Astronomist Carl Sagan said: “The total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on planet earth.” We are talking about ten sextillion stars, a 1 followed by 22 zeros (1×10²²). In size, the universe studied ranges, according to estimates, between 13 and 48 million light year
In comparison, the human brain has approximately 1×10¹¹ neurons that interconnect with each other 1×10¹⁵ times (in a changing manner). All this with a weight of around 1.5 kg and a volume of 1,300 cubic centimeters. That is enough to tell us who we are: beliefs, political preferences, sports predilections and who we fall in love with.
In parallel to its most important function, guaranteeing the survival of the body that houses it, its exponential development has led it to the paradox of being an organ that tries to understand itself. This is what we do, among others, neuroscientists, who try to answer the question that poses perhaps the greatest scientific challenge in history: how does the brain work?Jaimar Tuarez, “Is the human brain the most complex thing in the universe?” at Neurotray (October 28, 2020)
But here’s the really remarkable thing about the human brain: People can survive and get on with their lives just fine with a split brain, only half a brain, or much less. Not only that but our brains have actually shrunk by 10% over the last 40,000 years, coinciding with spectacular intellectual achievements.
A couple of other unusual facts about the human brain: It is prewired to recognize speech and language. That’s important because, as Peter Augustine Lawler comments, while reviewing Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech, “Speech is a ‘superpower’ whose origin no scientist can explain, one that has allowed the beast with it to control or own every other animal there is. It isn’t merely ‘an ingenious tool for communication,’ says Wolfe; it’s a ‘nuclear weapon’ with unlimited transformative power.’”
The typical human brain is also quite orderly, rather than the haphazard collection of aeons of neuron evolution that researchers had expected. And, again remarkably, it is eerily similar to the universe as a whole: “Recently, Franco Vazza, an astrophysicist at the University of Bologna and Alberto Felleti, a neurosurgeon at the University of Verona, decided to compare the network of human brain cells and the network of galaxies in our universe. Even though the universe is 27 orders of magnitude bigger than a single human brain, remarkable similarities emerged.”
Our brains are remarkable houses for our minds and we are only just beginning to explore them.
You may also wish to read: Your mind vs. your brain: Ten things to know