The brain is a fabulously complex organ. It alone takes up 30% of all our resources and is the driving force of over 90% of our body. But, what exactly is the brain, the mind? We’re going to look over some of the functions of the brain, the basic structures, and discuss the importance of them in our lives.
The last 10% comes from the endocrine system working on its own, reflex motion, and ‘gut feeling’. But, that’s a whole other topic.
Structure & Function of the Brain
The brain is part of the nervous system. It controls and works with the spinal cord as part of the central nervous system. The brain directly interacts with the cranial nerves, which are part of the peripheral nervous system, and the cranial nerves control the autonomic or involuntary nerves. The somatic or voluntary motor nerves are the other part of the peripheral nervous system and indirectly work with the brain. It also accepts sensations from the sensory nerves, those of which are in the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Some of these nerves directly connect to the brain, especially the olfactory nerves.
Traditionally, it was thought that the brain controlled every organ in the body, including the heart, digestive system, and muscles. However, we have found out in recent years that the brain may be the driving force, but all of the nerves in the body are able to function on their own and are responsive to the nervous system and endocrine system. Reflex actions, such as when the doctor taps your knee and you kick, are part of this response.
When the brain works with the other organs of the endocrine system, they are able to produce chemicals and nerve impulses that affect every other part of our body. The endocrine primarily produces neurotransmitters, some of which are acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and many, many more. We have several articles on these, so follow the links above to learn more.
The brain is incredibly complex and can do just about anything. Primarily, the main function of the brain is storage of memories and coordination of nerve impulses. The brain controls our conscious movements and has majority control over unconscious movements.
But, how does the brain think? That is a question that’s been puzzling scientists because our brains are so unique throughout the whole world. Humans are the only species of animal that can reason and deduce. We appear to be the only creatures that have control of the brain, rather than having the brain control us. Whole religions have formed around how to control the brain, and we have some articles over here on how to improve your memory to help you begin to control yours.
The Human Brain Anatomy
We’re not going to delve deep into the parts of the human brain, because this is such a complex topic. We recommend signing up for a course at your local college on anatomy and physiology in order to get the full scope of exactly what the brain is and how it functions.
The brain is made of two major elements: nerves and endocrine tissue. It contains billions of nerves and several endocrine organs. Located in the skull, the brain sits atop the whole body. We literally start thinking from the top downward.
Scientists have been looking for a map of the human brain and its functions since the discovery of the importance of the brain, but as we learn more about the brain, we realize it has become an incredibly complex and difficult task.
At first, scientists were not sure of what part of the brain controlled what, but now we know it is different in different people and can vary in different cultures. For example, people who have experienced stroke are able to adapt their brains so that one part of the brain can take over the function of another. The literal way of how the human brain processes information changes through this adaptation.
Scientists have also discovered that ancestry and upbringing can affect how the brain performs various functions. Language is a perfect example of this: Asian languages are concept languages that can convey thoughts via groupings of descriptor words and each word can have layers of meaning. Haiku is an extreme example. Indo-European languages are literal or semantic languages where word order and phrasing give the depth of meaning and each word is specific and unique.
The brain is divided into four main sections, which each have a few subsections. Here’s the main breakdown:
Main thinking part of the brain
When we begin looking at the human brain, it is easy to say that the cerebrum is the most important part of the brain. In the brain, it is how we humans learn, process information, store information, and how we retrieve things or remember. It is nearly homogeneous in nature, with the cells that make up the section of the brain being virtually identical.
However, without the other sections of our brain, there would be no need for this. The cerebellum dictates our ability to move and maintain posture. The diencephalon helps regulate our body temperature, emotions, and sensory input. The brain stem is the main area where breathing, digestion, and our hearts are regulated. We need every part of our brain to be human.
Major Structures of the Brain
The four main parts of the brain are what we covered earlier. Looking at the anatomical structure of the brain, the brainstem contains the area that controls unconscious functions. It is also the go-between between the higher functions of the brain and the rest of the body. It is also known as The Reptilian part of our brain, as most of our instincts emerge from this area.
The brainstem contains the medulla. This is a two-way conduction between the spinal cord and the higher brain centers. Cardiac, respiratory, and vasomotor control centers are located here. It is composed of both gray matter and white matter that are mixed closely to form the reticular formation.
