Did you know the human brain weighs 3 lbs…??

4 Aug

There are many things I respect about my brother but at the core of this admiration has always been his sense of self-reliance and independence.  As the most extreme of examples, he ventured halfway around the work to live in Vietnam while I continued to build a life in New York [with the wrong man].  In the day-to-day, he has never thought twice to go to a movie, visit a museum or attend an event of really any sort on his own.  I prefer the buddy system.  I mean, what if I don’t know anyone there?!

In the interest of this admiration though, I’ve made a conscious effort in recent months through volunteering efforts and various networking opportunities to become more comfortable adventuring out on my own.  Two days ago I took the day off from work (I KNOW), grabbed an iced coffee, hopped the crosstown bus and found myself at the American Museum of Natural History (better late than never so….CHECK!)  I was so pleased with myself that I even emailed a friend to report on the museum / iced coffee / crosstown activity.  From outside the museum…yes, before I even bought my admission ticket.  Cart meet horse.  Regardless, I made it to Brain: The Inside Story just in time before the exhibit closes on August 15th.

We’re all pretty smart and know the basics: the brain is made of cells called neurons that allow you to think, feel and move.  These neurons have “arms” that connect and communicate through electrochemcial signals.  The brain is the hub of the nervous system and it carries messages throughout the body as you breathe and move and instructs the nerves how to interact with your environment and respond to stimuli.  Communication happens via the spinal cord which carries these electric signals from the brain to the rest of the body.

Biology 101…got it.  Now the more important mysteries that I expected the exhibit and my $25 admission ticket to solve for me…

  • How do I make sense of what happened?
  • How do I focus on memories of my choosing and turn off emotions that no longer matter?
  • How do I become smarter in my 30’s to avoid the mistakes of my 20’s?

You know, easy stuff.  I have a few hypotheses.  I mean, I did spend two hours at the exhibit; I’m practically an expert.

  • Sense and reason are often led astray by emotion so while neurons in my prefrontal cortex allow for rationality and complex decision making, they are also swayed by emotional circuitry that consumes my brain where a certain subject is concerned – go figure.  But I already knew I would never make sense of what happened, or figure it out!  The brain swims with sensations, thoughts and memories that compete for your attention which means that to make my way through my environment, especially one as complicated as what was created last summer, the brain must focus on some things and ignore others.  Guess which I’m going to choose to ignore?  His name rhymes with…
  • I’m convinced I have an overactive Limbic system, which produces emotions, triggers memories and directs behavior.  Further, I don’t like my amygdala which performs a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions.  It pretty much made sure that the highly emotional moments of last summer were burned into my memory forever.  Thanks a lot, amygdala.
  • The news is unfortunately not great for my aging brain.  After your twenties, the number of neural connections apparently declines and working memory, including focus and reaction, become less reliable.  Things learned through many years of experiences are retained though (I’ve been dating since I was 16; you’d think I would have retained more than this by now when it comes to relationships!)

I physically stopped halfway through the exhibit to write just one thing down: “Our memories are essential – they help us learn from past experiences and make smarter decisions in the future.”



One Response to “Did you know the human brain weighs 3 lbs…??”


  1. AMNH style « Unwedded Bliss - August 11, 2011

    […] Tuesday’s exhibit only took about two hours to walk though so I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with one of my girlfriends for dinner (for a very necessary download session…).  I had the entire afternoon to myself and since I haven’t been to the AMNH in years (and I knew my mother would be displeased if I didn’t get good use out of the $25 admission ticket), I found myself wandering through the museum’s permanent collections.  I am slightly hesitant to admit this but I felt oddly encouraged on my own, spending an afternoon alone, slowly meandering through the museum halls with no particular endpoint in mind (that, and I thought to myself at one point “I might reconsider marriage if I could marry rich and do this every day.”).  I imagined several wondering glances as I weaved a path through the permanent exhibits but then got over myself – no one was at all interested in what I was doing alone at a museum on a Tuesday afternoon. […]

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