Professor Lea Waters (PhD)
Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology
Centre of Positive Psychology
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne
Just how awesome is your own personal necktop computer, your noggin?
Pretty damn complex, according to researchers at Stanford. Their new imaging technique discovered that synapses are actually more like individual microprocessors than simple on/off switches, and your brain has hundreds of trillions of them.
According to Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and one of the lead researchers, the new images revealed the brain to be vastly more intricate than we had ever imagined:
One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor–with both memory-storage and information-processing elements–than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
So what do we know today?
Here are 10 facts about the wondrous, weird and incredibly powerful human brain: 1. There are somewhere between 80 and 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) in the human brain. They look something like this ...
2. Neurons vary in size between 4 and 100 microns wide. To get an idea of how small that is, the full-stop period at the end of this sentence measures about 500 microns in circumference, meaning more than 100 of the smallest neurons could fit inside it. 3. When it comes to fuel consumption, the brain is like a Hummer in the body of a smart car. Weighing in at around 3 pounds, a brain makes up just 2% to 3% of the body's mass, but consumes ten times that amount of the body's oxygen and glucose. 4. Brains also put out an astonishing amount of energy. The sleeping brain could power a 25-watt lightbulb. 5. The axons in your brain could span a distance of 100,000 miles. That's four times around the Earth. 6. But even exhausted brains are pretty prolific. Some experts say we have 70,000 thoughts a day, while others insist the number is much higher. 7. Think fast: Information travels through different types of neurons at different speeds, ranging from 1 mile per hour (hopping in stilettos might be faster) to about 270 miles per hour (comparable to the fastest car in the world). 8. Our brains can scan and process complex images (e.g., a subway platform at rush hour) in as little as 13 milliseconds. That's pretty fast, given that a single eye blink takes a few hundred milliseconds. 9. Playing a musical instrument, the equivalent of a full-body workout for the brain, forces the visual, auditory and motor cortices to work in concert. Whether you're pounding keys like Mozart or slapping the bass like Flea, playing music pulls from linguistic and mathematical skills from the left hemisphere, creative content from the right hemisphere and fine motor skills from both spheres. 10. Despite what you put on your resume, brains are not built for multitasking. In fact, research has linked media multitasking to lower gray matter density in an area involved in cognitive and emotional processing.