‘The greatest computer of all? The human brain’

Jan 21, 2021
The human brain never stops working - requiring only a good supply of blood to do its many jobs. Source: Getty

This blog is all about that complicated, sensitive but very strong piece of equipment we call our brain. When I start to think about all the fantastic things it has to do, most of it concurrently, I start to understand why some experts tell me it’s a more powerful computer than any Apple or HP product or even the massive ones used by banks etc, kilo for kilo. And don’t forget, most of the computers we build can only work with the information someone originally typed into it, whereas the human brain gets on with planning, making, operating and controlling all manner of problems with little or no help from me at all!

To pick a really simple example, let’s imagine I’m playing a game of darts and I need a double-top (aka a double 20) to win. So I’m standing there, 2.5 metres from the dartboard with a dart in my fingers. I then hand over to my brain and the first thing it does is aim my eyes at the board using their stereo vision to assess exactly how far away the ‘target’ is (information it puts into temporary storage). At the same time, my brain checks the dart in my fingers to work out the weight and shape of it. It then instructs my arm to lift my hand up until it’s approximately in the right position for throwing. Next, it computes the information it has gathered, pulls my arm back into a throwing position and then sharply thrusts my arm in the direction of the board, releasing the dart at the exact position it has selected, to get it to the place it’s supposed to go.

But that is far from all that is going on in the brain. While I’m concentrating my conscious efforts on the action of throwing accurately, it is also – without any thought or effort on my part – twitching small muscles in my legs, to make sure I keep my top-heavy body upright, while at the same time using other muscles in various parts of my body and my other unused arm to keep me in perfect balance. My brain is also causing other muscles in my chest to stop me breathing for a moment to help steady me, causing my eyes to squint for a sharper view and sparking a general ‘tightening’ of everything for that vital moment.

Meanwhile, of course, the brain is carrying on with all the other vital functions it has to perform 24 hours a day, just to make sure I stay alive. Things like maintaining a steady beating of my heart (though it may cause this to accelerate for a moment as I make my throw), checking the pressure of the blood in my arteries, and extracting oxygen from my lungs and storing it in my red blood vessels, doing whatever is necessary to keep my body temperature within normal bounds, removing dead cells from all over my body and replacing them with new ones, operating my complete digestive system, and extracting poisons from my body through my kidneys and liver. There are myriad other things going on as well, and think what will happen if my throw is successful and I actually hit that double-top I was aiming for!

The brain is indeed a wonderful thing. It never stops working, requiring only a good supply of blood to do its jobs – and so many of them at the same time. Just think, it took me about half an hour to write this blog, but it took my brain about half a second to actually do the processes I’ve outlined here. And it’s doing this and a lot more every second of every day of our lives!

Do you ever feel in awe of the human body's capabilities?

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