Some people have compared a computer to a human brain, but if you take the time to think about it for a while you might see that our brain and a smartphone have quite a bit (more) in common with each other…
Both are mostly thought to be single objects yet both are useless without ‘external’, seemingly unconnected, objects upon which they depend to perform their various different functions.
Both objects are actually comprised of many different sub-objects all wrapped up in a single package (with attachments) with very specific functions, many of which operate ‘automatically’ such that we do not have to consciously make an effort to use them. We may not even be aware* that some functions are being performed by the brain or by the smartphone.
Both objects have capacities that far exceed the average ‘user’s’ ability to utilise them all and to the fullest. Both can increase their memory storage capacity allocation.
Almost all users of either object largely try to work out what it can do by trial and error and rarely learn how to use it the way the manufacturer intended it should be used. They learn ‘how to get by’ and do not spend time studying what each specific function is and the best way to get the most out of it for all possible applications.
Both require a constant renewal of energy and will refuse to function effectively if their energy levels are below a certain level.
Both are subject to the occasional annoying breakdown and an expert may be required to be called upon to get it back into working order – this is usually expensive! Only one however, can be replaced and upgraded to a newer model in the event of a breakdown!
Both have almost unlimited memory storage these days although the smartphone recalls it’s memory far faster and more reliably.
People use both to tell them where they want to go although males are less inclined to ask for directions from their brain for this (or other people’s brains for that matter).
Both spend portions of their day when they are not being used (that we are aware of!!!) Both actually continue to function on some levels even if we think they are turned off!
Both can now recognise your own face, but only a smartphone can recognise your own thumbprint. Both can give you a very rough approximation of what the weather is going to be like today and for a few days into the future – neither are more than 90% accurate.
Both have to be programmed (taught) what to do by someone smarter than them although the brain is sometimes capable of learning by self-observation and very rarely by observing others (especially others’ mistakes!) It will be a matter of a VERY short time indeed before our phones can do this better than our brains currently do.
This brings us to what has previously been a point of difference between the two objects… Consciousness!
Few people have a clear understanding of just what consciousness actually IS, other than to distinguish it from it’s opposite – unconsciousness.
I will suggest that a better term might be ‘Awareness*’. The brain is capable of developing something called ‘self-awareness’ – that it is an organic object located in a physical body comprised of squillions of individual cells and that it exists along a timeline from the moment of conception to the moment of death – and some would even say beyond that.
This awareness extends to the understanding that there also exist other objects such as ourselves that have their own version of self-awareness and that sometimes these things can have considerable difference to us while theoretically being largely constructed of the same things.
This awareness (consciousness) is not a continuous thing – it has regular ‘gaps’, periods of ‘un’ consciousness or non-awareness! Like a smartphone this is known as ‘sleep’ mode. (Or sometimes “switching off”). Once the brain comes out of sleep mode/being switched off or into a ‘stand-by’ state, it almost instantly returns to it’s previous level of awareness prior to being switched off – we do not have to retrain the brain, nor do we reprogram our smartphone once a day. The awareness is able to be added to during it’s ‘awake’ state and can acquire and retain new data to it’s accumulated total since becoming aware in the first instance and can use this to modify it’s behaviours. As mentioned in a previous paragraph, smartphones will soon possess this ability; it will learn from it’s own observations and will not require so much ‘updating’ from external sources/other people. It will teach itself certain things about it’s owner/operator and become more ‘user-friendly’, able to offer you better and easier choices in how to maintain your brain’s relationship with it.
So once this point is reached can we say that the smartphone has developed an ‘awareness’ or as we have compared it – consciousness.
Who says that human consciousness is the only kind that exists?
If you ever get spoken to in this fashion you can smile and thank them! (That will likely give you a strange look) 🙂
This is because approximately 60 percent of your brain matter consists of fat. Calling you a fat head likely means you have a bigger brain than the person calling you names.
