Anyone educated enough to type "brain facts" into a search engine is probably already aware of the point-by-point basics of the human brain: it's in your head, it's attached to your spine, it controls your thoughts, senses, emotions, and actions.
Those by-the-numbers details that might be less widely memorized seem somewhat unimportant, like how much it weighs (an average of about three pounds). Any study of the human brain should go beyond the what, how much, and wheres of the brain and into the fascinating complexities, since the brain is not just the most integral part of our survival, but also our identity and individuality.
The answers to those questions are the ones that inspire a sense of awe. How does the brain work? How does it develop? Why can I recall Troy Aikman's quarterback stats season-by-season, but I can't remember where I put my cell phone four minutes ago? Just how powerful is this tricky little mass of white and grey matter in my skull?
HUMAN BRAIN FACTS: HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
Your brain is a complex network of high-speed highways called "synapses," which connect trillions of nerve cells, called "neurons." The synapse highway system, if illustrated, would make a Texas road map look simple. In fact, if one were to count the number of synaptic connections that your brain could create, the figure would be the number one, followed by a string of zeroes that would stretch 10.5 million kilometers.
Traveling along this vast network of synapses are powerful and complex pulses of chemistry and electricity that power our thoughts, feelings and actions. They do so by powering certain modules of the brain, each of which controls specific voluntary and involuntary functions - like kicking in the sensation of hunger, initiating reflexes, coordinating your arm muscles as you write, powering your heart, creating the emotion of sadness and the tear response, and revving up your sex drive.
The power used by your brain to constantly keep these functions going is enough to constantly power a 10-watt light bulb.
HUMAN BRAIN FACTS: HOW DO WE GET SMARTER?
Every time we learn a new skill, experience something new, or are stimulated in a different way, the brain begins an intricate re-wiring job on itself. As part of that process, it creates new synapses - making an even more complex network of cells. We don't get smarter by having a larger brain, but by having a more complex highway system connecting thoughts, ideas, experiences, and skills.
The best news is that synapses never stop forming - from infancy to our death beds. We're more likely to develop synaptic connections faster when we are able to merge words, actions, senses, and feelings into the same experience.
HUMAN BRAIN FACTS: HOW DO WE KEEP OUR WITS SHARP WITH AGE?
Studies have shown that keeping those highways clean is integral to maintaining intelligence. To put it simply - if you don't use it, you lose it. Those who abandon learning after formal schooling, those who are in a decades-long rut of monotony, and couch potatoes with no social life nor challenging career are likely to find themselves on the fast train to Stupidville.
One study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that some recreational activities preserved the brains of elderly patients from developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Active readers, for example, showed a 35 percent reduced instance of dementia. Seniors who did crossword puzzles showed a reduced risk as well - and those who did the crosswords four times per week were 47 percent less likely to suffer dementia than those who did them just once a week.
Bicycling, swimming and golfing showed no benefits, but dancing showed itself to be the most helpful of all studied activities - reducing the risk of dementia by 76 percent.
HUMAN BRAIN FACTS: DO WE REALLY ONLY USE 10 PERCENT OF OUR BRAINS?
Nope. While it's true that we only consciously use a portion of our brain, studies using mechanical resonance imaging show blood flowing in great amounts to all sections of the brain - meaning almost no fraction of our brains are sitting there as undiscovered troves of knowledge or ability.
Some attribute this myth to early scientific studies of the brains of dogs in which electrical pulses were sent through the dogs' brains and studied. Unfortunately, technology was not what it is today, and a long-believed fallacy was born.
HUMAN BRAIN FACTS: HOW DO WE REMEMBER THINGS?
The brain's memory headquarters is called the hippocampus. Researchers have long believed that lasting images are most effectively created through "episodic memories" - memories of events, times, places, and emotions in relation to a memorable experience. It's the reason we all know where we were when Kennedy was shot or the World Trade Center was attacked, but can't for the life of us remember what we just did with our keys.
Semantic memory is the way we remember facts, figures, and skills that are not related to a specific experience. Along with episodic memories, semantic memories are part of declarative memory - one of two types. The other, procedural memory, is the how-to memory that becomes almost involuntary - like how to type, how to ride a bike, how to speak, etc.
The actual mechanics of memory are still a great mystery to the scientific world.
HUMAN BRAIN FACTS: WHAT IS UP WITH THE SUBCONSCIOUS?
Let's face it: we are not in control. Our subconscious minds influence every thought, emotion and decision - and without our awareness. A Yale study recently showed that students who bumped into a stranger on the way to class showed the true unpredictability and unbridaled power of our subconscious to regulate our lives.
The stranger in half of the encounters was carrying a large load of books and a cup of iced coffee. In the other half, all of the variables were the same except for the coffee, which was hot. In both cases, the "stranger" asked students to help by simply holding the coffee for a second.
Students who held the iced coffee described the struggling caffeine addict as "much colder, less social and more selfish" than those who had held the warm cup of coffee.
Psychological researchers say this study suggests something very profound about our subconsciuos minds - something that is almost frightening.
RANDOM BRAIN FACTS
The human adult brain weighs about 3 pounds, while the elephant equivalent weighs 6,000 grams.
Unconsciousness will happen about 20 minutes after the blood supply is denied to the brain.
Each brain cell (neuron) has up to 10,000 synapses available.