of the same. It’s like learning to drive a car. When a certain action becomes a habit, your brain has changed. It’s called neuroplasticity.
- But when you stop using a particular skill, the areas of the brain involved in this activity will no longer be activated. Neural connections inside these areas will fade away. For example, the constant use of GPS to navigate destroys your sense of direction, or hiding from people minimizes your existing social skills.
- When you think that you’re multitasking, what your brain is actually doing is quickly switching back and forth between the tasks—decreasing your attention span, ability to learn, short-term memory, and overall mental performance on the way.
Now you know why you feel pain in your chest when someone hurts your feelings. And, you understand that multitasking is not how your brain is designed to perform best, so stay focused on one thing at a time!
Want to know more? Check out this brilliant website (not an affiliate link).
Don’t Lose Your Head–There’s a Brain Inside It
Did you know that your brain is more unique than your fingerprints?
And it works 24/7, for your entire life.
It may overreact or make decisions based on obsolete data.
When you are overwhelmed by a horrible experience, your brain disconnects a few circuits to ensure that you survive. And sometimes it gets stuck in this survival mode. So do you.
Don’t be scared; it’s only trying to protect you. Your brain is never trying to harm you.
But sometimes it needs help from you to get unstuck.
Love your brain and treat it with respect.
Help it to stay calm—not with alcohol, binge eating, or drugs, but by reassuring it that you are safe.
We’ll talk about the brain on trauma, and how to help it to heal, in the next article.
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Images by Pixabay and Unsplash