The brain is quite unique. It is one of the body’s most important organs and unlike the body’s other organs, the brain cannot be replaced. It is the brain that processes our sensory impressions, controls the functions of the body and is home to our conscious cognition and will-controlled actions. Over thousands of years, the human brain has evolved and ensured our survival. No brain no human!
The brain is complex. It consists of many different areas, all of which have a responsibility. This is why people who are affected by a blood clot in a particular area of the brain may suddenly lose language or change personality.
Roughly speaking, one can divide the brain into 3 levels. If you look into the brain from the side, the first level is located deep inside – our reptile brain / reptile brain. It is the one who is responsible for all our urges like hunger, sleep and sex. The second level, or the next layer if you will, is what is called the limbic system. This is where all the emotions sit. At the very third level, we find the cerebral cortex / neocortex, which is divided into cerebral lobes.
Image: Rough division of the three levels of the brain.
It is the brain lobes that are responsible for us e.g. can feel when someone touches us, can smell and hear, produce and understand language and it is the interplay between the different brain lobes that gives us everything we know as morality, self-control, self-insight, personality traits, conscience, the ability to plan and anticipate the consequences of our actions (1).
Image: A more precise anatomical division of the brain levels, as well as a more detailed outline of the cerebral cortex / neocortex with the different brain lobes.
It is the brain that controls us and what the cerebral cortex dictates is followed up by hormones and the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the subject of the brain and is divided into the sympathetic nervous system, which turns you on, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you down.
Image: Overview of the autonomic nervous system divided into the parasympathetic nervous system (left) that calms you and the sympathetic nervous system (right) that prepares you for battle.
The actual brain work – controlling our intellectual functions and vital functions, such as breathing and the pumping function of the heart – takes place in the network of nerve cells (neurons) in different parts of the brain. In adults, the brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells that form more than 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000,000) connection points – also called synapses. Brain scientists call this dense, branched wilderness of nerve cells a “neural network”. Signals in the form of small electrical and chemical charges moving through the neural network form the basis of our memories, thoughts and emotions (2).
The brain connects to the whole body through a network of nerve pathways that reach all the way to the outer parts of the body, fingers and toes.
Image: The brain and nervous system dissected out in its full length.
The brain uses the nerve pathways to get information about what is going on around the body. All nerve pathways have a task and they work with sensory cells that sit around the body. Some are responsible for notifying when it gets too cold or hot. Others when there is something that presses on the skin such as. if the shoes have become too small, the pants are tight or you have been sitting on your butt for too long without moving it, while others are again responsible for letting us know where in the room we are.
We experience the world with all our senses. The brain uses the information from the senses to make a presentation of the world and this presentation is called perception or perception. Perception is our reality. While you can never be completely sure that your senses’ interpretation of information is correct, you can be absolutely sure that it is precisely this interpretation that adapts to the world you live in.
“Our brain does not see the world as it is. Our brain recognizes patterns and creates a meaningful perception of reality based on it. ”
– Peter Lund Madsen
Things happen around us that we do not always get along with. Our consciousness cannot accommodate all impressions at once. Therefore, the brain sorts out the superfluous so that our consciousness can relate to what we have turned our attention to. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so no one can do two things at once. Imagine e.g. that you were lying on the beach one hot summer day reading a book, while also having to relate to ALL the conversations that were going on around you. You can try if it is possible, but I would venture to say that it is an impossible task. Therefore, our experience of what is “real” is also different. Although it is the same activity we participate in, we all have a different perception of it because our consciousness is not always directed towards the same thing.
“The brain does not always give us an objective picture of the world, but a customized image.”
– Kaja Nordengen
Our consciousness is the prerequisite for us to make an active choice. It can be hard to understand. The task of the brain is not to create a correct picture of the world. The task of the brain is to create meaning in chaos and give us the knowledge necessary to survive.
“The vast majority of what we experience is something the brain has composed and guessed.”
– Peter Lund Madsen
Thoughts, emotions and wills arise through chemical and physical processes in the brain. We are biology but we are not slaves to it. The brain is impressionable and plastic and can change throughout life. Personality is a fundamental and very stable part of the brain we were born with and the upbringing we have had. Personality is complex because the brain is complex. But attitudes can change, habits can be reversed and temperament can be controlled. It requires our consciousness.
The experience of consciousness is the prerequisite for us to be able to change behavior over time and learn from our experiences.
A large part of our behavior and actions are automated and follow established tracks – routine work. Therefore, it is also difficult to change behaviors that are deeply rooted in habits we have had for several years. It requires extra (cognitive) energy to do so. Something the brain would rather save on.
There is no specific area in the brain that is the area of memory, but memory is part of everything we do (3). Memory is essential for the development of personality and is one of the most essential personal cognitive functions.
Three types of memory are often distinguished; sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory
1) Sensory memory maintains completely unprocessed sensory impressions (light, sound, body touches, etc.) for quite a few seconds until they may become the object of our attention.
2) short-term memory maintains impressions and thoughts (words, numbers, simple patterns) for up to about a minute. Our short-term memory can only handle a few pieces of information at a time. Therefore, the scam in e.g. memory training to concentrate and focus on a few things at a time so that they have time to store themselves in long-term memory.
3) Long-term memory stores memories for longer. While short-term memory holds things that happened a short time ago (no more than a few minutes), long-term memory holds events that happened days, weeks, and years ago. Something can be stored throughout life in long-term memory.
We remember more easily the things we go up in with passion and commitment, than other things. Fatigue, stress, and age can affect both memory learning and recall processes (4). Age we can not do much about, but by taking care of our sleep, we can help the brain strengthen certain brain cells that have to do with both learning and memory.
If the brain is subjected to a violent trauma, it can result in brain death. When you are brain dead, you are declared dead. One can no longer think, dream or feel (5). Since, for good reasons, you do not know when the death will occur, it is important that you already now decide whether you want to be an organ donor (6). By donating his organs, you can help save more human lives. I have taken a stand!
The brain remains the object of science’s insatiable appetite. And luckily for that. For although we have come a long way in research, there are still many areas of the magical universe of the brain that have not yet been uncovered. I hope you by reading the post here have gotten a little wiser on the amazing organ that the brain is. Even if it’s just a very small slice of what the brain is actually capable of.
If there is something you want elaborated on in a later blog post, I would love to hear from you. If you have become curious about further research on your own, I can highly recommend “The brain is the star – your only irreplaceable organ” by Kaja Nordengen and Dr. Zukaroff’s testament – a book about the human brain ”by Peter Lund Madsen. Both books are easy to read and take the reader on an exciting journey through the brain’s magical universe.
“The brain is the star – your only irreplaceable organ” by Kaja Nordengen
“Dr. Zukaroff’s testament – a book about the human brain ”by Peter Lund Madsen