What is it like and how does our brain work?

by john preston

The brain is undoubtedly the most complex organ in our body and is involved in all the functions and tasks that we carry out every day and that keep us alive. And it is that it not only helps us to think, reason or speak; also for things as basic as breathing or blinking, as well as to dream and get excited. This article analyzes what our brain is like and how it works.

How does our brain work?

Through the senses, the brain receives an enormous flow of information from the world around us, processes it and makes it meaningful, organizes and controls movement. In addition, among the functions of the brain are also those of regulating body temperature, blood circulation, respiration and digestion. 

An adult brain weighs between 1,300 and 1,400 grams. It contains about 100,000 million neurons and a much larger number of synapses, which allow the connection between neurons. When we make decisions and experience emotions, a complicated mix of chemical and electrical processes occurs in the brain.

Parts of the brain

The brain consists of three large areas: the brain itself, the cerebellum, and the brain stem.

1. Brain

The cortex or cerebral cortex is the outer surface of the brain and is very large, roughly equivalent to one to two sheets of newspaper. It is contained in the skull thanks to numerous folds and crevices. Only a third of the cortex is superficially exposed, the rest is hidden deep in the grooves. In this way, space is used much better than if the cortex were smooth and allows different regions of the brain to communicate more quickly and easily, since they are closer together.

The cortex is part of what is known as gray matter, which is a component of brain tissue that is mainly made up of the bodies of neurons. Below the cortex we find the white matter, formed by nerve extensions covered with myelin (insulating substance that gives them their white color) that transmit information to the different regions of the brain (like cables that connect different neurons so that they can communicate with each other). ).

The brain is divided into two large parts, the right and left hemispheres, which are connected to each other by a set of fibers that make up the corpus callosum. Each of the hemispheres has four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. And each lobe contributes differently to different brain functions.

For example, roughly:

  • The occipital lobe is essential for processing visual information.
  • The parietal, among other things, is key in the integration of different types of sensory information to guide our movements.
  • The temporal helps us give meaning to sensory, auditory, and visual information, and enables many language-related processes. The hippocampus is located in this lobe, which plays a crucial role in learning and memory and is affected by the early neuropathological alterations of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • And finally, the frontal acts like an orchestra conductor to plan and execute our actions based on the information it receives from different brain regions and also participates in the production of language.
  • In addition, in the deepest part of the hemispheres, we find various nuclei of neuronal bodies with specific functions that, like the cortex, also form part of the gray matter. Some of the most important are the basal ganglia and the thalamus, which, among other things, are involved in functions related to e processing of sensory and motor information.

2. Cerebellum

The cerebellum, located in the posterior and inferior part of the skull, has a key role in maintaining balance and in the coordination and precision of movements.

3. Brain stem

At the base of the skull is the brain stem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord and controls automatic bodily actions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, as well as voluntary movement of the eyes, tongue, and muscles. of the face, among others.

The brain is part of the central nervous system

The central nervous system has, in addition to the brain, other fundamental parts, such as the spinal cord, which communicates the brain with the body, transferring nerve impulses from different body areas and sending signals and orders from the brain to different body regions. .

On many occasions, however, the spinal cord produces an action by itself, without the information being transmitted to the brain. It is what we know as reflexes. For example, when we quickly withdraw our hand from the fire so as not to burn ourselves, the spinal cord acts in response to this emergency situation, reflexively.

Communication between neurons: what are synapses?

Neurons or nerve cells are the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system. They are responsible for receiving sensory input from the outside world, as well as sending orders to different parts of the body and transforming and transmitting the electrical signals that allow it.

They have different shapes and sizes, but they all consist of three elementary parts: the cell body or soma, the axon, and the dendrites:

  • In the cell body is the nucleus (which contains DNA) and is where proteins are formed.
  • The axon is a wire-like part of the cell that carries electrochemical messages.
  • Dendrites or nerve branches are short projections from the cell, like branches, that establish connections with other cells. The dendrites receive messages via neurotransmitters released by the axons of other nerve cells. In the initial part of the axon of a neuron (where it joins the neuronal body) an action potential is generated, a brief electrical impulse that travels along the axon and causes the release of neurotransmitters (they are like messengers) in the synapse, the point where this release occurs and the reception of the message by another neuron, thus allowing communication between them.

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