So everyone knows about the myth that people only use about 10% of their brain at one time, right? They made a movie about it, Lucy. In any case, while that is clearly a myth and has been resoundingly proven to be untrue, the fact that our brains may not be functioning at full capacity is true.
Let’s break it down. Your brain, in this very specific comparison, can be likened to a CPU. When it’s working really hard at doing calculations and executing commands based on those calculations, it uses more energy and thus generates more heat. Just like a CPU, it is sensitive to overheating, the brain way more so than a CPU, and so it needs a way to vent this heat. Obviously, this is harder to do with an organic, fragile brain than a CPU in a tower. So that’s where the limitations come in.
There isn’t any direct way to vent heat in the brain; the cooler blood comes in through the neck to the base of the brain before going to the rest of the brain. However, the places where our most complex thinking takes place (as in, logical processes and abstract thought as well as language and problem-solving skills) are relatively far away from the base of the brain and by the time the blood travels to those places, it has already heated up a considerable amount. This limits the body’s capacity to cool its central control unit which is why there is a unique adaptation that exists to help combat this.
They are valveless veins which means that, given the right signal, the blood flow in those veins can reverse directions. This means that if your brain is in need of emergency cooling, then these veins would become arteries and bring in blood from near the surface of your skin to your brain. However, this doesn’t entirely solve the problem either. The brain accounts for 25% of the body’s total glucose utilization and 20% of oxygen consumption but it dies completely if it deviates 3-4 degrees Celsius from the baseline temperature.
Even with the modern adaptations humans have evolved to cope with this excessive heat generation in such a delicate and closed environment, the brain has to be really picky on what it spends energy on which is why humans possess so many logical shortcomings especially considering the fact that our brains’ computing power is far and beyond supercomputers today (this remains to be debated once quantum computers are more widely established). This claim is based on the raw processing power and the complexity of brain activity. While in a CPU or a motherboard, there are only so many connections but in a brain, literally a hundred billion neurons can be fired in any number of combinations and be able to connect to each other without having to specifically pass through other points first. Thus, the brain is the best at parallel processing, something that computers are naturally not very good at.
The brain’s pickiness is why there are so many blind spots in how our brains interpret information; it takes shortcuts when possible to cut back on energy consumption and this causes said logical shortcomings. I’m sure most of you have heard of one example or another when talking about optical illusions or the availability heuristic or things like source amnesia etc.
So we come back full circle. My point in explaining all of this is to just pose a hypothesis. If the brain is limited to such a capacity when in a restricted environment, then wouldn’t it make sense that a more effective cooling system would be able to increase the brain’s processing capabilities tenfold, maybe hundredfold? This is going into the realm of science fiction with images like this:
Brains in a jar, connected to electrodes extending in all directions and suspended in a liquid. It is strange to think about since humans are bodily creatures– we identify with our self and our ego very strongly and our physical bodies are a very integral part to self-identity. So what would it feel like to be a creature of only thought? In any case, this article was just to provoke discussion and while I know that this concept is very unlikely, it is nonetheless very appealing and the possibility of it is very attractive not only in discovering the brain’s full capacity but also what it could do and the implications of immortality of self and thought as well as a way to achieve things we never thought possible. I’ll leave it at that.
This is Lieutenant and I’ll talk to you next time.
For a more practical application of this concept, click here to see an experiment designed to test this concept.