5Myths about the Physical Structure of the Brain

Broadcasters, writers and a lot of scientists too, tend to work themselves into a fit of excitement about the human brain. They marvel at its complexity. They boast about our big brains, our billions of neurons, and all those gazillions of connections between them. At the microscopic level, there's frequent far-fetched speculation that particular brain cell types can explain all that makes us human. This chapter takes an objective look at all these myths and more concerning the physical structure of the brain. It ends with a reminder about the importance of the bony bag of tissue to which the brain is attached – the body! We'll see that it's more than just a leggy vehicle for transporting the mighty brain. It too affects how we think and feel.

Myth #21 The Brain Is Well Designed

“The human brain is nature's most finely tuned and exacting creation” – according to a breathless brain special issue of The Times newspaper's Eureka science magazine published in 2010. This reverence for our three pounds of meaty head sponge is almost universal. “Within each of our skulls resides an organ more powerful than the fastest supercomputer,” gasps the back-cover blurb for The Rough Guide to the Brain.

Sometimes it can seem as if writers are competing to outdo each other in extolling the organ's awesomeness. “Of all the objects in the universe, the human brain is the most complex,” declared neuroscientist David Eagleman in Discover magazine, “There ...

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