The pons is a slightly more bulbous area of the brain stem that is a two-way pathway between the brain and the other regions of the body. Its main control is over respiration. This is composed mostly of white matter, with a little bit of gray matter interspersed.
The mid-brain is the go-between of the higher and lower functions of the brain. It is a visual, auditory and olfactory relay that is composed mostly of white matter, with a little bit of gray matter next in.
The diencephalon is perhaps the smallest portion of our brain. However, it might be the most important. This is the location of the pituitary, pineal, hypothalamus and thalamus gland. These glands are incredibly important to the body as they produce some of the most potent hormones in our body.
The thalamus sits on top of the hypothalamus and helps produce sensations for the body. It is one of the chief controllers of the pleasant or unpleasant feelings, as well as arousal. The hypothalamus is one of the smallest organs in the body and has control over nearly all organs of the body. It helps control the vital functions of the heartbeat, construction and dilation of the blood vessels, and contraction of the stomach and intestine. Antidiuretic hormones are produced here and they control the amount of urine that is excreted. The hypothalamus is responsible for maintaining body temperature and producing the hormones that control the release and production of nearly all the other hormones in the body.
The pineal gland is unusual. Being larger in the young, it tends to become encrusted with calcium deposits as a person ages. It is the production center for melatonin * and what some consider the third eye.
The pituitary gland is a high hormone-producing gland. It is the production center for the thyroid stimulating hormones, adrenocorticotropic (cortisol) production, follicle stimulating hormones (producing eggs/ secrete estrogen), luteinizing hormones (releases the egg), and other growth hormones. It will also produce prolactin during nursing.
The cerebellum is located in the back part of the brain. It lies under the occipital lobe of the cerebrum. The primary function is muscle coordination and the maintenance of equilibrium and posture. Is difficult to monitor this section of the brain, because it is so vital to every motion of our body.
In relation to the function of the cerebrum, this is a hard question to answer. This is because the neurons of the cerebrum do not function alone and are work with many other parts of the brain to coordinate motion.
The cerebrum is the largest part of the human brain and the most developed. It is the seat of human learning and what we most think of when people mention the brain. The cerebrum controls our sensory perception, emotional control, conscious motion, and memory. This is where we think.
Minor Structures of the Brain
Of course, the brain is not just nerves. There is a large number of blood vessels that supply the brain with nutrients. However, they do not run into the brain itself. The brain is covered by a thin membrane that is most often known as the blood-brain barrier. It permits certain chemicals, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the brain, but keeps out many of the undesirable drugs and waste products.
Each nerve within the brain is covered by a myelin sheath. This is the thin layer of fats and proteins that protect the nerve from outside stimulus. It is this sheath that is just destroyed by excessive sugar in the blood and other diseases that cause neuropathy and nerve degeneration.
Within the cerebrospinal fluid are many of the hormones and nutrients that the brain uses to sustain itself. This fluid is very pure and sterile, being held in place by the blood-brain barrier. In the case of accidents or surgery, when this barrier is breached, the likelihood of survival goes way down. Infection is highly likely given the very nutrient-rich fluid that the brain sets in.
What Your Brain Needs to Work Optimally
Our brains can take up to 30% of all of our resources. It is the largest reservoir of fat in healthy people, can use up to 50% of all the liquid we intake, and a staggering 80% of all the glucose. Yet, of all the neurotransmitters and hormones in our body, the brain uses the least. But, of these hormones, it is very targeted and very sensitive to changes.
Many people experience things like brain fog, memory problems, and fatigue. For most people, this is simply a function of not eating properly. The brain needs lots of nutrients, and the best source of nutrients are whole natural foods. Fruits and vegetables are the best things for our brain and we need good quality animal-based protein and unadulterated fats. Chemicals, processed foods, colorings, EMPs, fluorescent lights, and unnatural man-made products affect our brains in unhealthy ways.
There are many wonderful supplements that can help, and we have a whole article on that over here. There are also many memory games and exercises that will help keep your memory strong and your brain top-notch. And for those of you who are addicted to your phones, we have an article on the best apps as well. We couldn’t include all this information here, or this would just be too long to read.
