How Does the Brain Work?

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Function

  • The brain is the most important part of our anatomy. It tells all the other parts what to do, and when to do it. The brain works as part of a network that includes the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Together, they transmit and control any information sent to and from the other areas of the body. Nonetheless, the brain is the master controller.

    Special types of cells called neurons, or nerve cells, make up the content of the brain. These cells form a network throughout the body as well. The brain uses this network to send messages and receive feedback from the body using electrochemical charges. As such, neurons send messages to each other through the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. It's the electrochemical aspect of neurons that allows the brain to coordinate all the body's functions.

Features

  • The physical characteristics of neurons are what make electrical transmissions throughout the brain and body possible. A neuron cell consists of a cell body, an axon and dendrites. While the cell body holds the cell's instructions, the axons and dendrites extend out from the cell body like branches and carry the electrical charges, or impulses, from one nerve cell to another.

    The brain itself contains three groupings, or sections of neurons, that coordinate the body's functions. They are the:
    Brain stem
    Cerebellum
    Cerebral hemispheres (cerebral cortex)

    The brain stem connects with the spinal cord. Contained in the brain stem are the medulla, pons, midbrain and thalamus. Each section carries out specific functions in terms of processing and sending information to and from the brain. The areas of the body controlled by the brain stem are the heart rate, blood pressure, arm and leg movements, digestion and basic reflexes.

    The cerebellum, located behind the brain stem, processes information having to do with our sense of balance and arm-leg coordination. The cerebellum makes up about one third of the total brain mass. Sitting atop the brain stem and cerebellum are the two cerebral hemispheres responsible for thought, speech and memory abilities.

Types

  • What most distinguishes the human brain from all others is it's two cerebral hemispheres. Fundamentally, all mammal brain structures consist of the sections needed to sustain the life of the animal. The areas of the brain that regulate breathing, digestion, blood pressure, limb coordination and reflexes are represented in all mammalian brains. Not only is the cerebral cortex a new addition to the brain structure, it's made up of two intra-dependent portions.

    As a result, one additional segment of the brain, the diencephalon, sits between the brain stem and cerebral cortex. This segment integrates the functions of the cerebral cortex area with the brain stem. Areas contained within the diencephalon are the thalamus and the hypothalamus. These two areas process sensory information such as thirst and hunger, as well as handling our emotional and sexual responses.

    Separating the two hemispheres is a line of white matter called the corpus callosum. It allows these two separate areas of the cortex to communicate with each other. The left side of the cortex is responsible for language and reasoning processes, whereas the right side works with spatial perceptions and creativity. The presence of the corpus callosum and diencephalon areas is what allows us to integrate our higher-level abilities with the processes of our base functions.

Potential

  • Scientists have thoroughly dissected the human brain and attributed various functions to its individual parts. However, there are functions carried out by the brain that lack a specific corresponding point of origin. One of these functions is the process of unconscious thought, or the subconscious mind. The right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex has been shown to be the source of subconscious thought-- however, this evidence is based on brain-wave studies.

    Sleep study experiments have identified the presence of subconscious thought based on theta wave activity exhibited by the brain during dream phase sleep. From these studies, various mental programming systems have been created, using theta waves as the means to entering the subconscious and reprogramming patterns of thought, and behavior.

    The study of the subconscious mind remains a vast area for exploration. The field of metaphysical kinesiology is one of many fields attempting to better understand the means and potentials of the subconscious mind. In using subliminal biofeedback techniques, kinesiologists apply external stimuli--images, or commands--to elicit responses from the subconscious mind. The challenge here lies in deciphering a definite framework for this part of the brain based on the inherent subjective nature of the subconscious mind.

  • Photo Credit http://www.nhm.gov/, http://www.psychotherapycape.co.za/, http://www.cerconelearning.com
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