Of all of the parts of your body that radiate design and complex structure, the brain is probably the most amazing. When we compare what the brain allows us to do and human efforts to build a computer to duplicate those things, we realize the incredible nature of the brain’s creation. No computer can do everything your brain does and probably never will.
A big question in understanding the brain is what controls intelligence. For example, a blue whale has a giant brain, almost five times as big as ours, but there is no evidence that they have superior intelligence. However, brain size is a factor in how much energy it uses. Our brain is about 2% of our body weight, but it consumes 20% of our energy.
Studies have shown large variations in brain size within the bird family. For example, ravens have bigger brains than the much larger ostriches, and they also demonstrate greater intelligence. On the other hand, some fish have tiny brains. For instance, bony-eared assfish have the smallest brain-to-body mass ratio of any vertebrate, but they require only a few simple functions to survive in their deep ocean environment.
Research has shown that different parts of animal brains are different sizes depending on the animal’s needs. For example, owls have a more extensive section of their brains related to sight than other birds that don’t hunt at night. Crows and parrots have the largest brain size compared to the bodyweight of all birds. They are also considered to be the most intelligent of all birds. It is quite clear, however, that brain size is not a primary factor in intelligence. On average, male human brains are larger than female brains, and no one would suggest that males are more intelligent.
The bottom line is that brains are tailor-made to fit what the individual needs to survive. Also, the critical factor isn’t the size of the brain but the size of the brain section the animal requires for survival. In humans, the ability to create art and music does not seem to be related to the brain. Mentally challenged humans frequently create marvelous works of art and compose beautiful music. The human capacity to worship and to believe there is more to existence than this life do not seem to be related to any brain response.
What the brain allows us to do is an incredible demonstration ofGod’s wisdom and design. However, it is not our brains but our spiritual make-up that makes humans different from other living things. We are created in the image of God, allowing us to do things and understand things that are beyond all other life on Earth.
Recently a critic suggested that if God were so great, He wouldn’t allow dementia and Alzheimer’s to be a part of the human experience. There is no question that Alzheimer’s and dementia are a growing problem in today’s world. Those of us who have had family members develop these disabilities can testify how hard it is for family and loved ones. Is the inability of a mother to recognize her children or husband a failure in human brain design?
The Alzheimer’s Association has released data showing that one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Since 2000, the number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s has more than doubled. It kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women, and more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. We don’t know all of the causes and contributors to Alzheimer’s. Still, we know enough to tell us that Alzheimer’s and dementia are related to our environment, our growing life expectancy, and our lifestyles.
In the past, people just didn’t live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s. Life expectancy brings many age-related health issues. For that reason, Alzheimer’s and dementia are a growing problem. Diet and physical activity are related to Alzheimer’s. In modern life, we do a lot of sitting and consume many foods that are not good for our brains. The same conditions that have caused heart disease and diabetes also produce Alzheimer’s and dementia. God did not design humans to sit behind a desk with no exercise and eat foods that negatively affect our brains. The Alzheimer’s Association has shown that multiple vaccinations for flu and pneumonia reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.
Our brains are incredible devices that allow us to survive and do amazing things. We clearly see God’s design in how our brains work, but human activity and choices have contributed to a decline in brain health. Alzheimer’s and dementia are a growing problem but not an indication that God failed in His design. It shows that the neglect of our brains and our choices in life have caused problems that prevent our incredible biological computers from handling all the data we want them to retain. We must take care of the good things God has given us, and our brains are among the most important.
What makes you special? As we look at the many creatures that inhabit planet Earth, we see that humans are unique.
Unlike most animals, we walk on two legs. Even primates that can stand upright spend much of their time on all-fours. Standing upright frees our hands for making and using tools. It also allows us to use our hands for creating art and writing stories and books. Most animals are covered with a thick layer of hair to protect them from the harsh environment. We protect ourselves by clothing that we design using our creativity and that we make using our hands.
Our opposable thumbs allow us to do things that no animal can. Most apes and monkeys have opposable thumbs, but only humans can bring their thumbs in opposition to any of our four fingers. That is unique, but it’s not what makes you special.
Humans can speak and write. The design and position of our larynx, tongue, and mouth make it physically possible to create sounds that form words. Beyond our physical traits, the ability to understand symbolism is essential for advanced communication. You can understand the meaning of words, even the meaning of the words formed by the letters you are reading. But still, there is more to what makes you special.
Human children are dependent on their parents for a much longer time than any animal, and our family relationships are important throughout life. We are capable of an “agape” type of love that emphasizes others’ needs rather than ourselves. We learn to love in our families as our parents model a godly love for us.
Our brain is unique, not because of its size but because of what it can do. There are animals with larger brains. The sperm whale has the largest. When you compare brain weight to body size, many birds have brains that make up 8 percent of their body weight. The human brain is only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, but it far exceeds any animal’s brain in intelligence.
The most remarkable difference–and the biggest mystery to science–is what is often referred to as “mind.” How can mere atoms and molecules form cells and neural connections to create the human sense of advanced self-consciousness and purpose? We believe this most unique feature of humans is more than the physical action of neurons. We prefer to call it our soul, that brings us closer to what makes you special.
We have to look beyond the physical realm to understand what makes humans special. Our creativity, our search for beauty, our desire for loving relationships, our seeking after justice, and our desire to worship all indicate that we know there is something beyond what this world offers. We believe those desires are in your soul because God created you in His image and designed you to have a relationship with Him. That is truly what makes you special.
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.