It’s Not Thursday

So yesterday was Thursday. I forgot.

Actually, I knew it was Thursday, I just forgot it was Thankful Thursday.

But just because it’s not Thursday is no reason not to be thankful! In fact, we should be thankful everyday, not just on Thursdays, so being a day late is no reason to not talk about another thing I’m thankful for.

So today, I’m thankful for…

2. BRAINS!

About the size of a grapefruit, the consistency of old oatmeal, it’s no doubt they’re so popular with zombies!

But seriously. Brains. We all have ’em (but we all don’t use ’em) and they’re definitely something to be thankful for. I’ve been studying the brain this week as part of my psychology course, and I’m only partly queasy when I recall the fact that I have, in fact, touched a brain before: I was much younger then, maybe nine or ten, and we went to some science center whose name I no longer remember. One of the things we did there was take a class on the five senses, or something like that, and as part of that, they took out a brain and passed it around. Okay, they didn’t pass it around, they more just held it and let us come and look at it, but they did let us touch it, too. It was a real brain (at least, I recall it being a real brain–but memory isn’t everything, is it?) and it felt formaldehydrated, sorta a bit like bumpy stuff with an odd texture. Now that I think of it, maybe it wasn’t really a real brain after all.

In any case, my fascination then was no indicator of my fascination now: Fascinated, yes, but no longer filled with childish enthusiasm, but a more-matured outlook and sophistication. That is, it made me nauseated. The pictures of people’s brains–real, once-living brains–made me swallow uncomfortably and the thought of how easily the whole brain could be messed up just sent tremors down to my toes–I mean, come on! Surgeons can completely ruin your entire brain, all with a few precise snip snips!

They can split your brain in half so your left hand doesn’t listen to reason; they can mess up Broca’s area so you can’t speak, or Wernicke’s Area so you can’t understand what’s said; they can make you blind, make you deaf, or even make you feel orgasms in your foot! (In that particular case, however, the man’s foot had been amputated, so the part of his brain that governed such sensations was able to spread out into the area that used to control his toes, so when one stimulated the other… On the one hand, it only shows how utterly adaptive the brain is. On the other hand, he said it was really intense! True story.)

What’s scarier: We only control a small portion of our entire nervous system. Interneurons in our spines pull our hands back from a flame before our brain registers the pain, and our brain has us moving milliseconds before we make a conscious decision. Not to mention that a lot of our traits are inherited, and a lot of our other traits are nurtured into us before we know what’s happening, and before we know it, the prospect of having absolutely no control over ourselves is both real and terrifying!

Thankfully, now we’re learning about consciousness. It’s only slightly less scary.

And after that, we’ll be onto nature vs. nurture.

Hmm. Maybe the outlook isn’t as great as I’d thought it was.

Either way, there’s a few reasons to be thankful for all of this. First, most people aren’t skilled neurosurgeons who can do these horrible things to you. Second, most people don’t know enough about the brain to do these things to you. Third, just look at it! Look at all these wonderful things the brain does! It makes us speak, it makes us think, it makes me able to write this as fast I think I it, and then rewrite when I mistype something, all with minimal amounts of scratching off text and waiting for the white out to dry!

And to imagine it all evolved from a tangle of ganglia into what it is today. It’s incredible. You could even say it’s mind-blowing.

There’s a quote in my psychology book that I’d like to share here, simply because I think it nicely sums up not only my thankfulness for the intricacies of the brain, but also my appreciation of sciences in general. It’s accredited to sociologist Rodney Stark, when in talking about the scientific revolution commented it was led mostly by devoutly religious men who had the idea that “in order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork.”

And with how amazing the brain is, it can’t get any handier than that.

At least until we move onto fingers.

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