There are over 7 billion brains in the world today and you carry your own portable version (your very own brain), with you all the time. Worth taking a little of your time to understand it.
Think of this as a user manual.
I believe a bit of an understanding about the brain can help when trying to understand the outcomes of brain injury.
When you develop strategies, learn skills such as not taking things personally, when you want to link what you see, such as behaviour, and brain injury. Understanding of the brain can help.
Today is a beginning; structure and function of the overall brain. I set myself two challenges: the first to keep it brief, the second to keep in interesting. Let me know how you think I did in the Comments.
The Brain From the Bottom Up
A ‘User Manual’ should really cover the whole Central Nervous System (CNS) but that would be HUGE. So here is a Quick Start Guide of the structure and function of the main parts of the brain, a part of the CNS.
Brain Stem – A Tiny Pathway With a Big Job
The brain stem is at base of the brain. It connects our brain and spinal cord. Don’t be fooled by pictures, the brain stem is teeny tiny. Only about the size of your little finger.
It is the grand central station for information – all information travels through the brain stem from the body to the brain.
The spinal cord becomes the brain stem when the spinal cord passes through a narrow bony passage at the base of the skull (called the Foramen Magnum but that’s just showing off really). I mention it because it has particular impact when the brain stem is damaged.
The brain stem is the oldest part of our brain, thought to have evolved millions of years ago. Referred to as the “Reptillian brain” this can be helpful in remembering what it does. It looks after the basic life processes – living and breathing kind of functions:
Automatic systems (autonomic in proper terms) such as our level of consciousness, pain control, breathing, heart function, blood pressure, swallowing.
Arousal Systems –or sorting out how awake or asleep we are. Deciding the level of alertness such as sleeping, being awake, conscious / unconscious.
Cranial Nerves – most nerves of our head travel to and from the main part of the brain through the brain stem. These are the nerves that control all parts of our head, face, neck and senses such as smell, sight, hearing.
Baby Brain – The Cerebellum
Sometimes affectionately called the “little brain”. If you look at the picture above you will see why – it looks like a baby cerebrum (or baby brain) and lives just underneath it.
It might be small but it packs a punch. The cerebellum is thought to contain as many neurones as the rest of the CNS put together.
How can that be when it is so small? Well it’s all folded up into a small package with lots of folds.
The cerebellum is mostly about movement. It decides on when we start or stop movement. It co-ordinates and fine tunes our movement so it is smooth and lovely (well mostly lovely).
Cleverly it gathers all information, then tells the muscles when and how to work, adjusting our position according to gravity, even controlling our eye movements.
As an extra it also is thought to play a part in memory, remembering how we do things or Procedural memory.
Natural Broadband Corpus Callosum
Generally this is included in discussion about the cerebrum but it is worthy of a mention all by itself.
This is like the most amazing broadband connection in the world. A mass of connections joining the left and right brain.
It contains over 300 million axons that connect to mirror areas on the other side of the brain. Yup someone must have counted them all!
The Corpus Callosum enables a nice co-operative affair between the two hemispheres. So that the left hand really does know what the right hand is doing.
Love and More: The Limbic System.
Don’t know why but this is my favourite part of the brain. All mysterious and hidden. All those emotions and appetites.
And it is pretty important to our core survival.
It is found deep in the brain. Not one, but a series of structures beneath the Corpus Callosum.
Those structures within the limbic system are quite famous, you might even hear about them in the news from time to time: the Thalamus, Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, Hippocampus and Amygdala.
These structures have a major part to play in our emotional responses; anger, grief, love, happiness. Helping to manage stress. Also our metabolism, appetites or drives, hunger, satiation, sleep patterns, sexual maturity etc. And as an extra it also has memory responsibilities.
Celebrity Brain: The Cerebrum
The cereberum is the most popular part of the brain. The part that gets photographed, coloured up, displayed in magazines.
Celebrity status and with good reason.
It is the main brain. Mostly it just gets termed “the brain”
Like its miniature (the Cerebellum) it too has lots of folds to increase the ability to house millions of cells and do lots of exciting things.
Think of it as the most sophisticated computer imaginable. That much is true, no one has been able to emulate the brain though over coming years the Brain Project aims to try.
Pretty much every single thing you do, say, think, feel, act comes from your brain and in particular your cerebrum.
Imagine 7 billion of the world’s most sophisticated computers all working ALL the time. When you think of it that way: why can’t we solve poverty, world peace and every other human issue?
This part of the brain will get its own celebrity article next week. To summarise different each main part (lobe) has different functions. The Frontal lobe is the boss; with two parietal, two temporal, and one occipital lobe helping out.
Useful Resources about The Brain:
Interested in more or interested in seeing or hearing information you might find these links useful:
If you like interactive colourful presentations with an audio presentation thrown in try the Centre of Excellence for Medical MultiMedia site
This site from the University of British Columbia has some great models, links and video clips
Know of other great resources put a note with the reference in the Comments below or send me a note HERE.
Is your brain spinning? Are you feeling a bit of cognitive fatigue? I will take a break now, more next week. Next week devoted to the celebrity bit of the brain.
If you want to keep thinking about this. Test yourself. What difficulties might a person have when damage occurs to each part?
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