What Is the Brain?

The brain is the last and grandest biological frontier, the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe. It contains hundreds of billions of cells interlinked through trillions of connections. The brain boggles the mind.

- James Watson, Discovering the Brain, Foreword

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas about the human brain. Since time immemorial people have puzzled over the brain and its functions. In the 5th century BC the Greek physician Hippocrates confidently asserted:“Men ought to know that from the brain and from the brain only arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, grieves and tears.” This might suggest that people have never doubted the importance of the brain, but for Aristotle the heart was the ruler of the body and the seat of the soul. Only in the 17th century, with new scientific advances, did the true importance of the brain begin to be appreciated. In 1669 the Danish anatomist, Nicolaus Steno, still lamented that, “the brain, the masterpiece of creation, is almost unknown to us.”How far have our perceptions of how the brain works and what it symbolises changed over the centuries? And, in amongst the matter or our little grey cells, are we still searching for our souls?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on The Brain

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

If I had been asked 15 years ago to write a short piece about what the different parts of the brain did, it would have been a fairly straightforward task. Not any more.

Over the last 15 years, the methods used to study the brain have advanced significantly, and with this so has our understanding. Which makes the task of explaining the most complex organ in the body, well, complex...

Continue reading Kate Hoy's article: Explainer: the brain

Further Reading

The human brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, and with the spinal cord makes up the central nervous system. The brain consists of the cerebrum, the brainstem and the cerebellum. It controls most of the activities of the body, processing, integrating, and coordinating the information it receives from the sense organs, and making decisions as to the instructions sent to the rest of the body. The brain is contained in, and protected by, the skull bones of the head. The cerebrum is the largest part of the human brain. It is divided into two cerebral hemispheres. The cerebral cortex is an outer layer of grey matter, covering the core of white matter. The cortex is split into the neocortex and the much smaller allocortex. The neocortex is made up of six neuronal layers, while the allocortex has three or four. Each hemisphere is conventionally divided into four lobes – the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on The Human Brain

Bonus Webcomic

fMRI - xkcd

Related Topics

If you’re interested in the brain, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 CognitionConsciousness | The Human Body | Intelligence | Memory | Mental Illness | Neuroscience | Psychology

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