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
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
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
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
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.