Why is understanding the brain important?

The brain is one of the most fascinating organs that has constantly been under study by neuroscientists, behaviourists, and psychologists alike. This article will answer the question of why understanding the brain is important. It will discuss how difficult it is to understand and study the brain. It will also answer some frequently asked questions about the brain.

Why is understanding the brain important?

The brain controls all of our functions from breathing to complex thought processes. The fact that the human brain demands such a cross-discipline study of it, is due to the number of functions it performs and how it affects practically every single aspect of our life. 

From something as simple as humming a song to something complex like lying, to something even more complex like solving a mathematical equation. 

The human brain does it all, and it does so simultaneously- without any rest. This is why it becomes so important for us to be able to better understand the human brain.

Learning more about the brain would help us learn more about ourselves, which in turn would help us to work towards the betterment of human civilization and a brighter future. 

Why is understanding the brain difficult?

In the past, the human brain could only be investigated after the death of the person whose brain was to be studied. After their death, the researcher would conduct an autopsy of the person’s body, extract the brain from said body and then study it. 

While this helped scientists immensely in getting to the various parts of the brain, and its structure very well, it goes without saying that it was extremely limiting. 

While this might have been the best method at the time to tell us about the structure of the brain, it tells us nothing about the functions of the brain or the different brain networks that we learned about only in the late 1900s. It also says nothing about the contribution of the brain in the way it controls our body or the process of thought production.

It was either waiting for someone to die, or someone meeting with a horrible accident. The famous case of Phineas Gage is taught to all students of psychology. A railroad factory worker Phineas Gage had an iron rod rammed through his skull as a result of an explosion at his site of work. 

While Phineas’s recovery was brilliant in terms of his physical movements and his bodily functions, his behaviour and personality had changed entirely. Previously a polite and disciplined man Phineas was now experiencing angry outbursts and was hostile. To the extent that his friends would often say, “Gage was no longer Gage”.

Brain injuries and accidents causing brain trauma, thus, were not just a method of investigating the brain, it is also the reason why we need to understand the brain more. 

Not only to help in treatment and intervention to help the injured people recover physically, but also mentally and behaviourally. As is evident from Gage’s case, the brain plays a vital role in our personality and behaviour. For this reason, it becomes even more important for us to be able to decipher the structure and function of the human brain.

However, these methods of studying the human brain were not sustainable. One of the reasons why this was the case is because the human brain, like all other parts of the body, can heal itself over time. 

All cases of brain injury, strokes, or accidents, fortunately, do not lead to death. This means that studying all these cases as they happened to check for the causes and effects of brain damage in real time was not possible. 

While this concept of brain plasticity is a blessing for survivors of brain injury and damage, this did delay the process of studying said brains in the past.

Even with these shortcomings, we understood a lot about the human brain’s structure and functions. But thanks to the advent of science and technology in the modern information age, we have been able to overcome these hurdles. 

Neuroscientists say that most of the things that we thought we knew about the brain in the past are redundant or simply false. While that does not make all of those theories useless, it does mean that we need to buckle up and try to find other ways. It also makes it even more necessary for us to be able to understand the human brain and its importance.

Additionally, the brain carries out the most vital functions that are necessary for human survival. It does so constantly, with no breaks, while carrying out all the other tasks that we need to perform in our everyday life- eating, going to school, college or work, working out, socialising, etc.

Apart from all these reasons mentioned above, there have been millions and millions of cases of sudden deaths or people passing away in their sleep, who had no signs or symptoms of any other ailments. These sudden deaths are often due to a stroke or heart attack. 

While we know one of the reasons for that could be stress or some kind of anxiety, that does not explain the brain processes that caused it, and if they can be prevented. After all, we cannot ensure preventive measures for any disease or illnesses that we don’t necessarily understand.

Moreover, the brain is not just responsible for the inner workings of our body and mind, thought processes, regulation and recuperation, but is also responsible for our external behaviours and how we perceive other people’s behaviours and actions. 

We can better understand all these aspects by conducting more in-depth research studies about the human brain and continuing to learn more about it.

Understanding the brain would not just help us in treatment and intervention in cases of injury and accidents, it would also help us prevent them. 

If there are certain areas of the brain that are more vulnerable than others, it would serve us to ensure that they are well protected, especially when we’re working in a dangerous environment like Phineas Gage was, unfortunately. 

Not only would it help us to prevent injuries to delicate brain regions, but it would also help us understand what neural pathways and brain regions perform what functions.

 Upon finding out more about such pathways and regions, we can work towards strengthening them and training our brains for certain tasks appropriately.

Conclusion

Even though there is not much that we have discovered about the brain, the findings so far have been promising. This article answers the question of why understanding the brain is important. It discusses how difficult it is to understand and study the brain. It will also answer some frequently asked questions about the brain in the end.

Frequently Asked Questions: Why is understanding the brain important?

What is the function of the cerebral cortex?

The cerebral cortex is responsible for thinking and consciousness. Humans have a larger cerebral cortex compared to others. The cerebral cortex is the outer brake-like layer of the brain and allows individuals to use complex skills, live in social settings, use language as well as create tools (Gibson, 2002).

How many lobes does the cerebrum have?

The cerebrum has four hemispheres, each of these has four sections also known as lobes, each of these lobes control different specific functions. 

The four lobes are known as the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe and occipital lobe (Casillo et al., 2020).

Who discovered the motor cortex?

The motor cortex was discovered by Gustav Fritsch and Eduard Hitzig (2009). This part of the brain controls and executes the movement of the body. This is possible by signalling the spinal cord to the cerebellum.

What is the brainstem?

The innermost region of the brain is called the brain stem. This is also the oldest part of the brain. The medulla is the area of the brainstem that controls breathing and heart rate. The role of the brain stem is to control basic functions like motor response, breathing and basic attention.  It begins where the spinal cord enters the skull and forms the medulla. 

References

Casillo, S. M., Luy, D. D., & Goldschmidt, E. (2020). A History of the Lobes of the Brain. World Neurosurgery, 134, 353-360.

Hagner M. The electrical excitability of the brain: toward the emergence of an experiment. J Hist Neurosci. 2012 Jul;21(3):237-49. doi: 10.1080/0964704X.2011.595634. PMID: 22724486.

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