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The Holes in Your Head--and other Humorous Facts about the Human Mind
by Jean Marie Stine

Category: Technology/Science/Humor
Description: Love wry, brain-teasing facts? For instance, did you know that... If you received a penny for each thought, you'd earn $40 each day ... Sex may suffer when children come into a marriage--but the house goes first ... Goofing-off and painting a masterpiece take exactly the same amount of effort ... When you say, "I'm of two minds about it," you are literally right--you have two separate brain systems and they are in conflict ... Then you will love Jean Marie Stine's delightful, insightful book.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: June 2004


11 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [346 KB]
Words: 67052
Reading time: 191-268 min.

"Recommended reading..."--Split Hope Psychology


There are two little men inside our brains. Scientists call them the sensory and motor homunculi (homunculus means "little man"). Each is an inch-by-inch representation of the human senses. Each area of the sensory homunculus receives sensations from a specific part of the body, torso, legs, arms, fingers, nostrils, eyes, lips and tongue. Each area of the motor homunculus sends signals back to one of those bodily parts.

The brain's map of the body is distorted: with outsize tongues, lips, tongue, genitals, fingers and eyes. Neuro-anatomists explain that this is because supersensitive bodily parts, and those requiring extreme physical coordination, take up more brain cells. An inch of tongue covers a much wider area of a homunculus than an inch of our backs.

If our homunculi could be photographed, here is what we would see: Two little men, their toes tucked into the cleft between in front of the cerebellum, stretching backwards around the cortex away from each other with elongated legs and trunks, small heads and enormous fingers--beyond their tiny heads, about mid-way around (roughly where our temples are) you would see two separate enormous faces with enormous eyes, lips, tongue and nose.

[Don Campbell, Introduction to the Musical Brain]


All the privileges of being an adult are bestowed on us when we turn twenty-one. But crepe should be the order of he day, not celebration. For the ripe old age of twenty-one marks a more sobering turning point. It's also the age at which we begin losing our minds--or at least our brain cells. You can bid good-by to more than 10,000 brain cells every morning after the age of twenty-one.

That may sound like a lot--but it's merely 70,000 per week, or an insignificant 3.5 million per year. Over the rest of your life, you'll only lose 200,000,000 brain cells. So relax, you won't miss them. With some 200,000,000,000 brain cells packed in your cranium, that's less than 1% of the total. You'll still got plenty of brain power to spare.

[Isaac Asimov, The Brain]


Most of us think of sleep, normal waking consciousness, intense creativity and quite relaxation as completely different. But new understandings of brain waves suggest these four states are more closely related than we realize. By listing brain waves in alphabetical order, most charts obscure a number of surprising relationships, that only become apparent when they are arranged in terms of increasing frequency (cycles per second or CPS), instead.

* Delta waves (1-3 CPS), signify we have fallen into a deep dreamless sleep

* Theta waves- 4-7 CPS), generated only during great stress or emotion--and intense creativity

* Alpha waves (8-12 CPS), appear when we feel relaxed, rested, daydreamy

Beta waves (18-40 CPS), produced during normal, every day awareness--and when we are dreaming

Seen this way, it is obvious that sleeping, intense emotional states and relaxation--which feel so different to us--each begins where the other ends. Except for a jump of 6 CPS--almost as many CPS as the width of any two other waves combined--between relaxation and full the alpha state that suggests the brain has to generate a bit more energy to gear itself up to produce full conscious awareness.

The fact that delta and theta waves lie side by side, also suggests closer link between where our heads are at during intense emotional states and creativity--and sleep (unconsciousness)--than previously suspected. Another surprising fact is that daydreaming is more closely related to creativity than to sleep.

[Don Campbell, Introduction to the Musical Brain]


Brain tissue is extremely delicate, not much thicker than oatmeal. Unprotected, the slightest touch or jar could injure it seriously. So nature has given our brain cells their own built in shock absorber.

The outermost layer of this shock absorber is the skull. Rap on it with you knuckles, and you will feel, for all its lightness, how strong and resilient its bones are. Beneath this protective shell are three layers of membranes that further cushion the brain shock and injury.

Just inside the skull is a shock absorbent coating of tough, fibrous membranes (the dura mater or hard mother). Below the dura mater is a thin, web like tissue that acts as a second layer of protection (the arachnoid or cobwebs). Through these, the brain is anchored to the skull by a delicate membrane (pia mater or tender mother).

Between the pia mater and the arachnoid is a clear, colorless liquid (cerebrospinal fluid) that surrounds the brain, serving as a last line of defense in shielding our oh so sensitive brains from shock and injury.

[Compton's Encyclopedia and Fact Finder]


The most important part of your brain is not the cells--but the gaps between them (synapses). What takes place in our synapses turns out to determine an enormous amount about us--personality, memory, mood, mental and physical health, intelligence, even the ability to love and mate. According to the authors of The 3-Pound Universe, the gaps between our cells turns out to be the critical juncture at which many of the fundamental decisions in our brains are made.