Alcohol, medication, and drugs are two of the worst offenders for suppressing our brain thoughts. But, for some people, using medication to alter brain chemistry can help them think better. People who suffer from ADHD and diseases like schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s benefit from using medication. However, medications to control blood pressure, diabetes, and then lifestyle problems, most of which are associated with eating poor food, can cause brain fog, destroyed nerve cells, and further degenerative diseases.
For people who self-medicate with alcohol, the human brain is affected greatly. The alcohol itself destroys nerve impulses. The nerves will wither and die, and the ones that survived tend to form poor connections and slow responses. The effect of even a single drop of alcohol will last a lifetime. The alcohol seems to affect the frontal lobe of the brain the most.
Human Brain Analysis - Man vs. Woman
We’ve all heard that men and women think differently. I was told at the start of my education that the human brain is like ice cream. The man’s brain is like half and half, the woman’s brain is like fudge swirl.
The truth is very similar to this. Not all human brains are the same. In men, the brain tends to form very specific and separated areas dedicated to specific nerve impulses. For example, there’s a very specific location where visual input is recognized and processed.
Women tend to develop multiple areas that work together to process the same input. Using the example of visual input, a woman’s brain might have five or six locations that process this information.
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It is the same in every part of the brain, men tend to be more organized and separated, where women tend to have their thinking patterns spread out and working as a unit. The sounds awfully like how people behave, doesn’t it?
This can explain many of the differences between the ways people think. Men are able to focus on one task at a time very easily. Scientists believe it is tied to the way the brain has formed, but they are unsure if the brain forms the unique areas and this dictates behavior or if behavioral patterns cause the brain to form unique areas.
Because women’s brains have various areas that govern the same input, it is very easy for a woman to be thinking of multiple things at one time, or multitasking. The ability for the brain to make so many connections allows multiple thought patterns to occur at the same time. It is also the driving force between women forming groups, having the ability to both take care of multiple children and family matters at the same time and being more emotional beings.
This also plays out and how the body responds to parts of the brain being destroyed, such as in a stroke. Because of the man’s brain forming discrete centers for processing information, if that one location is destroyed, it is very difficult for the man to create a new center. You can take months and even years for the centers to regenerate.
However, because the woman’s brain forms multiple centers for processing the same information, a stroke has much less impact. If certain centers are destroyed, the others are able to compensate quickly. A minor stroke for a man is equivalent to a major stroke for a woman. In fact, there have been incidents is recorded in hospitals where a woman is having headaches and slight motor problems only to discover she had a stroke. The brain was able to recover that fast that it only provided a minor inconvenience.
This difference has played out in many religious histories. The vast majority of the major world religions focused on the man’s ability to be able to focus and retain that focus for long periods of time. It played to the man strengths. On the other hand, women have a much more difficult time remaining still and sustaining prayer or meditation without thinking of something else. For many millennia, it was believed that women were weaker for being distracted and unable to hold this concentration. Today, we realize it is because the woman’s brain has formed differently and it is not weaker or substandard to a man’s.
Of course, when it comes to love, the human brain works differently. The hormones that are produced when a person is in love, or in lust, can overwhelm the rational parts of the brain. We are talking about young love, such as the love of Romeo and Juliet or for a parent of a young child.
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Older and established love does not overwhelm the logical parts of the brain. The love between people who have been together for several years, siblings, good friends, and the parents of older children do not produce strong intense hormones but rely more on established thought patterns and habits.
Biologically, this makes sense. Young love occurs at a time when people are most fertile and are best able to produce young and care for them until they are old enough to take care of themselves. The hormones ensure sex happens, that the people stick around long enough to care until the child is born, and then remain and around a long enough until the child is able to take care of itself. By this time, the strong intense hormones have worn off.
In the brain, lust and young love are produced more in The Reptilian sections of our brain, where are animal instincts lie. Established love occurs more in the fore-brain, where we can think. This is why it is so important to rely on those you are close to and have established love with when you are experiencing young love.
How Does the Brain Work for Kids
Kids are a whole different creature. Up until puberty, a boy and a girl’s brain are virtually identical. There are tendencies towards forming thought patterns that aligned to the biological sex, but they are not strong. Once testosterone and estrogen production begins, the brain truly begins to form two biological patterns.
