The human brain is the control centre of the nervous system. The various parts of the nervous system, including the spinal cord, sense organs and nerves, work together to coordinate all actions of the body, whether voluntary or involuntary.
What follows are 9 facts about this fascinating biological network.
1. The brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body
It is sometimes said that the brain uses as much energy as it takes to power a lightbulb – true if you were using a low energy bulb as it uses between 10 and 20 watts.
2. The structure of your brain changes when you learn
As you learn, the neurons in your brain form new connections. It is these patterns that create your memory. The more these patterns are reinforced, the less likely you are to forget what you have learnt.
3. You live in a world of interactive virtual reality.
The rods and cones on your retina don’t produce an image in the way a camera does. They send small electrical impulses to the brain about light, shade, edges of objects plus the wavelengths of the light entering the eye. The brain then interprets this and creates an image of the world around you.
4. Involuntary responses (reflexes) are not processed by the brain
Responses such as the knee jerk reflex and pulling your hand away from something hot use nerve pathways known as ‘reflex arcs’. The sensory neurons send an impulse to the spinal cord which sends it straight back to the associated motor neurons. No thought process is involved, making the response extremely fast and automatic.
5. A baby is able to make almost all of the sounds of every known language
As a baby develops and learns a language, it loses this ability.
6. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that prevents us from tickling ourselves
Research at University College London has shown that the cerebellum makes exact predictions about your body’s movements and sends a damping signal to the centre of the brain that processes touch. It cannot make predictions about the movements of someone else so no damping signal is sent.
7. There are 3 types of nerve cell (neurons)
The three types are sensory neurons (detect stimuli), motor neurons (pass instructions to muscles and other tissues and organs) and association neurons (connect sensory and motor neurons).
8. Nerve impulses are tiny electrical signals
When a nerve is stimulated, it generates a small electrical charge which passes along the length of the cell.
9. Chemicals transfer nerve impulses from one neuron to the next
The junctions between nerve cells are called synapses. Neurotransmitter chemicals from the stimulated neuron cross the tiny gaps in the synapse, stimulating an electrical signal in the neuron on the other side.