Inside our craniums is an organ so spectacular, so inconceivably fascinating. This organ weighs approximately three pounds and allows us to perceive our world and understand it. Your brain allows you to predict the future and consequences of actions, engage in empathy towards fellow human beings and even animals not of your own species, and allows you to think lofty thoughts and experience a gamut of emotions.
If not for your brain, you would cease to be human.
The human brain is composed of billions of neurons. It was once thought that the number of neurons one is born with is the limiting factor to the number of neurons one will ever have. Neuroscience has disproved this theory. Your brain engages in neurogenesis, which is the birth of new neurons. But here’s the catch: these immature neurons have to connect with other neurons in a short time frame, or else they die.
Use it or lose it.
Neurons makes up only about 10 percent of your brain mass, though. Ninety-percent of your brain is glial cells, which support neurons by protecting and nourishing them. There is a shift in neuroscience research that is beginning to focus on these mysterious glial cells to the point some researches have begun to call these cells “the other brain.”
There is a book by R. Douglas Fields (Simon & Schuster, 2009) entitled, “The Other Brain,” that describes the role damaged or otherwise dysfunctional glial cells play in the development of mental diseases, including Schizophrenia.
There is much excitement on what unraveling the secrets of glial cells will hold for the future of neuroscience and the development of cures and treatments for various brain disorders.
It is your brain that makes you unlike any other organism. No other animals can plan and coordinate events like a human can. It is our cortex, or the top layer of the brain, the most evolutionarily advanced region of the human brain, that allows you to make decisions, plan, utilize logic and rationalize through things, and even control emotions, such as anger or fear. Without the cortex, humans would have no cognitive advantage over other animals.
However, humans are not the only animals to be able to plan or think ahead. Gorillas have been found to use long sticks as a way of testing the depths of a river before attempting to cross it. Chimpanzees have been seen to use sticks to fish out ants from logs.
However, the human cortex is more developed than other animals, including other primates. It is this advanced development that allows humans to engage in higher level thinking that merely utilizing tools.
Without the advanced development of the cortex, humans would not be the complex creatures we are today. Evolution is progressing and the human brain will continue to progress as well. Only time will tell where the evolution of the human brain will lead our species.
I wrote this originally here.