Thinking about brains

Walking and talking, eating and drinking, singing and dancing – for everything we do, whether conscious or subconscious, we rely on our brain. And yet – we barely understand it.

From inside our mother’s womb, nerve fibres begin to grow and connect to one another, stretching out like cobwebs to reach various regions of the brain. This process continues well into our teenage and even adult life – as connections strengthen whilst we learn and gather knowledge and skills. Even though these connections are the route of life as we know and understand it, their development remains a mystery. Grasping an understanding of what happens when things go wrong remains even further from our reach.

If you want to know more about the brain and why it’s so important? Check out this website: washington.edu/neurok

Historically, most of our understanding of the human brain comes from information gathered by looking at the brain of other animals (like rats, mice and even pigs) – however, with the invention of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI for short) in the 1970’s, a new era of discovery and research into the brain began. MRI allowed us to look – for the first time ever – at the human brain in a living person.

For more on MRI have a look here: kidshealth.org

Since then, different MRI methods have been invented that let us see – in huge amounts of detail – the structure and architecture of the brain. This is very helpful for us to understand how and what goes wrong in some diseases and developmental problems. Other methods have also been developed which allow us to see messages being sent through the brain in response to actions such as seeing, hearing and moving. With these constant exciting discoveries into the workings of the human brain, we are quickly learning about our brains – but there is still a long way to go.

Perhaps we will never fully understand the workings behind the development of human thoughts and walks through life, but it is comforting to know that ‘if the human brain were so simple that we could understand it; we would be so simple that we couldn’t’ (Emerson Pugh); and therefore it is important that we can at least try!

If you would like to work in unravelling the mysteries of the brain, check out some of these careers to get you started:

  • neurosurgeon – diagnosing and treating the pathological processes which may affect the nervous system
  • neurophysiology technician – setting up and operating the electronic equipment which records the electrical activity of the brain and nervous system
  • behavioural neuroscientist or a psychiatrist – helping to diagnose the neurological condition and work out the best treatment plan
  • mental health nurse – providing care and support for the patient
  • neuropharmocologist – researching how different drugs interact with the nervous system to determine the most effective treatment options
  • molecular biologist – understanding what the causes the disease and developing new treatments
  • psychotherapist – helping to treat patients for a wide range of mental and physical difficulties
  • psychologist – using psychological theory and practice to solve problems or bring about improvements for patients
  • physiological scientist – using specialised equipment to monitor treatment and help to diagnose disease