“Neuroscience is by far the most exciting branch of science because the brain is the most fascinating object in the universe. Every human brain is different – the brain makes each human unique and defines who he or she is.” – Stanley B. Prusiner.
Here are our favorite 40 facts about the human brain!
41. Making Sense of Light
It takes about 0.2 seconds for your brain to understand the light that reaches your eye.
The slight difference in time between light hitting your pupil, and your reaction to said stimulus, is a fascinating phenomenon. It’s the basis for the difference in reflexes between a top-level athlete and a regular-joe, as well as one of the reasons our minds can fall prey to what we call optical illusions.
40. Greedy Little Brains
Your brain accounts for only 2% of your body weight, yet it uses 20% of the total oxygen and blood in your body.
It’s fascinating. That little grey blob weighs just about 4 pounds, and yet is quite possibly responsible for essentially all of our success as a species.
This also shows that, at least when it comes to brain power, bigger is not always better. Cows, whales, and elephants (in addition to many other creatures) all have much bigger brains than we do. And yet we eat steak like it’s no big deal. Guess we’re winning, right?
39. Keep The Fuel Coming
Lack of oxygen in the brain for 5 to 10 minutes results in permanent brain damage.
Interestingly, though, this does not hold true in every case. As with most facets of human life, the performance of your brain in this particular arena can be improved with rigorous training. Free divers are one group that does just that, frequently going without air at 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and forcing their brains to adapt. The current record for such a feat actually stands at an astounding 22 minutes.
38. Still Loading…
Much to the chagrin of every single teenager who has ever lived, there is a serious argument to be made that a person in their teens is just not emotionally or mentally mature in the way an adult is.
In fact, according to neuroscientists, our brain continues to develop well into our late-40s!
There’s a virus that attacks human DNA, and makes people less intelligent by impairing brain activity, learning and memory. Prior to 2014, the virus, known as ATCV-1, was thought to only infect algae in lakes and rivers… although now there are some who say it is possible that humans and other mammals can act as hosts.
36. Brain-Powered Lightbulbs
When awake, the brain produces enough electricity to power a small light bulb. A typical adult human brain runs on around 12 watts per hour. Given it’s processing power, that’s actually not that much juice. IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that defeated Jeopardy champions, depends on ninety IBM Power 750 servers, each of which requires around one thousand watts.
So, you can argue that the robots will one day be more intelligent than us. You can even argue that they might be superior, given their presumed reliance on cold logic rather than turbulent emotion. But until the day that Elon Musk invents a supercomputer which can run on less than 12 watts, we can all rest easy in the knowledge that at the very least, we’ll be a lot more energy-efficient than our future robot overlords.
Score one for humanity.
Violent homes have the same effect on children’s brains as combat on soldiers. For both soldiers and children from violent homes, the anterior insula and amygdala have heightened sensitivity to perceived threats. Also, both groups are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety disorders.
You have taste receptors in the stomach, intestines, pancreas, lungs, anus, testicles, and brain. These non-oral taste receptors don’t come close to the tasting power of your tongue, so you probably won’t be tasting your toilet paper. Interestingly, scientists discovered that taking away male rat’s testicular taste receptors rendered them permanently sterile. So we’ve learned that somehow these ball sweat tasters have a reproductive role… we just don’t know why.
33. Brain Hoarding
The pathologist (Thomas Harvey) who made Einstein body’s autopsy stole his brain and kept it in jars for 20 years. Dr. Harvey performed an autopsy on Einstein and removed Einstein’s brain. He then cut the brain into 240 pieces. He was very protective of the brain, and although he did give several pieces to various researchers.
Analysis showed that regions of Einstein’s brain involved in speech and language were smaller, while regions involved with numerical and spatial processing were larger. He also had an increased number of glial cells.
Warning: this is one you’re going to have to trust us on. Do not (repeat: do not) test it out for yourself…
According to people who would know (scientists and zombies), the human brain has the same consistency as tofu. It has also been compared to custard and gelatin.
That is the sort of fact you quite literally remember forever, despite there being almost zero useful applications for it.
Whelp. Moving on…
31. Zen Chocolate
The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves that trigger relaxation. Theta brain waves are the brain state of REM sleep (dreams), hypnosis, lucid dreaming, and the barely conscious state just before sleeping and just after waking.
People plotting revenge experience heightened activity in the brain’s reward center.
