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.
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.
Our brain is so intimately connected to every single thing we do that it’s role and function can easily be overlooked and taken totally for granted – we don’t give it much thought throughout our day; despite the fact that our brain is where we do all our thinking!
The use of our brain is essential for learning new tasks and for the correct use of previously learned ones. It is the prime device for making and storing, as well as recalling, all memory. It is essential in our communications or interactions with all other living things. And it controls our body’s physical movement, so that we may enjoy playing sports, or performing arts or even watching TV or a movie.
It is the most vital single organ in our body, yet we know next to nothing about it and use it mostly by trial and error experiment, relying upon instinct, or the previously establish methods employed by those who did so before us. We may largely copy what others close to us do, our parents, or friends or those we spend most time with in society when trying to decide what is the best way to use it to get what we want.
The human brain is possibly one of the most complex organisms on planet earth so learning how to use all of it’s potential to the best of it’s ability is not going to be a quick or simple process.
This blog intends to provide as much information that is accurate and up-to-date as possible. The information may sometimes very detailed but may also be simplified and easy to take in, and hopefully easy to use in our every day lives.
It is an ongoing work in progress. I hope you may find it interesting and useful.
Any advice, information or questions are always welcome. 🙂