Brain is the most amazing organ in the human body. It manages our central nervous system; it helps us walk, talk, breathe, and think. Our brain is incredibly complex, and the number of its neurons reaches 100 billion. Its performance involves so many processes that a lot of intertwined areas of medicine and science are involved in the study and treatment of the brain. However, complexity of the human brain inevitably has some disadvantages – we just do not understand some things about the brain. Below you will find the top ten most common myths and misconceptions about the main organ of the human body, the brain.
The brain is so complex that the task of recreating its “working virtual copy” has become one of the most global issues in the last few decades. The development of Human Brain Project, for example, was funded with 1 billion euros. After thousands of years of study and treatment of the brain, it is still so incomprehensible that people tend to simplify its functioning, making it more understandable. Let’s start with color.
Your brain is gray
Have you ever thought about the color of your brain? It is unlikely that you did, unless you work in the field of medicine. The human body conceals all the possible colors: blood is red, bones are white and so on. But you have surely seen the brain preserved in spirits in some Kunstkammer. The brain mostly has a white, gray or yellowish color. The living, pulsating brain, in fact, is not just gray – it is also white, black, and red.
Why is the multi-colored brain gray, when kept in spirits? The point is in formaldehyde that is contained in the jar, which keeps the brain from being damaged.
Mozart’s music makes you smarter
Are your lips pressed tight at the sound of classical music? Do you feel elevated and cultural? Forget it. Baby Einstein, the company that makes DVD, video and other products for children, earns a fortune by speculating classical music, art and poetry among naive mothers. Parents buy its products, believing that Mozart has a favorable influence on the development of the child. This idea has become so popular that it was called the “Mozart effect”. Where does this myth originate from?
In 1950, ENT doctor named Albert Tomatis began to promote Mozart’s music, claiming that it helps people with speech defects and hearing disorders. In the 1990-s, 36 students of the University of California at Irvine listened to a Mozart sonata for 10 minutes and began an IQ-test. According to Gordon Shaw, the psychologist who examined the students, their IQ increased by 8 points. Thus the “Mozart effect” was born.
The University of California faced a lot of criticism from the scientific community. Professor Frances Rauscher, the scientist involved in the study, said they had never considered music to make people smarter. It simply increases productivity when solving space-time tasks. Other scientists have not been able to confirm these results, so there is no scientific reason to listen to Mozart or any other classical music in order to get wiser. Of course, Mozart can enrich your personality, and you will enjoy it, but do not get fooled.
When you learn something, new brain wrinkles appear
Imagine how the brain looks like. It probably resembles a fleshy walnut with two hemispheres, covered with convolutions. As the human species developed, the brain increased in size to accommodate all the features that distinguished us from other animals. But in order to fit in the skull and be in proportion with the rest of our body, the brain was literally packed into itself. If we smoothed all convolutions, the brain would look like a pillowcase.
We are not born with brain convolutions: the fetus has a smooth little brain during the period of its early development. As it grows, the neurons grow too and migrate to different areas of the brain, creating furrows and ridges. By the age of 40 weeks, the brain already has about the same amount of convolutions as in the adult. That is, new brain wrinkles do not appear when we learn something; we are simply born with them.
We will not deny that the brain changes due to its plasticity in the process of training, but still new brain wrinkles do not appear. The study of rat brains showed that the synapses (connections between neurons) and blood cells that support the neurons increased in number. Some scientists suggest that the brain grows as we gain memories, but mammalian brains (which can be compared with the human brain) have not yet proved this idea.
You can get information through the subconscious
The concept of subliminal influence lies in the fact that the government, large corporations and media “feed” us with untruthful information and try to deliver some message. Subliminal messages (located below the limen as the threshold of conscious perception) are messages embedded in the image or sound that penetrate your subconscious and affect your behavior. The term was created by James Vicary, market analyst. In 1957, he said that he had added a message in the film show in New Jersey. It flashed on the screen for 1/3000 of a second and offered the audience to drink Coke and eat popcorn.
According to Vicary, popcorn sales increased by 57%; cola was sold 18% faster. This proved the effect of subconscious messages. This led to a boom, and advertisers began to actively use the method proposed by Vicary. In 1974, FCC banned this practice.
Does this method work? As it turned out, Vicary simply falsified the research results. Subsequent studies showed that no “frame 25” could affect viewers. The infamous trial of 1990, which questioned the details of suicides of two boys who had been allegedly listening to songs that prompted them to commit suicide, failed to have any significant consequence. The court was not provided with any scientific evidence. However, many proponents of conspiracy theories still claim that advertising, music, and other media manipulate people’s minds.
So, listening to audio recordings during sleep does not hurt you. You will hardly quit smoking after doing so either.
The human brain is the largest of brains
Does the size of the brain matter? The average human brain weighs 1361 grams. The brain of a smart dolphin weighs nearly as much. But the sperm whale, which is considered much more stupid than a dolphin, has the brain that weighs about 8 kg.
So, the larger the animal, the greater is the skull, and the bigger is the brain. Beagle dogs weigh no more than 11.3 kg. The ratio of brain size and intelligence is not essential. It is far more important what the ratio of brain size and body weight is. In humans, it is 1 to 50; most mammals have 1:180, while the birds’ ratio is 1:220. The human brain weighs more than that of an animal, if we take the average number.