29. Your Brain On Smoking
With every drag of a cigarette, even if you’re not really enjoying it, nicotine courses through your blood to the brain. Your brain thinks something great has happened and releases dopamine – an important neurotransmitter that basically tells your brain “that was EPIC, let’s do it again!”
This positively reinforces cigarette smoking and is one of the primary causes of nicotine dependence.
28. Never Forget: Forgetting Is Good
Forgetting is good for the brain.
Deleting unnecessary information helps the nervous system retain its plasticity. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life, is pretty darn important. It allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in the environment.
Alcohol doesn’t make you forget things. When you get blackout drunk, it makes the brain temporarily lose the ability to create memories.
A study found that long-term mobile phone use significantly increases the risk of brain tumours.
For those that want to dive into the details, The National Toxicology Program (NTP) just concluded a massive 2-year study investigating the potential health hazards of cell phone use on rats and mice. For rats and mice exposed to cell phone frequencies, the NTP found 3-4% increases the incidence of malignant gliomas of the brain. What make these studies even more significant are the findings of similar tumors in humans. And the fact that humans are exposing themselves to cellphone frequencies for much longer than two years.
At this juncture, we aren’t certain that the results generalize to humans. We also don’t know how significant the risk is.
25. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
While many take pride in their ability to function on a minimal amount of sleep, scientists are continuing to find evidence that such a lifestyle is incredibly dangerous in the long run.
Sleep deprivation affects the brain in multiple ways that can impair judgment and slow reaction.
That sound you just heard was approximately 1 billion 12-18 year olds simultaneously whispering, “I told you so!”
24. Rejection Hurts
The brain treats rejection like physical pain, according to scientists. When you experience physical pain, your brain releases opioids into the empty space between neurons, which “dampen” pain signals. When you get rejected, your brain does the same thing.
23. Rapid-Effect Booze
It only takes 6 minutes for brain cells to react to alcohol.
22. Bigger Ain’t Better
Male brains, on average, have a total volume that is between 8% and 13% larger than female brains. Does this mean that men are smarter? Nope, not at all.
While IQ isn’t a perfect measure of intellect, it’s a much better indicator than brain size. We, to be blunt, have no clue how brain size affects behaviour. We know that IQ can, at least looked at from certain angles, provide useful insights into mental capability.
In every country where women have been allowed full entry into modernity in terms of educational opportunities, they are now matching men in terms of IQ scores.
Ray Kurzweil has predicted that by 2023, the average US$1,000 laptop will be just as fast as the human brain.
20. More Natural Drugs
Music triggers activity in the same brain structure that releases dopamine during orgasm and eating.
Which goes a long way to explain our species’ frankly strange fascination with, what basically amounts to, rhythmic patterns in a series of soundwaves. You don’t see many other species getting so excited about it.
19. Baby Brains
We have more brain cells as a newborn baby than we will ever have again.
18. No Easy Task
In another case of brain-favoritism in human evolution, we have the distribution of instructions inside our DNA: it turns out, half of your genes describe the complex design of your brain, with the other half describing the organization of the other 98% of your body.
18. A Lot Of Power
A baby’s brain can use 50% of the total glucose supply, which may help explain why babies need so much sleep.
17. Nice Try, Mr. Robot. Try Again In 2023.
In 2015, the 4th most powerful supercomputer on Earth took 40 minutes to simulate just one second of human brain activity.
16. A Couple Moving Parts
If you’ve ever wondered how it is that we still haven’t unlocked all the secrets of consciousness and the human mind (despite the advances we’ve made in, say, the technology of frozen pizza) maybe this will help you to understand: the human brain is composed of about 100 billion neurons and a trillion glial cells. That’s insanely complex! Mapping out all those moving parts, and the almost infinite number of connections and relationships between them, is a herculean task. Something we don’t seem to be quite capable of yet.
Which brings to mind the classic brain-busting thought: the human mind is so infinitely complicated, it literally can’t understand itself.
15. No Need To Work Out
At rest, your brain uses one-fifth of a calorie per minute. To be exact, we’re talking about 10.8 calories every hour or 0.18 calories each minute. Does thinking harder mean burning more calories? Unfortunately, being a mathlete won’t earn you a six pack. Most of the energy used by the brain goes toward keeping you alive. Whether you’re thinking or not, your brain still controls breathing, digestion, and other essentials. Thinking hard may result in a very slight increase in caloric burn, but it’s nothing to freak out about.
14. Thinking About Thoughts
You have about 70,000 thoughts a day.