The good fats that are in your brain matter also creates all the cell membranes in your body! If your diet is loaded with bad fats, your brain can only make low-quality nerve cell membranes that don’t function well; if your diet provides the essential, good fats, your brain cells can manufacture higher-quality nerve cell membranes and influence positively your nerve cells’ ability to function at their peak capacity. (Magnesium also plays a critical role in nerve cell development and optimal functioning.)
Thus, it’s important to choose foods that offer the Essential Fatty Acids your body and brain need. Dietary decosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with optimal functional maturation of the retina and visual cortex, with visual acuity and mental development seemingly improved by extra DHA retinal cells – in other words, DHA, an Essential Fatty Acid, can help make you more intelligent. Unfortunately, even good fats are a very concentrated source of energy, providing more than double the amount of calories in one gram of carbohydrate or protein, which is why it’s important to choose the healthy fats and to eat them in moderation.
While doing the research for this article i discovered an interesting example of the confusion some people can have with certain statistics and why it is important to understand exactly what a fact is saying so as to accurately understand it.
Consider the three true statements:
- The brain is 75% water.
- The brain is at least 60% fat.
- The brain has grey matter which is roughly 50% of it’s content, containing around 86 billion neurons, with the remaining 50% being white matter, consisting largely of axons.
So, the brain is made up of 75% water, 60% fat, 50% neurons and 50% axons!! making up all 235% of our brains!
The clue to solving this muddle is in recognising that each ‘percentage’ is referring to different aspects of our brain. While the brain is made up of 86 billion neuron cells, most of which are located in the 50% of our brain’s cellular structure called ‘grey’ matter, a neuron has a part of it’s cell known as the axon and these extend from each cell nucleus down into our brain’s white matter (human brain neurons can be quite long – up to a metre or more in some cases, but the majority are in the range of millimetres to centimetres in length). So that is 100% of the brain’s neuron cells, which are comprised largely of essential fatty acids (which contain fat – i.e. oxydised hydrocarbons – hence the name!) Fat cells are also present in our brains to provide a supporting structure and to help ‘cushion’ the neurons from damage from sudden, violent movements which can damage cells that are encased in a solid, inflexible, hard skull. That cover’s the 60% fat in the content of our brain’s cells.
But our brain is surrounded within our skull by cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF), which is 99% water. Also the individual cells of which our brain is comprised, are also surrounded by fluid which is around 70% water. In addition, each cell contains cellular fluid. Cells are composed of water, inorganic ions, and carbon-containing (organic) molecules. Water is the most abundant molecule in cells, accounting for 70% or more of total cell mass. And that covers the ‘other’ 75%! 😉
Our brain plays a major role in everything we do, but perhaps the most important role it plays is in allowing us to understand:
- Understand the world we find ourselves in; our environment and the many relationships we have to it.
- Understand ourselves, just who we are and that we are a living, conscious (mostly), thinking creature, and the things we need in order to maintain that status.
- Understand more esoteric concepts such as our ‘purpose’, our ‘drives’ and our desires that give meaning to life and make it more ‘interesting’.
- Understand the societal groupings we live in and the relationships that exist in it that we depend upon to varying degrees and how they change at varying times or stages in our life.
- Understanding our body, learning to control it’s movement , abilities and various functions it is capable of performing to our best advantage, as well as to the advantage of other human beings.
Basically to understand as much as we are able about the part of the Universe we live our whole lives in and the role we get to play in it.
If we don’t have at least some understanding what chance have we got of doing anything of any real value? Of doing something with any real meaning?
Our brain is possibly the most complex organism in the known Universe and is capable of almost unlimited potential in our lives. Relatively small in size (representing around 2% of our total body mass at a little over a kilogram (2-3lb) in weight) it contains some 86 billion neuron cells (+/- 10%) and a similar number of non-neuronal cells. Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing electro-chemical signals to each other via connections called synapses. Our brain has as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, equivalent by some estimates to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor!¹
It literally controls and processes everything we do, everything we are. From before we leave the womb to shortly after we die (or could be pronounced ‘brain dead’ which is a bit of a ‘fuzzy’ term capable of differing interpretation! )
Fig 1. Two diagrams representing a typical human brain – the colours were added to more clearly display areas of our brains that serve mainly one type of function.
