Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 24 January 2010





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Government Gazette

Know your brain and use it!

The human brain is undoubtedly the most wonderful and complex creation in the world. Other than biologists and psychologists, ordinary people do not pay much attention to the brain and take it for granted. Even a child would know where the brain is located. He would tell you that the brain is a delicate mass of minute cells located at the top of the spinal cord. If you asked a biologist, he would say that the brain contains as many as 12 billion nerve cells, called neurons, which transmit and receive electrical impulses between one another in continuous interplay. The electrical impulses reach the endings of neurons and are carried across gaps called synapses by neurotransmitters.

In layman's language, the human brain has three parts: the upper part, the middle part, and the lower part. The lower part is associated with information functions of the brain such as breathing and blood circulation. The mid-brain also participates in such functions but also serves as a bridge to pass messages to the upper brain usually known as the cerebral cortex. It is this part that suppresses your animal instincts. In other words, it separates man from animal.

Meanwhile, the mid-brain has control over your eye movements and similar functions.

The lower part of the brain or the hind brain contains the nerve cells responsible for breathing and digestive functions. We also know the value of the little brain - the cerebellum - situated at the rear of the head. The top part of the cerebral cortex governs our movements and the senses. It also allows us to acquire new skills and exercise rational control over our baser drives.

However much you are civilized, your animal instincts may come to the fore when you lose your temper. During family disputes, dealing with your enemies, and drunk with power, you are likely to behave like an animal. In fact, when you lose your temper, you see your enemy as an animal such as a fox or pig! When you call your enemy a pig, he will also retort venomously. Both of you will forget that you are civilized men!

According to anthropologists, earliest living organisms on the earth had only a trace of the upper brain because it was in the process of developing. The upper brain developed rapidly during the long process of evolution. Because of this reason, modern psychologists refer to the upper brain as the "new brain." Although the new brain was tempered by civilization, some of the characteristics of the old brain still persist. For that matter, the old brain represents ruthless egotism, tendency to behave violently and the desire to eliminate your enemy.

The new brain does not approve of these tendencies because it is the seat of honour. The new brain of a child brought up in a religious environment usually triumphs over the old brain. However, it is somewhat dangerous to rely too much on the new brain because we should not suppress the legitimate emotional responses of the old brain.

Meanwhile, the top part of the brain stem and the deeper part of the cerebral cortex comprise what is called the "limbic system" which controls basic emotions such as fear and pleasure.

The cerebrum which consists of nine-tenths of the brain is divided into two halves or hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls the right half of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left part of the body. The thalamus is a mass of grey matter which is buried in the cerebrum. It is the source of our instinctive feelings and emotions.

All these technical details were necessary to show the complexity of the brain. Scientists believe that with all such intricate tasks the brain does not tire. This is because the brain functions are not muscular but electro-chemical in character. Then why do we feel tired after reading a novel or listening to a long lecture? This is because our eyes and the muscles of our necks get tired. Most of the time the brain is ready to work for long hours, but the muscles get tired after some time.

Most of us tend to believe that elderly people cannot learn difficult subjects because their memory power is weak. It is true that some of the brain cells die after some time and they are not replaced.

However, the number of cells so dying is negligible. Sometimes due to low blood circulation to the brain elderly people may not be able to remember what they learn. But they will always remember what they had learnt during their youth.

Today it is a common sight to see people in their sixties and seventies following various courses. A weekend newspaper reported recently how an eighty-year-old man was following an Information Technology course. Although traditional Sri Lankan universities do not admit overage students to follow their degree courses, there are many private institutes that open their doors for higher studies. Even the Open University of Sri Lanka stipulates an upper age limit for some of their prestigious courses. This is a sad commentary on higher education because an open university should be able to accommodate anyone with the right academic qualifications.

Like the body, the brain too needs some exercise. If you do not use your brain profitably, it is bound to atrophy with disuse.

Psychologists believe that intensive exercise of any part of the brain encourages the growth of additional and all-important myelin-a fatty acid-the nerve fibres are surrounded with. It is easy to exercise the brain because you can do it travelling on the train or sitting at a desk. What you need to do is logical thinking, problem solving, and mental calculations. If you have to add or subtract, do not reach for the calculator. The loss of memory is due to the laxity of the brain.

Do not allow your brain to idle. Now that you know something about your brain and its functions, exercise it and use it to your advantage.


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