Human brain continues to work after beheading
Decapitation once was a very popular method of death penalty – thanks to the guillotine, of course. However, this method means nothing except the fact that someone loses his head. Guillotine has appeared due to the desire to organize a quick and relatively humane death. But how fast is this death? If you lose your head, will you manage to see for a couple of seconds how the world is turned upside down?
Various stories and legends have been told by word of mouth for centuries. Some of them suggest that a human might be conscious for a few seconds after being beheaded. Nevertheless, modern doctors believe that reactions, such as the movement of eye pupils or the change of countenance, are a reflex of twitching muscles rather than a conscious and deliberate movement. Being cut off from the heart (and thus from oxygen), the brain automatically plunges into a coma and begins to die. According to Dr. Harold Hillman, it probably happens within 2-3 seconds due to rapid blood pressure reduction in the skull.
Damage to the brain makes a person a vegetable
Brain injuries seem an incredibly scary thing. In the minds of common people, a brain injury always evokes a picture where a human turns into a vegetable and suffers from physical or mental disability for the rest of his/her life.
Some people with brain injury suffer from disability, but may partially recover. When neurons are damaged or lost, they cannot grow back, but the synapses – neuronal connections – can. In fact, the brain creates a new connection between neurons. Moreover, some areas of the brain that were not originally associated with specific functions can take them over and learn to perform these functions in the course of the patient’s life. Do you remember our article about brain plasticity? Therefore, stroke patients may re-learn how to speak and move.
It is important to remember that we know very little about the brain. When patients are diagnosed with brain injuries, a doctor cannot always state with confidence if they can recover or not. Patients consistently surprise doctors after months and even years of recovery. Not all brain injuries are critical.
Holes appear in the brain because of drugs
The exact influence of drugs on the brain is a very controversial topic. Some people think that only heavy drugs have serious consequences, while others believe that only the initial use of drugs causes long-term damage. Recent studies suggest that drugs cause only a minor loss of memory, while other studies prove that intensive smoking of marijuana reduces different lobes of the brain. Most severe myths say that ecstasy and cocaine just drill holes in the brain.
In fact, the only thing that can make a hole in the brain is a physical injury. Researchers believe that some drugs cause long-term and short-term changes. Drugs, for example, reduce the effect of neurotransmitters (chemical substances that bind signals in the brain), such as dopamine. This explains why addicted humans need more and more drugs. In addition, changes in neurotransmitter levels cause problems in neuronal functions. It is also a complex issue whether these changes are reversible or not.
Alcohol kills brain cells
Watching drunk people leaves no doubt that alcohol affects the brain in the most direct way. The people, who drink a lot, are characterized by incomprehensible speech, impaired motor skills and delayed reaction. Many of them suffer from headache, nausea and other unpleasant side effects – a hangover in general. But how does drinking alcohol on weekends or even a permanent binge affect the brain? And what happens to the brain of alcoholics?
Let’s not dramatize. Even if an alcoholic constantly drinks alcohol, the brain cells do not die. However, heavy drinking causes damage to the ends of neurons – the dendrites. This leads to the problem of signal transmission between neurons. The cell itself is not damaged, but the way of its communication with other cells is. According to researchers, this damage is largely reversible.
People addicted to alcohol may develop a neurological disorder, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which can lead to the loss of neurons in parts of the brain. This syndrome causes memory problems, confusion, eye paralysis, disturbance of muscle coordination and amnesia – in rare cases even death. But these symptoms are not a consequence of the effect of alcohol. They result from the deficiency of thiamine, an essential vitamin B. Alcoholics are often malnourished, and active alcohol consumption affects the absorption of thiamine by the body.
We use only 10 percent of the brain
Many people often say that we use only 10% (5, 7, 15… it does not matter) of our brain. They say well-known personalities, such as Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead, exceeded this limitation. The myth that we use only a small part of the brain is discussed by the media so often that it seems to remain forever. Where does this absurdity originate from? Many people point to American psychologist William James. In the early 1900-s, he said that the average person rarely reached his/her maximum potential. Thus many people believe that we use only one-tenth of the brain’s capacity. Perhaps this thought is also generated by those 10% of the “gray matter”.
The most remarkable thing is an aura of mysticism. Why do people, having the most proportionally large brain of all animals, use only a small part of it? Do we have some great mission? Do we have some surprisingly great inborn abilities? Telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis? These ideas were developed in so many books and were reflected in so many products and unscientific discussions that people constantly try to “switch on” the remaining 90% of their passive brain.
In fact, the truth is different. In addition to the 100 billion neurons, there are a lot of other active cells in our head. We can shut down small areas of the brain depending on the type of activity, but there is no such activity, which would result in our having just 10 percent of the matter in our head.
Brain scans showed that regardless of what we are doing our brains are always active. Some areas are more active at certain times than others, but if we do not have any brain injury, there is no part of the brain, which would be completely disabled.
Thus, in terms of the actual brain tissue there is no additional hidden potential that can be activated and used. However, studying will always come in handy.