When our brain cells originate or pass on a signal, they send an electrical charge to the edge of the cell where it triggers the release of a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter). The neurotransmitter crosses the gap to the next cell, where it releases an electrical charge that carries the message inward.

But many things can happen to a neurotransmitter during its 0.3 to 1.0 millisecond voyage across the synaptic cleft. A crossing signal or chemical can even break it down in the gap before it reaches the other cell; the other cell can even refuse to accept the signal. In both cases, the result is the same as if no signal was transmitted at all.

When a message successfully passes all the synaptic clefts between it and its destination, a thought may be generated, a muscle contracted, a mood altering hormone secreted, the functioning of our nervous system or organs effected. Ultimately, every aspect of who we are and what we do is determined by what transpires in these gaps. Many neurobiologists, Hooper and Teresi write, believe that the mysterious source of personality and behavior lies here--in the holes in our heads.

[Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, The 3-Pound Universe]



Whether we are awake or asleep, at any given moment, millions of our brain cells are at work. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, information is being fed into the cerebrum and regulatory signals are sent back out to the body. Even when we slumber, our nervous system is constantly relaying information on the position of our limbs, the temperature of our body and all the thousands of individual activities involved in breathing, digesting, dreaming. No wonder we wake up so tired every morning.

[Isaac Asimov, The Brain]


To do all its work, the brain needs oxygen. We've all said, "I need a breather!" or "I need a breath of fresh air!" after a period of intense mental concentration. But it's not us that needs to breathe--it's our brains.

In directing your thinking, sensing and movements, the brain consumes more than a quarter of the body's oxygen. Intense mental concentration depletes as much of our oxygen and energy as intense physical exercise, according to biochemist Isaac Asimov. After a while, the oxygen levels in the blood begin to fall and our brain begins to crave more oxygen than we can get sitting in a room thinking, so it signals us to stand up, stretch, move around go for a walk. Your brain wants a breather.

[Isaac Asimov, The Brain]


On the other hand, exercise can increases the amount of oxygen reaching our brains by as much as 30%. Studies reported in The Brain have shown that increasing the amount of oxygen available to the brain increases mental activity. Jogging, a brisk walk, mowing the lawn, can restore your mental edge. But if that were true, wouldn't jocks all be Phi Beta Kappa's?

[Isaac Asimov, The Brain]


People who are mentally lethargic often excuse their lack of forethought with, "Thinking makes me tired." Now Allan Gevins, director of EEG Systems Laboratory, says they're right. It takes just as much energy to scribble mindlessly as to paint a masterpiece.

Gevins used an eight-channel EEG to record the brain waves of people engaged in serious drawing and those who were just doodling. He had expected to find that those who were concentrating on what they were doing would generate more mental energy than the doodlers. But to his surprise, Gevins discovered that both activities took the same amount of energy. One researcher suggested that since you have to generate just as much energy to goof-off as paint a masterpiece, you might as well just paint a masterpiece.

[Alan Gevins, "Electrical Potentials in Human Brain During Cognition," Science, August 21, 1981]


Some people who lost their sight due to a stroke or brain injury develop an amazing ability. Although unable to physically see an object placed before them, they are able to reach out unerringly and touch it with a sureness that confounds researchers. This ability is called blindsight.

Psychologist Anthony Marcel of Cambridge University has studied blindsight for two decades. His discoveries show that blindsight occurs only when injury is confined to those areas of the brain involved in transmitting visual signals and not the neural areas that receive and interpret the signals. Although what they see is no longer transmitted to the portion of the brain that does the "seeing," the message from their visual centers is still being transmitted below the level of their awareness (the subconscious) to other portions of the brain. These parts of the brain know where the object is, allowing someone with blindsight to reach out surely and touch it on the first attempt.

Blindsight tells us that one part of the mind may not know what the other part is doing.

[Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, The 3-Pound Universe]


Scientists say the ideal machine would sense when it is going out of whack and replace the effected parts itself. Once built, it would run for years without ever needing to be repaired. However, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have already discovered such a machine--the human brain.

Neuroscientists were put on the trail by the "phantom limb" phenomenon. People who had lost limbs told doctors they could "still feel" the missing limb. At the time scientists believed that the brain cells controlling a body part died when that part amputated. They assumed that sensations in "phantom" limbs resulted from stimulation of nerves near the missing limb's stump.

Now, research by Dr. Michael Merzenich, and others reveals that the brain does not have fixed circuits. Instead, it appears to be capable of reorganizing itself over incredibly large distances--so that brain cells receiving inputs from the face and shoulder can trigger brain cells no longer receiving inputs from an arm. Once we learn how the brain manages this rewiring, Dr. Merzenich told journalists, it should be possible to help the process along--offering the first hope to many people suffering from nervous-system disorders, spinal cord injury, paralysis, stroke, depression, mental illness and brain injury.

