Illustration of the lateral view of the brain

The brain at work

Our brains are staggeringly clever things. They can take in incredible amounts of information, filter out what is not needed, store away information for future reference, recall past experiences, and control what the rest of the body does. What’s more, they do all these things simultaneously, every waking second of the day. How does the brain do this?

We are just beginning to work out how the brain manages these incredible feats, and how it is that single cells – mainly neurons – acting together can do so many wonderful things.

The brain operates by division of labour: different areas are specialised for different functions. However, these are not independent republics – connections between them are equally important.

Many insights have come from people whose brain injuries have altered their behaviour. The classic case is that of railway worker Phineas Gage. In 1848 an explosion blew a metal rod through his skull, removing a large chunk of his forebrain. Gage survived but his personality changed dramatically. Formerly a reliable worker, after the accident he became a drunken drifter, aggressive and impulsive, his ability to control his behaviour lost with his prefrontal cortex. See our case study on Phineas Gage for more information.

 

Lead image:

Illustration of a lateral view of the brain.

Illustration © Glen McBeth

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Thinking’ in September 2006 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Topics:
Neuroscience, History
Issue:
Thinking
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development