On June 9, 2020, Washington University scientists released a report on neurological experiments. Their research shows that the human brain rewires itself when changes occur in the body. Dr. Nico Dosenbach, professor of neurology, and his coworkers put their arms in casts. For seven weeks, they would lie absolutely still for a 30-minute MRI. The MRI scans showed that within two days, the group of neurons responsible for coordinating the movement of the casted arms effectively disconnected from the rest of the brain but increased their connections with each other.
Dr. Beatriz Lunda at the University of Pittsburgh said, “They found a neural signature for adult brain plasticity. It adds to our understanding that the brain is never doing nothing. It is always trying to optimize its performance.” This means the human brain rewires itself to compensate for the current disuse of a body part while keeping the pathways open to reactivate that part later.
The applications of this research are many and of great significance. Stroke victims, people who have casts on their arms or legs, and children with conditions that cause them to favor one side of the body, can all benefit from this research. The complete report will be published in the August 2020 edition of the professional journal Neuron, if you are interested in reading more about how the human brain rewires itself.
God’s design of our personal computer – the brain – is so complex that we are just beginning to understand how it works. Like any computer, the designing Engineer had to be a genius to make such a wondrous device. Thank you, God, for our brains and help us to take care of them.
When I was a kid, I had a classmate who could take his 1948 car apart so that every part was lying on the garage floor. He could then put them all back together and have the car working in one afternoon. I bought that 1948 Dodge from him, thinking I could do the same thing. However, he understood the design of the engine, and I didn’t. No car can compare to the complex human brain.
As scientists learn about how the brain operates and the magnitude of its component parts, the complex human brain becomes even more amazing. Different parts of the body allow signals to travel at different speeds. Signals travel through your skin at a modest rate of one mile (1.6 km) per hour. Your spinal cord has alpha motor neurons that allow signals to travel at 268 miles (431 km) per hour. That means signals from the extremities of your body can get to the brain almost instantaneously.
The design of this system is hard to fathom. There are roughly 100,000 miles ( km) of nerve fibers in your brain. The minimum number of neural connections (or synapses) in the human brain is 100-trillion. That is about 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy. The number of neurons in the human brain is 100-billion. Those statistics only begin to describe the complex human brain.
At our 50-year class reunion, I asked my friend if he could still tear down his car and put it back together in one afternoon. He said that he couldn’t. What’s more, he said that with the complex design of modern cars that enables them to do much more than the 1948 Dodge, he didn’t want to. As I started my 2018 car and looked at all the buttons and sensors on the dash, I understood what he was saying. That old Dodge got me from point A to point B, but it offered none of the creature comforts of today’s cars.
What would the business world pay for the greatest computer ever made? It’s a computer that can absorb, store, and retrieve one billion gigabytes of data and has 125,000,000,000,000,000 units of memory (1.25e for our computer jocks). It can run on 1/500,000th of the energy required to run the most energy-efficient laptop computers and weighs less than three pounds. In reality, you are the proud possessor of such a computer. It’s your brain.
The computer in your head controls all of the organs in our body, the skeletal and muscular systems, and the central nervous system with its 90,000 miles (145,000 km) of nerve connections. The computer in your head is divided into two sections with the left brain and right brain doing different things. They are joined by a membrane called the corpus callosum, which separates the two halves of the brain and yet allows them to interact with one another. If the corpus callosum is severed, you essentially have two individuals produced, and they can still function.
We all know that many things can mess up our home computers. Spilling a foreign liquid on them, applying the wrong voltage and current, overheating them, having some outside person hack into them, or physically changing them by adding or removing parts can all cause terrible consequences. In the same way, our brains can be damaged by the same disrupters. Pollution, foreign liquids, alien chemicals, or outside physical damage can cause terrible consequences to the human brain. The result can be physical problems, mental problems, and emotional difficulties.
In spite of all that, we are amazed by discoveries of how the brain works, what it can do, and how we can help it. When we look at our smartphones, tablets, and computers, we are amazed at their design and complexity. We marvel at the intelligent minds that created them. The computer in our head was also designed by an Intelligence far beyond that of any human engineer. Indeed we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). We all possess the greatest computer ever made. Let us use it wisely, protect it, and allow it to tell us of the wisdom of God.
Our bodies feed sensory information into the brain, sort of like a keyboard, mouse, or scanner feeds data into a computer. There is a school of psychology known as “embodied cognition” which suggests that not all of our thinking takes place in the brain. They suggest that we do some of our thinking outside the brain.
Those scientists say that the body helps the brain decide what to do with the data it receives. In one test, volunteers were directed to stand at the bottom of a hill and estimate how steep it was. The answers given correlated with the physical condition of the volunteers. Those who were not physically prepared to climb the hill estimated it to be steeper than it was. Those who were carrying a heavy backpack estimated the hill to be steeper than those who were not carrying a load. A physical challenge of any kind may look easy to a person who is physically ready for the challenge. To a person with disabilities, the same task looks much different.
The way we perceive the world is linked to our physical state. The idea of facing a new day is difficult for a person who is in pain. To a healthy person, the new day may be filled with exciting possibilities. A happy person may thank God for blessings. To a person who is discouraged or depressed the concept of a loving God may be hard to accept. Our bodies may be giving our brain a discouraging message.
The cover story in the August 2018 issue of Scientific American is titled “The Seventh Sense.” Jonathan Kipnis wrote the article with the subtitle “Long thought to be divorced from the brain, the immune system turns out to be intimately involved in its functioning.”
