Anatomy And Physiology

Anatomy Physiology

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The human brain is probably the best computer in the world, mainly because it doesn't rely on expensive yearly updates of Microsoft Windows (at least, not yet). And I can assure you, from my own eating experience, that the human brain tastes really great. It's also great at smelling, listening, and all sorts of things, with one noteworthy exception: the brain is incapable of feeling pain. If you poke one with a stick, it won't even notice.

There's a staggering amount going on inside. Along with chemicals, your brain's thinking is done with electricity, and it fires off more electrical impulses each day than all the telephones in the world. It generates enough electrical power to run a light bulb, which sounds very handy for when you get stuck without a torch. But she's a thirsty beast. One fifth of the blood that your heart works so hard to pump is greedily gulped by your brain down its 100,000 miles of blood vessels. As if that wasn't enough, it also demands one fifth of all the oxygen you breathe. Pretty selfish for an organ that only takes up 2% of your body-weight.

Although the brain might seem like the Homer Simpson of body parts, lazing around all day without ever moving, recent research has shown how adaptive and constantly changing it is. Until recent decades scientists believed the brain ceased to develop at an early stage of life. However, The newly discovered concept of neuroplasticity reveals how the brain continues to modify itself throughout adulthood by restructuring its neurons. Changes in your environment, such as turning off the television and doing a crossword puzzle, stimulates the brain in new ways, causing it to alter its neural connections (synapses) in order to facilitate those changes. Similarly, if the brain is damaged, the connections are restructured and new ones are formed to aid repair. So like an old dog, your brain can still learn new tricks. A great deal of research is being done today to determine exactly how neuroplasticity works.

At the risk of entering sensitive territory, let's look at how the brain changes with gender. Studies have shown that the average brain of a man is 11-12% heavier than the average brain of a woman (1). However, men are typically heavier than women, and besides, brain weight is not considered a reliable indicator of intelligence. Men's heftier brains shrink at a faster rate than women's (2), especially in areas controlling memory and planning. It cannot currently be determined in what ways this brain shrinkage effects how we think, though it is thought to explain why men become more susceptible to memory problems than women. The female brain has a higher concentration of cells in certain areas than the male (3), including those areas controlling personality and judgement. She is also better equipped for analysing emotions than the male brain, who has the greater capacity for the crucial function of . . . thinking about sex (4). The University of Carolina carried out an interesting study (5) in which it was found that a hug of 20 seconds or greater duration will induce the release into a woman's brain of oxytocin, a chemical which provokes feelings of trust and generosity. I think that sounds like a useful thing to remember.

Your brain has more cells than there are stars in our galaxy. It feels like an avocado. It's much more active at night, when you are asleep (surely you should work on your synchronisation?) And if you've ever wondered why you can't tickle yourself, it's because your brain already knows what you're planning to do, so it simply ignores the ticklish sensation you produce for it. The brain's a fascinating bit of kit, but somehow I feel I'd rather not know too much about it; after all, you don't want to take away the magic. And there's one thing I never want to know about my brain- what it looks like.
(4)Deborah Blum, "Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women".

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