My Amazing Brain
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To consider how the brain works without us even having to think about it.
Preparation and materials
- None required.
1. I want you to consider all the things that you have already done before you came into school this morning. You got up, got dressed, had breakfast, came to school and probably had several conversations, discussions and thoughts during the whole process.
I wonder if you considered the fact that, through all of this, your brain was unconsciously doing thousands of different things – not forgetting to help you breathe, making sure your heart was beating and continued to send blood round your body. Also, even if you've not ridden your bicycle for ages, when you need to it will still remember what you have to do. Also, at a moment’s notice (or longer in some cases), it can recall vast amounts of information if just a spark of an idea enters your head.
2. When a message comes into the brain from anywhere in the body, the brain tells the body how to react. For example, if you accidentally touch a hot cooker, the nerves in your skin shoot a message of pain to your brain. The brain then sends a message back, telling the muscles in your hand to pull away. Luckily, this neurological relay race takes a lot less time than it just took to say it.
3. Considering everything it does, the human brain is very compact, weighing just 1.3 kilograms (3 pounds) and fitting neatly inside our skulls. Its many folds and grooves provide it with additional surface area, which is necessary to store all of the body's important information.
4. The human brain was not always like this. In a process of evolution and development we have come to have larger brains than any other species on the planet. Indeed, Aristotle wrote in 335 BC, ‘Of all the animals, man has the brain largest in proportion to his size.’ Interestingly, the next animal to have the largest brain in proportion to its size is a dolphin and we are very much aware of how intelligent a species the dolphin is. That is not the whole story, however.
5 What has happened is that we have evolved by various means and over millions of years of improvements to have this highly developed brain. This is called ‘encephalization’. That is a good long, six-syllable word for this time in the day!
6. It has also been found that possibly humans learned to speak because we made tools. It was noticed that the same parts of the brain light up when we are making a tool as do when we speak. Can it really be possible that by creating tools we also learned how to talk?
7. Interestingly, the brain of a chimpanzee is mostly formed while it is in utero – in the womb –whereas our human brains develop more after we have been born. This might be why we are born so helpless and needy as, if we were not born until we were able to stand or walk, for example, we simply would not fit through the birth canal and our species would die out.
8. With all this incredible stuff going on inside our heads, no wonder we need the skull to protect our brains. As with anything complicated, there is a greater risk of serious problems if something goes wrong with it than there is with something simple. Head injuries, brain tumours, stroke and substance abuse can all damage the delicate brain tissue and it is also prone to long-term degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Despite all these possible difficulties, however, our brains still manage to do an amazing job and keep working in even the most difficult circumstances.
Time for reflection
Next time you feel a little down about your abilities or if you can't quite manage something, make sure you remind yourself that, actually, you have a pretty amazing brain. It keeps you alive, stops you from burning your hand and it's the reason you have skills and memories.
Keep adding to its store of skills and memories, keep rewarding it and it should, all being well, keep you going all the days of your life.