Explore the greatest scientific frontier—the human brain—that uses a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body’s mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of vital nutrients? How exactly does the brain work? How does it create inspired inventions, the feeling of hunger, the experience of beauty, the sense of self?… What is it that makes you you?
What is it that makes you you? It is your brain and the data it holds- your memories and your personality. One could argue that it is both more sophisticated and efficient than any supercomputers that exist today. For as smaller, faster and powerful as computers have gotten at today’s digital age, they still are no close match for the comparison with the human brain. Sure, they are good at what they are programmed to do, but when we measure what a human brain is capable of, it is really not that close.
What Makes the Human Brain Special?
It is well established that the human brain is one of the most energy-consuming organs. Although the brain accounts of less than 2% of the weight of the human body, it gobbles up more than 20% of daily energy intake just to keep things in order (Koch, 2016). Despite all the scientific breakthroughs we have had, the human brain is still utterly alien to us. Yet, our language abilities, face recognition, decision-making, creative thinking all depend on the integrity of this 3 lb biological tissues.
For decades, scientists from all around the world have been working very hard to build a computer that can calculate faster than the human brain, and store more information. The K computer, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, is capable of handling a mind-boggling number of tasks in far less than the blink of an eye. According to Fischetti (2011), this supercomputer computes four times faster and holds 10 times as much data. But the million-dollar question is how efficient is the K supercomputer? In addition to occupying a lot of space, the K supercomputer uses enough electricity to power more than 10,000 houses. The annual running cost is estimated at the US $10 million, which is about $19 per minutes per supercomputer. It is not that comparable to the human brain, after all, is it?
“The human brain is so efficient that it consumes less energy than a dim lightbulb and fits incredibly well inside our skull. In fact, our brain generates enough electricity to power a lightbulb. Biology does a lot with a little: the human genome, which grows our body and directs us through years of complex life, requires less data than a laptop operating system. Even a cat’s brain smokes the newest iPad—1,000 times more data storage and a million times quicker to act on it” (Fischetti, 2011).
How much can our brain store?
Well, it is almost impossible to quantify the amount of information in the human brain partly because it consists of more information than we are consciously aware of (Such as faces, languages, and basic functions like how we speak). There is no actual way to measure how much processing power a human brain has, and there is a similar problem when it comes to determining its storage space. The human brain isn’t exactly like a hard drive because it is so prone to fading, which is why we do not remember everything. There is always some spaces available because not everything is retained indefinitely. It can be argued that the human brain can store an indefinite amount of information.
Researchers have discovered the brain chemicals that cause sleep paralysis (Scientific American, n.d.). Most of our dreaming occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep that happens around 90 minutes after you fall asleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep, according to the Scientific American. Since the brain is very active during this sleep phase, dreams are both very vivid and intense. During the most dream-filled phase of sleep- REM – our body produces chemicals that keep us paralyzed and unresponsive in sleep so that we do not get up and act out our dreams.
How Much Do You Know About the Human Brain?
Our brain is the most complex biological structure in the known universe—as it is often described. According to Gleiser (2013), it is estimated the human brain contains roughly 86 billion neurons. Those neurons are so closely connected to each other that together forms a network of Internet-like complexity enabling the information to travel at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. It is so complex that it is capable of generating the highest level of consciousness and the mental processes by which we perceive, act, learn, and remember. Those 86 billion neurons power all of our thoughts, perceptions, memories, and our emotions—all products of our brains.
Richard Wingate, Editor-in-Chief of BrainFacts.org, said: “Unraveling the mysteries of the brain has the potential to impact every aspect of human experience and civilization.”
– – –
Neuroscientist Anil Seth: Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality | TED Talk
Neuroscientist Anil Seth says everything we perceive, from objects to emotions, is an act of informed guesswork by the brain. In this TED talk, Seth looks at the neuroscience of consciousness and how our biology gives rise to the unique experience of being you: “Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience — and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it. How does this happen? According to neuroscientist Anil Seth, we’re all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality.” Join Seth for a delightfully disorienting talk that may leave you questioning the very nature of your existence.”
Anil Seth is a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex, where he studies consciousness and its role in health and disease. He co-directs the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and is the Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal Neuroscience of Consciousness. Seth was also the 2017 President of the British Science Association (Psychology Section). He is the co-author of 30-Second Brain, a best-seller that explores how the brain works. Seth is a regular contributor to the New Scientist, The Guardian, and the BBC.
Atalla, J., Orwig, J., & Salter, L. (2018, March 26). A neuroscientist explains why reality may just be a hallucination. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/neuroscientist-explains-why-reality-hallucination-meaning-2018-3
British Neuroscience Association. (2013, April 7). How our bodies interact with our minds in response to fear and other emotions. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130407211558.htm
Carlson, N. R., Heth, C. D., Miller, H., Donahoe, J. W., Buskist, W., & Martin, G. N. (2007). Psychology: The Science of Behavior (Sixth). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Fischetti, M. (2011, November 01). Computers versus Brains. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/computers-vs-brains
Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2012, December 21). How does the brain use food as energy? Retrieved from https://www.brainfacts.org/ask-an-expert/how-does-the-brain-use-food-as-energy
Grieb, Z. (2016, July 7). The Human Brain. Retrieved from https://www.brainfacts.org/brain-anatomy-and-function/anatomy/2016/the-human-brain-070716
Gleiser, M. (2013, April 03). Mind And Matter: Confessions Of A Perplexed Soul. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/04/02/176017512/mind-and-matter-confessions-of-a-perplexed-soul
Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, August 13). Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities.htm
Jabr, F. (2015, November 28). How Humans Ended Up With Freakishly Huge Brains. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2015/11/how-humans-ended-up-with-freakishly-huge-brains
Jabr, F. (2012, July 18). Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/thinking-hard-calories
Koch, C. (2016, January 1). Does Brain Size Matter? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-brain-size-matter1
Mehta, A. (2011, February 1). Language and the Brain: What Makes Us Human. Retrieved from https://www.brainfacts.org/archives/2011/language-and-the-brain-what-makes-us-human
National Geographic. (2014, April 01). Your Amazing Brain. Retrieved from https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/science/your-amazing-brain/#brain.jpg
Northwestern University. (2014, February 4). Your memory is no video camera: It edits the past with present experiences. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204185651.htm
NPR’s TED Radio House. (2018, October 5). Anil Seth: How Does Your Brain Construct Your Conscious Reality? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2016/07/15/654730916/how-does-your-brain-construct-your-conscious-reality
Perry, S. (2011, May 16). Neurotransmitters: How Brain Cells Use Chemicals to Communicate. Retrieved from https://www.brainfacts.org/archives/2011/neurotransmitters-how-brain-cells-use-chemicals-to-communicate
Rao, A. (2018, October 11). Our Experience of Reality Is a Bunch of Hallucinations We Collectively Agree On. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xjbn3/consciousness-is-just-a-bunch-of-hallucinations-we-collectively-agree-on
Scientific American. (n.d.). What Happens in the Brain During Sleep? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-happens-in-the-brain-during-sleep1
Seth, A. (2017, April). Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/anil_seth_how_your_brain_hallucinates_your_conscious_reality
Swaminathan, N. (2008, April 29). Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-the-brain-need-s
TED Blog. (2017, April 26). How does consciousness happen? Anil Seth speaks at TED2017. Retrieved from https://blog.ted.com/how-does-consciousness-happen-anil-seth-speaks-at-ted2017
The Independent. (2014, April 2). The human brain is the most complex structure in the universe. Let’s. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/the-human-brain-is-the-most-complex-structure-in-the-universe-let-s-do-all-we-can-to-unravel-its-9233125.html