The article reports on new studies of how the brain and the immune system interact. Not only does the immune system help an injured brain, but it also plays a role in helping the brain deal with stress and informs it of microorganisms in and around the body. When I was in college the brain and the immune system were viewed as independent of one another. The central nervous system controls all the body’s functions, and this new study shows that the brain is connected to this system in such a way that the immune system is an integral part of both.
We have five senses–smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. The sense of position and movement is usually referred to as a sixth sense. These senses report to the brain about our external and internal environments. The brain computes the activity needed for our protection. Microorganisms are present in all of these environments, and the ability to sense them and provide a way to defend against them is necessary. It appears that our immune system is hardwired into the brain, and if that is the case, it is the seventh sense.
In the modern world, we have so many things that attack our bodies that we need to find new treatments based on a better understanding of how the immune system works. New studies are in the works that will expand our knowledge. One thing is clear–the system is highly complex, and we are just beginning to understand how it works and how to deal with the new challenges brought on by the world in which we live.
How would you answer if someone asked you, How much of your brain do you use? The correct answer would be, All of it.
In the 1890’s psychologist and philosopher William James made a statement that we use only a small part of our mental resources. He was misquoted by broadcaster and writer Lowell Thomas in the foreword to a Dale Carnegie book in 1936. Thomas changed the wording to say that “the average man develops only ten percent of his latent mental ability.” That misquote has been re-quoted and repeatedly misquoted, ever since then.
I am sure you have read, or somebody told you that humans use only ten percent of their brains. In the 2014 movie “Lucy,” actor Morgan Freeman played a world-renowned neurologist who tells an auditorium full of people that “human beings use only ten percent of their brain’s capacity.”
Saying something many times may make people believe it, but that doesn’t make it true. It is not true that we use only ten percent of our brain, no matter how you word it. The truth is that not all areas are active all the time, but we do use every part of our brains. The human brain is an incredible living organ.
If we apply our brain power to consider our brain, we will have to ask some questions. “How is it possible that this amazingly complex and intelligent computer could have happened by mere chance? How could natural selection acting on random mutations with no guiding intelligence create something so complex?” Even more incredible than that—how could mind come from mindless matter?
As more and more scientific data becomes available, the incredible complexity of the cosmos and our world becomes clearer. A classic example of that is the incredible human brain.
The human brain is not exceptional on a chemical basis. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen are the fundamental materials that are present in all brains with traces of various metals also contributing a small part. What is remarkable is the design of the brain and what it can do.
Recent measurements show that the human brain can hold about one petabyte of data. That would be equivalent to a million one gigabyte flash drives. The brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body, but it is only 2% of our total body weight. There are 52 sections to the human brain, each one containing different cells allowing us to do the different things we can do. Every neuron contains about .07 volts of energy. Since a human brain has 86 billion neurons that adds up to about six billion volts–equivalent to 477,777,777 car batteries.
Is religion a brain function? Stav Dimitropoulos is a regular writer for Discover magazine. In the July/August 2017 issue (page 26-27) she wrote an article titled “Trying to Lose My Religion.” She explains her religious feelings by saying, “Could my grandparents’ faith, foisted upon me during my formative years, have hard-wired my otherwise logical brain for mysticism?”
Dimitropoulos launches into a series of speculative discussions trying to explain away the unique religious quality of humans as entirely functions of the brain. In one section of the article, she suggests that psychoactive drugs will accomplish the same result. One of her fellow researchers, Dr. Jordan Grafman at Northwestern University points out that, “Mystical experiences can lead to creative thoughts and artistic development.” This is a step in the right direction. The problem is that researchers like Dimitropoulos lump all religious activity into the same mold.
Attempting to suggest that all religions do the same thing, come to action in the same way, and/or have the same experiences in worship activity is rather ignorant. Many of us worship quietly on our own without emotional experiences or ritual. Suggesting that an apologetic scholar, a Unitarian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a voodoo chanter, a Buddhist, a Catholic priest, and pentecostal participant engaging in tongues all do the same thing, in the same way, is ludicrous.
The fact that creativity, music, art, and worship all have similar origins in religious activity is a manifestation of the spiritual nature of humans. Guilt, sympathy, compassion, and self-sacrificing love are further manifestations of the human spiritual nature. Those of us who work with the mentally challenged and have mentally challenged children can tell you that their spiritual nature is no different from ours. They may not be able to express that nature as we do because of the impairment they have to overcome.
In my college days at Indiana University, there was a department known as the Kinsey Institute. The first public studies of human sexual conduct that had been given wide circulation were conducted by Kinsey and revealed much about the morality of our culture. That institute is still functioning and recently released a study of brain responses to sexual interactions in humans. The bottom line is that God’s plan for marriage works.
The bottom line is that the first person you have sexual relations with “lays down a template for what you find attractive.” A study reported in the Journal of Neurophysiology goes into a chemical discussion of the brain’s natural opiates which are set in a person’s first sexual experience.
What stands out in this study is that any kind of promiscuity violates the design of the system that is built into us. Proverbs 5:18-19 portrays the ideal for a man when it tells us: “Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice with the wife of your youth. Let her be as the loving hind, a graceful doe; and let her breasts satisfy you at all times and be ravished with her love.” God’s plan is for a single relationship (Genesis 2:24) which is nurtured and cared for (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).