[Sandra Blakesless, "Missing Limbs, Still Atingle, Clues to Changes in the Brain," New York Times, November 10 1992]


Could the benign and ubiquitous microwave have a sinister side? Could all those cellular phones, power lines, satellite dishes, even the wiring in your house have an effect on the brain? Neuroscientists W. Ross Adey believes the might. Disturbing research he performed at the Pettis Memorial Veterans Administration Hospital proved our brains--and our minds--respond strongly to surrounding electromagnetic field.

Adey found that brain cells synchronize their firing to surrounding microwaves. In one experiment, an excited monkey calmed down and began to produce alpha waves when a carefully modulated electromagnetic field was broadcast at it. Adey calls the microwave's ability to alter mood and mental functioning a bit ominous, for a world in which there is no escape from the ubiquitous electromagnetic field.

But relax, if Adey were right, our cities (which are saturated by electromagnetic fields) would be full of crazy, mentally disturbed, utterly unstable people--and we all know that's not so.

[Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, The 3-Pound Universe]


Looking for uppers, downers, sleeping pills, painkillers, memory enhancers. Forget the corner drug dealer. Tomorrow's highs--as well as the chemicals that will help boost intelligence, stabilize mood and ease mental illness--will come out of your refrigerator. MIT Neuroendocrincologist, Richard Wurtman, has massed an impressive collection of evidence demonstrating that the brains vital neurotransmitter levels are determined by what we eat. Eggs, liver and soybeans are rich in acetylcholine, and proteins contain tyrosine and typtophan, amino acids norephinephrine--all involved in the building of the brain's prime memory boosters. So whether you are a vegetarian or a meat eater, enhanced memory, mood and mental function are no farther away than your local grocery.

[Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, The 3-Pound Universe]


Scientists have traced responsibility for many of our abilities and facilities to specific areas in the brain. Now neuroanatomists may have located the site where our ability to use dirty words is located. When this area is damaged, victims can suffer from an uncontrollable compulsion to utter obscenities. Scatologies, profanities and obscenities pour forth in an endless stream. Psychiatrists call this Gilles de la Tourette's disease (named after the physician who first identified it). Some people are dirty minded, but these poor souls are clearly dirty brained.

[Carl Sagan, Ph.D., The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Origin of Human Intelligence]


Most of us assume that the human brain is the crown of creation. But the brain took its present form some 40,000 years ago, according to anthropologists. And hasn't made noticeable progress since.

"We often lose sight of the fact that the brains we carry in our heads are not the last word in nervous systems," warns neurophysiologist Daniel Robinson. We take for granted that a dog perceptions are limited by its level of evolution; but never consider how limited our own might be. We accept that dogs are color-blind and can't see the wavelengths that carry colors; but forget the myriad hues of the wavelengths our eyes can't detect. Perhaps the limitations of our brain structure and chemistry prevent us from perceiving and solving critical problems that would be child's play to a more evolved species.

[Daniel Robinson, The Enlightened Machine]


People have long wondered who's in charge the brain or the mind. Is it one of those chicken and egg things? A sort of mental "Who's on first" that can never be answered?

Neurophysiologists Benjamin Libet and Bertram Feinstein of Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco believe their research into the mechanisms behind our response to touch may supply a clue. Women and men were wired up to EEGs and asked to press a button the instant they felt themselves being touched.

The results were startling. EEG measurements showed the brain registered the touch in only one ten-thousandths of a second; and participants finger's signaled this reaction a tenth of a second later by pushing the button. But to Libet and Feinstein's astonishment, the participants themselves were not consciously aware of the touch or of pressing the button until almost a full half-second later.

These results told the researchers two things: The first, that the decision to push the button was made by the patients' brain, not their minds. For it occurred long before the mind was even aware of having been touched. The second, that all the study participants believed they had consciously decided to push the button. Apparently the brain has ways to convince the mind that it is making the decisions--but the brain is definitely in charge.

[Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe]


Flying to a different time zone, the switch to and from Daylight Savings Time or a new job schedule can throw our body's internal rhythms off for weeks. We may find ourselves waking when we should be sleeping, wanting breakfast when its dinner time, experiencing a lull in attention just when we most need to be alert and falling asleep long before we can make love. When this happens we speak of "jet lag" and "the body's clock" being off. But it's the brain's clock that's off, not the body's.

Now science may be on the way to producing the first "jet lag" pill--guaranteed to reset the body's clock. The body's clock resides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a small group of brain cells whose nerve fibers are directly linked with the retina, keeping the body locked in rhythm with the pattern of light and dark outside. The suprachiasmatic nucleus is controlled by a hormone called melatonin. Dubbed the Dracula hormone, melatonin floods the body when we are exposed to darkness and puts us to sleep; it is inhibited during daylight, allowing us to wake.

Pioneer sleep researcher, Alfred J. Lewy, found he could reliably advance or delay a person's biological clock by giving them a precisely measured dose of melatonin. Lewy pronounced the results "dramatic." Without competition from daylight, the researchers showed that melatonin pills could readily adjust anyone's biological clock.

[Brody, Jane E., "Doses of Pineal Gland Hormone Can Reset Body's Daily Clock," New York Times, 10/3/92]

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