Facts and Nonsense About the Brain

Repost from the old site.
Like most things, there is much nonsense spoken about our brains. Our brains are very interesting to us, even to stupid people, because we use them to think. Yes, even dumb people do use their brains to think. We don’t really understand how our brains work, so some of us try to sound smart by pontificating about our mysterious brains.
Here are some widespread myths about our brains:
We only use [choose one: 10%, 20%] of our brains. This silly statement makes us feel good, because it suggests that if we really try hard, we can use 30 or 40% of our brains and make more money or get laid more or dazzle folks with our wit, or this or that. Problem is that no neurologist will agree with this statement, and no one quite knows even where it came from.
It’s one of those feel-good statements that is complete nonsense. We use all of our brains. Even total idiots are using all of their brains most of the time, strange as it may seem.
There are parts of the brain that are emotional and parts of the brain that are dedicated to cognition. This one is not nearly as silly as the first one, but it’s still not true. I know this because 15 years ago I was acquainted with a neuropsychologist. He did various sorts of cognitive testing, and he also worked with people with various forms of brain damage.
He was also a strange guy, but he was nice enough, and he did have a PhD. I assumed that getting the PhD had probably driven him partly crazy, and he was neurotic as a result. He informed me that there were no emotional or thinking parts of the brain. He said that all of the brain engages in both thinking and emotion.
Sure, some parts, like the amygdala, are more dedicated to emotion and other parts, like the prefrontal cortex, are more dedicated to thinking, but all the parts do both.
Every drink (or joint) kills a few brain cells. I can’t believe even physicians tell me this crap. It’s nonsense. Yes, alcohol is one of the few drugs that actually kills brain cells, but you have to drink alcoholic-style for years before it happens. Cannabis, like many drugs, does not kill brain cells at any dose. Unfortunately, drugs don’t need to kill cells to mess up your brain. They can damage cells and destroy connections between cells.
Male brains are better at math and science than female brains. Actually, they start out the same, but worldwide studies show that at about age 13, when massive male hormones kick in, males all over the world start to surpass females.
A personal observation is that females who do well at these subjects are more likely to be more masculine (not necessarily lesbian) than other women. The President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, was recently massacred for stating this obvious fact.
Female brains are better at verbal than male brains. Apparently the case, though there are arguments about which type of verbal we are talking about. If you think about it, there are evolutionary reasons why females would end up better at verbal (needed to raise young kids) and males are better at visuospatial (needed for hunting).
There are some more facts about the brain that you may find interesting.
We have a maximum number of brain cells at age 23, and after that, there is a steady decline. This is correlated with what is known as fluid IQ, a rough measure of brain efficiency. This is why mathematicians, physicists, novelists, poets, songwriters, musicians, artists and others like them tend to do their best work when they are still pretty young.
On the other hand, only an insane person would put the 18-22 year olds in charge of a country. This group has never been put in charge of anything in any society, with good reason. Their brains are going like gangbusters, but they don’t have any sense.
They think they know everything, but they don’t know shit. They are supremely self-confident, and they have not even reached the stage of self-doubt.
Other than passing their classes, they are contemptuous of learning and knowledge in general and never admit there is anything they don’t know. If they can’t figure it out, it’s worthless. This age group is a prime example of the notion that a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.
They have a grotesquely poor understanding of their fellow man, and they are horribly intolerant. Also, they are very much group-thinkers who are terrified to defy group-think and peer pressure.
If we put them in charge, it would be a nightmare. They would hold public executions and would probably torture people in public. There would be stupid wars all the time. Everything would be legal, and no one would care. There would be private armies all over the place and probably some form of fascism would be the flavor of the day.
We occasionally put them in charge of some stuff, like being Presidents of fraternities, but often they even fuck that up.
Mind you, I was an 18-22 year old too, and those were the best days of my life. I remember myself as being supremely mature and with-it, but I assume I had my head up my ass like the rest of them.
Yes, the brain declines with age, but wisdom is good. The crystallized intelligence of age does have advantages over the rarely-used super-brains of the young. Our brains are slower, but with the gifts and harsh lessons of time, we are vastly superior at making decisions.
Any tribe or civilization of any worth always put middle-aged to old guys in charge and revered its elders. We are cautious and careful, and we already did most of the dumb things there are to do, and we are not likely to do them again.
Crystallized intelligence is more or less the stuff you know. As you age, you accumulate knowledge and theoretically wisdom. You don’t get a hardon with every passing breeze, but you’re much less likely to do stupid shit. It’s called a trade-off.
A process called pruning occurs in which there is actually a massive loss of brain cells and connections. Most folks do not know this, but there is a massive overgrowth of brain cells in childhood. At adolescence, the brain decides to clear out all those stupid dirt roads that don’t go much of anywhere and make some superhighways instead. The result is like pruning a tree, and the brain works much better as a result.
There is quite a bit of loss of brain structure in the process, but it’s all good in the end. In fact, pruning is an essential process for the adolescent brain. If you observe most adolescents, it would not seem controversial that they are experiencing massive loss of brain structure, but a lot of folks still refuse to believe this.
There is a window in the brain for language that starts to close at about age 7. If you wait until later, you never really get language right. We have folks born deaf who got hearing at age 33 and have still never picked up language right. You can learn a foreign language in adulthood, but you will always have an accent, and you will never get 100% native speaker competence.
There is a blind cave fish that has a window for sight. If it is exposed to light before a certain age, it can see. If not, it just figures there is no light down in this cave, so it just goes blind and turns the visual portion of the brain over to something else. The brain seems to open up windows, so to speak.
The brain opens a language window that says, “Any language here?” as it waits for input. If there is no input, the brain just closes the window, figures there is no language coming, and turns the area over to something else.
The brain is plastic. That does not mean it is made out of polyurethane. It just means that it is smart. For instance, if one part gets damaged, your brain will try to reroute connections around the damaged area. Also, other areas of the brain will try to take over for the damaged area. Brains are smart! They actually think about how to fix up messed up brains! Cool!