The biggest difference between kids and adults is that kids are able to form permanent neural connections extremely fast. We have all experienced a child hearing a word once, usually a foul curse, and the child than using it repeatedly. In order to encourage a child to learn and be healthy, from the moment of birth, and even in the womb, a child should be read to, listen to music, and be exposed to as many new experiences as possible. The fun should remain forefront, as children learn best when learning is frame has played.
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Once puberty hits, the child will experience various hormonal rushes for the next 10 to 15 years. Many of these hormones are dedicated to preparing the child to produce the next generation. It is especially important at this time to nurture the children and allow them to explore what they are feeling while establishing good strong boundaries so the logical portions of the children’s brain can learn to navigate the hormonal rushes.
Facts About How the Brain Works
Humans vs. Primates
What makes human brain different? Truthfully, we’re not sure. There’s exceptionally little difference between a primate brain and a human brain. There’s even less difference between a great ape and a human’s brain, although, humans are part of the great ape family. A few great apes and primates have been able to display the ability to use language, tools, and pass down habits to the next generation. However, as a whole species, they have not been able to do this collectively.
The front part of a human’s brain is slightly more active and slightly larger than the primates and great apes brain. Research is just starting to be done using Advanced MRI and CAT scan instrumentation that can actually show how the brain is thinking during various tasks. This may shed light on how our brains are truly different.
Humans vs. Computers
Technically, the human brain is a biological computer. It performs the same functions and has the same abilities as some of the most powerful electronic devices. Yet, it is only in the past couple of years that an external computer has outmatched the ability of the human brain. The supercomputer in Fujitsu, Japan has 10 times the storage space in 4 times the processing speed. The problem is, it takes up 4,000,000 times as much energy. From an energy conservation standpoint, the human brain still outstrips any computer. Then again, the internet contains 1000 times more data than the brain can possibly ever store. And you can’t remember where you put your keys.
Who Can and Can't Multitask
Everyone has the ability to multitask, but most people do not have the practice. Despite women being more adept at the ability to multitask, the skill takes practice and dedication to master. Very few people are able to do this. One of the problems is the amount of information that we are exposed to every day. For the majority of human existence, the amount of new information of person learned equated to about one new thing every day. Today, we are exposed to one new thing every few minutes. It has overwhelmed us and diminished capacity to be able to think of multiple things at one time.
What Percent of the Human Brain We Use
We have discovered that the human brain uses 100% of its capacity at all times. However, people tend to display or use only a mere fraction of what they are capable of. The desire for distraction, simply having fun, and general entertainment has reduced the display of our intelligence. People choosing TV over books and losing themselves in computer/phone games has reduced our capacity. So has texting. The old adage that we only use 2% of our brain or only use 20% of our brain is false. We only made a display that much, but our brain is operating at full capacity all the time.
Our brains are incredibly complex and finely-tuned organs. They are incredibly powerful incredibly versatile.
We need to feed our brains properly in order for them to work well. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and quality, natural meats. Drink plenty of water and avoid intoxicating drinks or drugs.
In order to make our brains the best they can be, make sure you continuously read and discover new information and practice some of the memory games we have here.
If you liked our article, please share it and use the comment section below to tell us about your experiences or ask any questions. Thank You!
I am impressed by the depth of information about our brain! I am a senior consultant in Foetal Medicine, study, management of various genetic and congenital defects. Will use this in my counseling. Good work!!
Hey Dr. Sharad Gogate!
Thank you for the compliments. The brain is truly fascinating. You might want to check this article on babies brain development.
Brillant article. Very comprehensive and informative. So visual too.
Thank you for putting this article together, i especially like the images! I have just started a neuroscience unit as part of my degree, and i loved your explanations. Thank you!
I am just wondering if you got the two headings (in yellow) ‘cerebrum’ and ‘cerebellum’ the wrong way around?
Thank You Ash, You are right, the two yellow sub headings were mismatched. It is fixed now.
You need to switch your information for cerebrum and cerebellum, the text describes the cerebrum for what you have as cerebellum and describes the cerebellum for what you have as cerebrum
Mary Hi, Thank You for this comment, The two sub headings were misplaced. It is fixed now.