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43 Facts About Your Brain That Will Blow Your Mind

BrainMic.com – By Theresa Fisher – November 12, 2014


This partner story is part of BrainMic, a collaboration with GE to share the latest advances in brain research and technology.

If this year’s iPhone release taught us anything, it’s that we’re a society which craves new technology, jumping at the chance to replace last year’s breakthrough advancement with one that’s a millimeter thinner. But what we often forget is that we already own the most dynamic, efficient machine ever created: the human brain.

The (roughly) three-pound supercomputer inside your skull simultaneously processes facts and faces, stores memories, sweeps out toxins, controls movement and speech and makes decisions. And over the last few years, thanks in part to advancements in neuroimaging techniques, scientists are discovering even more about how remarkable our brain really is.

So what do we know today? Here are 43 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:

Image Credit: YouTube

2. The left hemisphere packs in almost 200 million more neurons than the right side.

3. Neurons vary in size between 4 and 100 microns wide. To get an idea of how small that is, the 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.

4. Despite the small size, scientists can actually measure the activity of a single neuron by inserting microelectrodes into the brain, a process called “single-unit recording,” often used to refine epilepsy diagnoses.

5. Sex differences in the brain are controversial, but according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, gray matter takes up a higher percentage of women’s brains.

6. Greater proportions of gray matter may account for superior performance on language tasks.

7. If you want more gray matter, hit the pavement. Research suggests that regular exercise may lead to increased gray matter inside the hippocampus.

8. Gray matter, which makes up 40% of the brain, only turns gray after death.

9. The brain of a living person has a more pinkish hue and, according to scientists, feels something like tofu.

10. Men may not have as much gray matter, but they have more white matter and cerebrospinal fluid.

Neuroscientist Randy McIntosh
Image Credit: Rick Madonick via Getty Images. White matter fiber (left) and fMRI images of reporter Jennifer Wells’ brain on April 25, 2014.

11. White matter (which makes up the other 60% of the brain), gets its color from myelin, which insulates axons and increases the speed at which electrical impulses travel.

12. Fat may hurt the heart, but it’s good for the brain. More than half the brain, including myelin, is made of fat.

13. 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 20% of the body’s oxygen and between 15% and 20% of its glucose (estimates differ).

14. Brains also put out an astonishing amount of energy. The sleeping brain could power a 25-watt lightbulb.

15. Your neural hard drive could store somewhere between 1,000 gigs (that’s about 50 copies of Taylor Swift’s 1989, for those who are curious) and 2.5 million gigs (125 million copies). It depends on whom you ask — when it comes to the brain’s storage capacity, scientists aren’t exactly on the same page.

16. The number of glial cells in your brain puts your 80-plus-billion neurons to shame. You have at least 10 times as many glia, which means “glue” in Greek. As of 20 years ago, scientists thought glia basically just held neurons together, but certain types, like astrocytes, are now thought to play a role in complex thought.

17. Albert Einstein’s brain contained an unusually high number of astrocytes. National Institutes of Health researchers discovered his high glia count while analyzing chunks of his brain tissue 40 years after he died. He also had an extra-thick corpus callosum, according to photos of Einstein’s (posthumous) brain that went missing for more than 50 years.

A picture shows a picture and model of A
Image Credit: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images. A model of Albert Einstein’s brain on display during a preview of the Wellcome Collection’s major new exhibition “Brains: Mind of Matter” in London on March 27, 2012.

18. But the theoretical physicist’s brain proves that size doesn’t matter. At 2.71 pounds, Einstein’s brain was a tad smaller than average.

19. In fact, our brains as a species have shrunk over time, all the while getting more efficient. Of course, some scientists are convinced that we’re getting dumber, because thanks to societal advancements, we can be pretty dim and still survive.

20. The axons in your brain could span a distance of 100,000 miles. That’s four times around the Earth.

21. The brain lacks pain receptors, which is why brain surgeons can slice into the cerebral cortex of fully conscious patients.

22. The brain’s prefrontal cortex is impressively resilient, in part because there’s a lot of redundancy in the frontal lobe regions. When one area incurs damage, another may step in to compensate.

Image Credit: BodyParts3D via Wikimedia Commons. Left frontal lobe in red.

23. But while the frontal lobe can take a lot of wear and tear, the brain stem can’t. Even moderate damage can be fatal.

24. This is because the brain basically developed front-to-back. Older areas of the brain, which control life-sustaining processes like respiration, are less hardy than (comparably) new areas.

25. In fact, people can survive on half a brain.

Read here for all 43 facts and more graphic images

Posted by Teri Perticone


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