While the 1.4 kg mass (3 pounds) of tissue that makes up the brain might not look impressive, it is often described as the most complex arrangement of matter in the known universe.
The human central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord, including roughly 100 billion nerve cells, and about 10 times more neuroglia, or supporting cells. The nerve tissue outside the CNS is called the peripheral nervous system. It delivers sensory information to the CNS, as well as carrying commands from the CNS to organs, such as muscles and glands.
The 3D world we experience, with sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and bodily sensations, is essentially constructed by our brains. Every second awake, signals from our environment of one kind or another are converted into electrical currents (of ions—called action potentials) by sensory receptors in the skin or by special senses (like smell, vision, and hearing).
These currents, bearing no obvious resemblance to the information they carry, travel into the brain via nerve fibres (cables, if you like), and there somehow the information is decoded.
The original signal is interpreted so that a person sees the world in vivid colour, hears the sound of a waterfall, experiences the heat of a hot summer's day, feels a breeze on the skin, and smells the sausages on the barbeque. And this can happen all at the same time; i.e., really fast. How does the brain do this? No one knows, but it must involve signal processing way beyond our current understanding.
One myth is that we only use about 10% of it, and if we could only learn to use the rest then we would become savants. However, we do use the rest of our brains, only not all of it at once. If all your cerebral cortex were active simultaneously then you would most likely be having some sort of generalized epileptic seizure rather than experiencing special mental powers.
The brain uses about 20% of the body's energy, most of it by nerve cells generating action potentials to communicate with other cells. Hence, using only the resources required to do a task is an energy-efficient design feature.
Different regions of the brain perform different tasks. For example, if you are having problems with your Internet connection, you call your Internet service provider, not the post office.
Similarly, if the motor areas of your cortex are planning a movement of your foot, the command to move is sent to the muscles via motor neurons located in the spinal cord, not to a sound processing area in the temporal lobe. Brain activation is very dynamic; the areas processing information changing constantly, as the situation dictates.
Often the brain is compared to a computer, and while they both contain complex circuits that carry current, the analogy only goes so far.
Consider long-term memory. Computer memory uses transistors to store information, with each transistor capable of two states (on or off, equivalent to one or zero respectively), and so with billions of these tiny electronic devices you can store a lot of information.
But in the brain, it does not appear to be in any specific region, but is rather spread across the brain. The hippocampus appears critical for the consolidation of long-term memories, with the strengthening of synaptic connections between nerve cells thought to be how long-term memory is stored.
However, how exactly this allows information to be stored or encoded, and later retrieved, is a mystery.
A biological 'computer'?
Both computers and brains will malfunction if physically damaged. However, the brain, depending on the nature of the damage, often has enough built-in redundancy and neuroplasticity (the ability to reorganize its connections) that other parts of the brain can take over the role of the damaged regions. As an extreme example, consider the removal of a cerebral hemisphere (essentially half the brain) as happens in the treatment of some extreme seizure disorders (an operation pioneered by the creationist neurosurgeon Dr Ben Carson1). Where this happens at a relatively young age, the long-term effects on cognitive function are often minimal, due to the amazing neuroplasticity of the brain. On the other hand, if a computer is physically damaged, it cannot repair itself. Since there would not have been any half-brained 'hominids' (ape-men), how could 'evolution' create the ability of the brain to reconfigure itself when half is removed?
The consciousness conundrum
No satisfactory explanation exists for consciousness. In fact, there is not even a satisfactory definition of it. However, it certainly involves the quality of awareness. When talking about consciousness, issues such as the mind–body problem often come up, concerning the connection between mental processes involving the mind (e.g., consciousness) and physical processes involving the brain. The mind can be thought of as being the ability of an individual to think, reason, feel, will, perceive, be aware, etc. As such, it seems intertwined with consciousness, and is also difficult to define in scientific terms.
In the words of Richard Restak, a world expert in neuroscience: "Mind is not a physical structure like the brain; it is not a 'thing'. Mind has no visible form, no aroma, no taste; it can't be held in the hand like the brain. Thoughts, the products of the mind, do not require physicality to exist. Thoughts, however, are meaningless without minds that can think and interpret them."3
No one knows how the mind works and how it links with the physical activity of the brain. Claims that the mind is simply the product of the evolved brain are simply Darwinian pledges of allegiance, not statements conveying knowledge. The materialist (or reductionist) insists that everything can be reduced to matter and its movements. This means that in the brain, mental events, such as thinking, emotions, and awareness, must break down to merely interactions between nerve cells and associated molecules, if mind and consciousness are 'physically' part of the brain.
It is ironic that the device (mind) used to devise this nihilistic junk falsifies the very philosophy it espouses, since it cannot be described in reductionist terms, or reduced to 'just matter'. We are clearly not mindless accidental robots whose actions are determined by our genes or a chain of chemistry since the so-called big bang.•
References and notes
This article is from Creation Ministries International and is used with kind permission. Please see their other content at www.creation.com.