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5 thoughts on “Facts and Nonsense About the Brain”

  1. “Male brains are better at math and science than female brains. Actually, they start out the same, but worldwide studies show that at about age 13, when massive male hormones kick in, males all over the world start to surpass females.”
    This is quite interesting. As someone who has been very interested in the history of math and sciences for a long time I knew that almost all scientists, and especially mathematicians, do their best work young. Most mathematicians do their best work by the age of 35. After that, they not only lose creativity, but some actually fall behind new ideas and fall into depression. There are some late bloomers, but they’re rare.
    Men become good at math at puberty, the begining of their reproductive years. They start to heavily decline in mathematical creativity at the same time their prime reproductive years are ending (35 – 40). Few if any women are extremely brilliant at math. The group of elite mathematicians is a total sausage fest.
    Why is this significant?
    When one considers the period of mathematical accomplishment amongst men and the lack of such an expolsion amongst women it drives one to think:
    Are all mathematical, scientific, and artistic ventures of mankind really just a quest to get pussy? Is mathematical accomplishment a kind of pussy magnet like a Ferrari? It would seem so.
    Women don’t have nearly as many accomplished scientist because they don’t have to compete for pussy. The reality is, if a woman is willing to lower her standards enough, she will eventually find a guy to fuck her. This is not true with men, hence they need pussy magnets.
    The criticism of men “thinking with their balls” is quite baseless. If it weren’t for our balls, man would probably still be wandering the african savannah. Thank god for sex differences…and boobs.

  2. it seems like the brain is most flexible and adaptive and plastic in childhood, a period when it is moulded to the norms and ways of thinking of the society the kid is in, then in adolescence it starts to become fixed in place. Cool.

  3. In regard to the healthcare verses the United States. If we were not the “melting-pot” of the world, I am sure our costs of healthcare would be lower (more IQ means better health decision making, less poor, etc.) on par with the Canadians. Our customer service would definitely be of that of the European gentlemen as well. I will tell you that the Asians (highest average IQ) have horrific customer service as well. That is merely cultural.

    1. For profit medicine always has sky-high costs. There is no way around it. It doesn’t matter how smart your population is. For-profit models will break even the smartest of nations. Everyone gets sick. Everyone dies.
      US IQ is 98. That is about the same as Canada and many European nations which have much lower health care costs than we do.

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