Friday, August 30, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #84: This Is Your Brain on Myths

The brain is an amazing supercomputer capable of organizing who knows how many autonomic functions while simultaneously allowing us to talk, walk, text, and perform astounding feats of genius, possibly at the same time. And yet there are still people out there who think we only use ten percent of it. *sigh*

You do use your whole brain, just in case you were wondering. It’s a big job, being a brain. You have to give it 100 percent.

I had never heard that the brain wrinkles every time you learn something new, but according to the Internet some people believe that the brain wrinkles every time you learn something new. Of course it doesn’t. I actually haven’t seen (or, like I said, heard) anyone say that they believe the brain wrinkles when you learn something new – I’m just extrapolating that people believe that because there so many articles debunking it. Just saying “brain wrinkles” kinda gives me the heebie-jeebies.

It's like a walnut or something. Gross.

The brain wrinkles (*shudder*) are there because, as humans evolved and the brain grew bigger, it had to fold in on itself in order to still fit inside the skull. If you were able to unfold your brain it would be the size of a pillow case. I assume that’s a standard-size pillow case; they didn’t specify. We’re born with all the brain wrinkles (*shudder*) we’re ever going to have in our lives.

Even though preserved brains are kind of a pale, dull grey or beige color, living brains are black, white, grey and red, as you can see from this fresh one:

Btw I only said that to work in this gratuitous fresh brain picture. Gross.

I also learned in the course of my research for this blog post that the thing about your brain staying alive for 30 seconds is also a myth. As may be aware, this belief is based on observations made by witnesses to guillotine executions in revolutionary France – apparently people’s severed heads were seen blinking, attempting to speak, looking at people, and even wearing indignant expression. LOL yeah, indignant expressions indeed.

According to modern science the rapid rush of blood out of the brain following decapitation would render you unconscious in about three seconds. It’s kind of a relief, actually. Now I know I’ll never have to spend 30 seconds gawping at my own headless corpse. That’s one less thing to worry about.

Of course, the brain, as I said before, is not a computer. It’s a brain. But the practice of comparing the brain to a computer – and using computing metaphors – is prevalent in modern society. According to this fascinating post on, people have been comparing the brain to advanced and somewhat mysterious technology for centuries. French philosopher Rene Descartes, writing in the 17th century, compared the brain to a hydraulic machine system; Freud compared the brain to a steam engine; later on people compared the brain to a telephone switchboard and later to an electrical circuit.

But all this time, it's been a brain after all. Gross.
Image credit: Gaeten Lee

Subliminal messages also don’t work, because it turns out that guy who invented them actually lied about how well they worked, saying that soft drink sales went up 18 percent and popcorn sales went up 57 percent, when in fact they did not go up at all. Studies of the effectiveness of subliminal messages failed to produce any evidence that they influence viewers’ actions at all. So, that’s one less thing to worry about too, I guess.