Since middle-grade biology, we have learned that the brain is the control center of the body.
Anything we do or think is controlled by electrical signals produced by brain cells called neurons.
We term the study of the brain and neurons as neurosciences. Neuroscience is a vast and complex field, like the brain. Extensive research is unearthing new things by the day.
How we perceive information and how our brain interprets it is regulated by a complex set of mechanisms. The deeper we dive into it, the more difficult and extensive the system will appear.
Let’s look at the fundamental way our brain perceives and processes information. First, let’s discuss the parts of the brain involved in that mechanism.
Some Basics About Your Brain
Your brain is a soft mass of neurons and glycolipids (cerebrosides).
It is located in the upper head region, enclosed by a dense skull and three layers of meninges.
Anatomically, the brain is a soft tissue structure with many grooves and sulci.
The outer part of the brain has unmyelinated neurons (without the presence of a lipid layer) called gray matter. Similarly, the inner part is myelinated and is called white matter.
The essential function of the brain is to control and regulate every physiological process in the body. Be it things as trivial as standing or sitting, or as complex as the beating of the heart or working of the hormonal system. Everything is being controlled by the brain.
However, the brain has further different structures specified for a distinct function. Which together work in harmony to control the body and its operations.
Individual Functions of Parts of the Brain
There are three regions in the human brain:
The forebrain is the most significant part of the brain consisting of the cerebrum, thalamus, and limbic system.
The cerebrum is the largest part of the forebrain as well as the largest subclass of the brain.
The cerebral cortex is in the cerebrum, which controls all the motor, voluntary, thinking, and imagination parts of the brain. It is also responsible for making memories and perceptions.
There are four regions of the cerebral cortex. Scientists have named them based on their locations: the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, and the temporal lobe, which we will discuss further on.
Thalamus is a small structure located beneath the cerebrum. The primary function of the thalamus is to act as a relay center for the cerebral cortex and the inner midbrain.
The Limbic system comprises three structures called: the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala.
Hypothalamus is located just under the thalamus. The primary function is to govern the body’s endocrine system, which controls the secretion and inhibition of hormones.
Hippocampus is the memory-forming center of the body.
Where the cerebral cortex stores the memories in neurons, the hippocampus is the one that converts short-term memories into long ones.
In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, this part of the brain is affected. Hence the memory forming function of the body goes haywire.
The Amygdala is the “feeling” center of the forebrain. It mainly controls the intense feelings of fear, anger, love, and sexual arousal. The cerebrum and amygdala work together to produce sensations and emotions in the body via different hormones and neurotransmitters.
Like the forebrain, the hindbrain also has different parts.
However, while the forebrain is primarily responsible for voluntary control, the hindbrain controls the involuntary responses.
The hindbrain is divided into Medulla Oblongata, Pons, and the Cerebellum.
Medulla Oblongata is located just above the spinal cord.
Therefore, it plays a vital role as a brain stem and a relay center between the brain and spinal cord.
Other functions of Medulla Oblongata include: controlling the cardiovascular system (the heartbeat and the blood pressure) and respiratory system (breathing rate).
Pons is also a part of the brain stem located just above the spinal cord. It mainly controls all the reflexes such as coughing, sneezing, vomiting, etc.
The cerebellum has a name similar to the forebrain’s cerebrum. But, don’t confuse both of them together.
While the cerebrum controls all the voluntary muscle movements, the cerebellum controls all the involuntary ones.
They include (e.g., peristalsis movement of the GI tract), posture and balance (via inner ear fluids), and smooth and balanced muscular activity (passing a thread from a small needle hole).
The midbrain is much reduced in humans.
It lies as a small structure just underneath the hypothalamus. It acts as the topmost part of the brain stem and conveys signals from the brain to the spinal cord.
How the Brain Works
Whenever we see, touch, feel, smell, or hear something, sensory neurons conduct these impulses to our brain.
Different regions of the cerebral cortex process it, and an appropriate response is carried to the effector’s muscles by motor neurons.
Now that we have looked into the different parts of the brain and brain structure, let’s dive into different situations to assess how they work together to perform one task.
Your Brain’s Role When You Are Talking to a Friend
Our eyes perceive the face of the person standing in front of us.
Optic nerves carry this information to the brain, mainly the parietal and occipital regions of the cerebral cortex.
The frontal lobe of our cerebral cortex interprets if this face is similar and assesses how our minds perceive this person. The temporal region also plays its role in memory recall if we have good feelings for that person.
The cerebral cortex then sends appropriate signals to our vocal cords to start generating sound. Also, to our facial muscles to show expressions of delight, and to the muscles of our arms to wave.
Whatever our friend’s response is, it again goes to the brain in a matter of seconds, and the cycle repeats.
In the same manner, we carry out many of our daily tasks, like, listening to an old song and associating the feelings of nostalgia.
Like solving a maths problem requires activation of knowledge and learning parts of the cerebral cortex (frontal).
The hindbrain also plays a vital role in increasing the heartbeat and respiratory breath in situations like when a dog is chasing you.
At any given second, about billions of electric impulses travel through our neurons. This is the true power of our minds.
The Take-Home Point
The brain is truly the most complex part of the body.
Even after hundreds of research articles about how the brain works, the true complexity of our minds is yet to be unveiled.
We can only appreciate this working in smooth synchronization of the different parts of our brain.