Of all the mysteries in human life, the brain may be one of the most difficult to figure out. Human beings have discovered the heights of the planet and the depth of the seas, learned how to make an airplane fly and how to create amazing electronic devices to do much of the work that comes with living. But the brain remains one of the mysteries of life centuries after the first scientists began to take a close look at this wonderful organ.
The brain is made up of a number of different parts that work together and separately in a very complex way. While an adult brain weights about three pounds and is relatively small compared to other organs, it has billions of living cells that control everything we do, whether we are sleeping or going about our day. Some people have compared the brain and the body’s nervous system to a communications network that sends and receives information constantly, 24 hours a day.
This is an accurate comparison, as far as it goes. But there is so much more to the brain’s tasks that even the most complex phone network using satellites, radio signals, wires and receivers is simple in comparison. The difference between the brain and a man-made electronic network lies in the chemicals and the living cells that make up the brain. After all, this organ is made up of many of the same chemical substances as the rest of the body.
The neurons of the brain are similar to switches that turn network signals of and on, or direct them to other parts of the body. In the brain, these switches send out signals along a tiny “wire” known as the axon, then the signal crosses a space called the synapse to make contact with another nerve ending that is connected to yet another neuron. This occurs almost instantaneously and happens hundreds, even thousands of times on a continuous basis.
This sounds simple, but there is much more to what the brain does than simply sending out an electrical signal. The brain is never really at rest, even when we are in a deep sleep. It is the “operations center” for the body that keeps us breathing and keeps us alive even when we aren’t aware of it. In addition to several larger parts, the brain works like thousands of tiny individual computers to control each detail of the body.
The brain has two major parts, a left and right section called “hemispheres.” Each side of the brain has particular duties. A simple explanation of these tasks would include the right brain’s job of controlling what we see and how we do things in a practical way. The left side of the brain does something different. This section helps us analyze and figure out what we are seeing, adding detail about what we see and how we “feel” about it.
The brain is the control center for keeping our blood pressure and breathing rate at a safe level. It regulates the temperature of the body, tells us when we touch something and lets us know if the object is hard, soft, hot, cold etc. The brain also works with information during our thinking time and dreaming time, controlling the colors and motion we “see” in our minds.
All of this is the result of the electrical signals that move into and out of the brain along the axons (wires), into and out of the neurons. This is a rather simple explanation of an amazing organ, and hardly scratches the surface of a very complex and mysterious process.