Health & Fitness
The Brain Explained from BBC Science Focus Magazine

The Brain Explained from BBC Science Focus Magazine

The Brain Explained from BBC Science Focus Magazine

This BBC Science Focus special edition reveals everything you ever wanted to know about the brain and how it works. IN THIS ISSUE… - How emotions fool your brain - What makes you you? - How to build a brain - The gory history of brain research - How we define mental illness

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in this issue

1 min.

Inside each of our skulls is an organ weighing about 1.3 kilograms. The brain might look like an unimpressive lump of grey matter, but appearances can be deceiving. Its inner workings are so complicated that scientists still do not fully understand how it operates, and it’s prone to diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s that we are able to control and manage, but still cannot cure. In this special edition, we try and find out everything we can about the brain. We investigate why and how scientists first started getting interested in brain research in the first place, and take a look at the (somewhat gory) early experiments that helped them find out more (p6). We also delve into the anatomy of the brain (p12) and discover what makes you you (p20).…

7 min.
the history of brain research

Rome, 2nd Century AD. An audience of philosophers and politicians have gathered to watch Galen of Pergamon, the ‘prince of medicine’, perform a public demonstration involving a pig. The animal’s squealing falls suddenly silent as Galen severs its laryngeal nerve – the neural link connecting its voice box to its brain. The crowd audibly gasps with astonishment. Why were they so shocked? Galen had just proved that the brain, not the heart, controls behaviour. This might not sound groundbreaking to our modern ears, but the historian Charles Gross describes it as “one of the most famous single physiological demonstrations of all time”. Although Galen wasn’t the first to recognise the functional importance of the brain, he was the first to carry out a public experiment supporting his case. In Galen’s time,…

2 min.
timeline: brain science

425 BC The Hippocratic treatise On The Sacred Disease states, contrary to the dominant cardiocentric view, that “from the brain and the brain only arise our pleasures, joys, laughter, and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears.” GALEN OF PERGAMON (c.130-210) In the 2nd Century, the philosopher performs the pig demonstration, showing that the brain controls behaviour. 1543 Renaissance anatomist Andreas Vesalius publishes his landmark book On The Fabric Of The Human Body, showing some of the most detailed dissections of the human brain ever produced. 1830s Phrenology reaches the peak of its popularity. This was the mistaken idea that psychological aptitudes and personality traits can be discerned from the bumps on someone’s skull. 1848 Railway worker Phineas Gage becomes one of the most famous patients in neuroscience after surviving an accident in which an iron rod…

13 min.
how your brain works

The brain is an electrical device that generates every one of our sensations, thoughts, feelings, and actions. Incredibly, it does all this on slightly less power than that used by a 60W lightbulb. Its primary purpose is to keep us alive by orchestrating and regulating our responses to the outside world. Most brain functions, such as adjusting heartbeat and triggering the release of hormones, occur without us knowing. Some brain function, however, has a special quality – consciousness. Conscious awareness feels effortless, but the mechanisms underlying it are immensely complicated. The brain doesn’t just make us aware of our surroundings – it constructs them. The world seems to consist of objects, colours, sounds and smells. All that’s really there, though, are light rays and sound waves, jittering atoms and vibrating molecules, all…

10 min.
what makes you you?

One afternoon in 1848, on a railroad construction site in Vermont, a dynamite blast launched an iron rod into the air, which speared foreman Phineas Gage through the head. Incredibly, Gage survived but – deprived of a large part of his frontal lobe – his previously conscientious, agreeable personality did not. Gage became disinhibited, impulsive and rude. Gage’s story is familiar to every Psychology 101 student because it provided one of the earliest and most dramatic demonstrations of the physicality of human personality. It also demonstrated how easily and quickly it can be changed. Since Gage, it has become increasingly clear that the apparently ‘essential’ ways of thinking and behaving that identify each individual is a product of the functioning and structure of their brain. It has also become clear that…

10 min.
the hidden power of your brain

Nobody likes catching a cold. But it seems that we have a pretty effective way to reduce our chances of getting one – being happy. In a study published in 2003, over 300 volunteers in the US were knowingly infected with a virus responsible for the common cold. They were then monitored for symptoms over the next five days. The results were clear. Those with the most positive outlooks on life were three times less likely to develop cold symptoms than those who were the least happy. Other studies have also reached similar conclusions. A positive mental attitude can have long-term health benefits too. In the US, the autobiographies of 180 Catholic nuns were analysed by psychologists to see what they revealed about their personalities. It showed that those who were…