Here’s a fun party game: you and all your friends sit down and count every thought that comes into your head. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much fun, but that’s not the point! It’s a really excellent way of exploring the outer-reaches of just how much boredom and confusion your friendship can endure.
13. Easy Breezy
Half our brains can be removed by surgery with no apparent effect on personality or memory. The operation is known as hemispherectomy and is still used to treat patients who suffer from seizures that primarily affect one hemisphere.
Recovering from a break-up is like kicking an addiction to a drug. Researchers have found (repeatedly) that brain scans of the brokenhearted closely resemble those of people who are going through the hell of substance withdrawal.
Next time you have a friend who just can’t seem to get over that certain someone, cut them a little slack.
11. Cat Nap
Research on naps, meditation and nature walks reveals that mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.
See? It’s not procrastination… it’s a rejuvenating moment of recalibration for your overworked brain.
Remember that for tomorrow at work.
10. Jazzed-Up Brains
When jazz musicians improvise, their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition and turn on those that let self-expression flow. Which sounds pretty relaxing, right?
Maybe I’ll have to give the saxophone a go…
9. Such Smart Kitties…
Human beings have as many brain cells in their stomachs as cats have in their brains.
On the other hand, though, cats have repeatedly been shown to eat the bodies of their dead owners, if left alone for long enough. So… it evens out?
8. Take The Stairs
Brain age decreases by 0.95 years per year of education, and by 0.58 years per daily flight of stairs climbed.
So many theories have been presented over the years as to how one might stave off the effects of aging, and it turns out the answers have been staring us in the face all along: just make sure you jog up and down a skyscraper all day while you re-read your old high-school textbooks. No guarantees, but you’ll probably turn out to be immortal.
How the Mayans kept young.
Despite its billions and billions of neurons, the brain can’t actually feel pain from damage that occurs directly to itself.
Luckily, direct-impact brain injuries are exceedingly rare.
6. Too Young To Remember
We can’t remember much of our first few years because the hippocampus wasn’t developed enough to build a rich memory of events.
That being said, there have been a few (very few) instances of people who claim to have perfect memories, up to and including their very early childhood. And though some have been proven to be charlatans, doctors do generally accept that it is possible. A very small number of people are blessed, or possibly cursed, with an over-developed hippocampus which allows them to record in exquisite detail every single moment of their baby-hood.
Which I’m sure isn’t traumatizing at all. We’d all like to have perfect recollection of every time we’d pooped ourselves, right?
5. It’s Shrinking!
Human brains are 10% smaller than they were 20,000 years ago. Remember from earlier that we have no clue how human brain size affects human behaviour. I like to think we’re still getting smarter…
4. Tied Down
Studies have shown that people can only have strong ties to 150 people at the most. It’s a phenomenon known as, “Dunbar’s Number” after the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who first put the idea forward in the 1990s.
Dunbar’s claim rests on the relationship between the size of a primate’s brain and the size of their social groups. He reached the number we recognize today by comparing the size of our brains to those of other apes, and then extrapolating the size of a social group which we could possibly recognize, based on how monkeys behave.
Think of it like this: let’s say there is one species of monkey who are each capable of recognizing 50 other monkeys in their group. Let’s also say that the members of those species have brains 1/3 the size of ours. Dunbar theorized that because our brains are three times the size, we ought to be able to recognize and appreciate three times the number of individuals in our social circle.
The idea has been used in a variety of industries and walks of life, to help large organizations function. It’s the reason that some companies insist on creating buildings and teams no bigger than 150 members, in order to ensure that each member is psychologically capable of knowing each other team member.
3. It Was All A Lie
“You only use 10% of your brain” was heralded as a popular-science as a truth with sexy implications. If only you could tap into that other 90%, then surely you would be a savant who remembers π to the twenty-thousandth decimal place, or perhaps even have telekinetic powers?
Wrong. The truth is that humans use every part of their brain.
2. Motherly Love
Breastfeeding actually changes the way a mother’s brain works, making her more attuned to the child’s crying.
That’s only one of many ways in which human beings have evolved to serve as parents and protectors to the young. It’s a similar phenomenon to the changes which take place in the brain of a new dad: studies have shown that fathers experience an increase in the production of bodily hormones like estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin and glucocorticoids.
1. Natural Drug
During orgasm, the brain releases so much dopamine that a brain scan of a person experiencing the climax of coitus resembles that of someone on heroin.
P.S. climx of coitus is a band name waiting to happen. Take that and run with it.
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