Fig 2. A closer to real image of a human brain which is largely pink when living, with red blood flowing through it. Human brains we are most likely to see are generally greyish in colour having no blood and most likely have been stored in a preservative, hence ‘grey’ matter referred to when someone is using their brain.
Although the Cerebrum, which is the main part of the brain we normally see with all the folds and valleys, is the largest part of our brain it only contains about 20% of the neuron cells, while the large majority – 80% – are contained in the smaller cerebellum region tucked in the back and underneath the cerebrum/cortex. (You can just see it sticking out underneath in Fig 2.)
The Cerebrum, or Cerebral Cortex, is a major part of the brain, controlling emotions, hearing, vision, personality and much more. It controls all voluntary motions/actions.
It functions as the center of sensory perception, memory, thoughts and judgement. The sensory areas of the cerebral cortex receive and process visual, auditory, somatosensory, gustatory, and olfactory information. Together with association cortical areas, these brain regions synthesize sensory information into our perceptions of ourself and of the world. Speech and language, learning and memory are also controlled as functions of the cerebrum.
The cerebrum is divided into to symmetrical halves known as the left and Right Hemispheres, which are connected via a densely packed bridge of neurons known as the Corpus Calossum. The cerebral cortex is generally classified into four regions called lobes: the frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal lobes.
The Cerebellum plays the major role of fine tuning and synchronising our motor movement and balance and is also involved in some cognitive functions, such as attention and language, as well as in regulating fear and pleasure responses. The cerebellum and its auxiliary structures can be separated into several thousand independently functioning modules called “microzones” or “microcompartments”.
The following is a proposed list of general categories the User’s Guide intends to cover in greater detail in coming posts:
- Structure – what the brain is made up of and how it performs its various functions in our body. The various brain regions and sub sections, their locations and what functions they are mostly responsible for controlling/performing/assisting in.
- General Functions – brief synopsis of the brain’s role in everything we do as human beings. Broadly classified as sensory input/output and feedback functions, motor (muscle) function, and associative functioning (the way parts of the brain interconnect with other parts of the brain and body when performing complex tasks).
- Mind. Our Consciousness – our states of awareness and our degree of control over them. Healthy versus unhealthy states of mind.
- The Concept of Self. Being aware of, and identifying with, your ‘self’. Who are we and what makes us the way we are? Does our Self change? Should we have more ‘say’ in what we are, or think we are? Self delusion, personal bias, confirmation bias.
- Brain Psychology.
- Dreaming. Being unconscious. Are dreams ‘real’ – can we tell the difference between a dream state and an aware one? What is real to the brain?
- Meditation. How to gain more control over the way your brain works for you.
- Learning. What are the most effective methods of training the brain, improving our performance in various tasks/functions.
- Memory. Recall and recognition. How are memories created, retained, recalled? what can be done to improve memory/what things interfere with it?
- Sleep and the Brain. How sleep affects brain activity. What are the benefits/costs?
- Hypnosis. Can our brains be fooled (can they not be?) Can another person direct our consciousness without our awareness?
- Addiction. What is the brain’s role in addictive behaviour. Can it be self-regulated effectively?
- Mental health. What is mental health – what is mental unhealth? How can we best maintain a healthy mind?
- Emotions. Their purpose; Types of; Control over.
- Thoughts and rational thinking.
- Creativity and productivity. Can a well-disciplined mind produce truly original creative thoughts/ ideas?
- Communication – with our self; with other ‘Selves’, with other sentient beings, eg. pets, other creatures.
- What is ‘Real’/Reality?