The Unique Human Brain

 

In this article, we shall reflect on the human brain, so different from the brains of all other living creatures.  In the past few decades we have leamt much about the intricacies of our brains and the facts are astounding.

As long as humans have existed on the face of the earth they have posed questions concerning their origins, the purpose of their existence.  Only humans can ask such questions, since they have the ability to think.  Why were we given this ability to think, formulate and act?

The brain is a collection of nerve cells called neurons.  The major portion of the brain is composed of the two cerebral hemispheres, which are concerned with the highest conceptual and motor functions.

The main difference between a human brain and that of an animal is the size of the cerebral hemispheres.  These hemispheres are poorly developed in all animals.  In many organisms they are not developed at all.  We would be totally at the mercy of our instincts if we didn't possess cerebral hemispheres.

The rest of the brain is composed of the limbic system, the diencephalon, the mid-brain, pons and cerebellum, and the medulla oblongata.  We have these in common with all other animals.  They control the daily functions of the body, like swallowing, breathing, maintaining blood pressure and body temperature, food intake, water balance, etc. - coordinating the body to run like a perfect machine.

The human brain consists of 10 billion neurons, each having at least a thousand synapses - points of contact between the nerve cells.  For some cells within the cerebral cortex, the number of synapses approaches a million.  The total number of connections within the vast network of the brain's neural system is truly astronomical - greater than the number of particles in the known universe - about 100 trillion synapses, each one operating as a tiny calculator.

It is amazing that an organ such as the brain, containing 100 billion cells, develops from a single cell, the egg!  Some flippantly respond that it is all genetically programmed, forgetting that a program is a meaningless term without a programmer.

Also, the total number of neuroloeical connections in the brain is 10 (raised to the 15th power), while the total genetic information is only about 10 genes, which is very modest in comparison.

Though the human brain is compared to a computer, it is unimaginably more advanced.  There is nothing remotely like it in the known universe.  If a computer were built to replicate the brain's network, it would fill a ten story building occupying the entire state of texas.  The informational content of the human brain is enormous.  If written out, this information would fill some 20 million volumes - as many as in the world's largest libraries.  There are the equivalent of 20 million books inside the heads of every one of us.  The brain is a very big place in a very small space!

Arnold Scheibel calls the brain a cosmic celestial organ.  The Andromeda Galaxy comprises 100 billion stars, as many as there are neurons in the brain.  According to Robert C. Collins, chairman of neurology at UCLA, the brain represents the farthest extent of biological evolution.

The cerebral cortex is where matter is transformed into consciousness.  Comprising more than two thirds of the brain mass, it is the realm of both intuition and critical analysis.  It is here that we read and write, speak, have ideas and conceptions; here that we do mathematics and compose music.  Even in sleep we are dreaming, remembering, figuring things out with the brain.  Unlike animals, our thoughts, visions and fantasies can find shape in physical reality.

The cortex regulates our conscious lives.  It is the distinction of our species, the seat of our humanity.   Civilization is a product of the cerebral cortex.

The brain does much more than recollect.  It compares, synthesizes, analyses and generates ideas which can then be tested for validity.  That the brain can think through and translate into action complex ideas is what distinguishes our species from animals.  The cerebral cortex has liberated us.  We do not have to follow the genetically inherited behavior patterns of dogs, cats or lizards.  We have the ability to change ourselves.  We are the only species that can stock pile information (which we can retrieve at will) in the form of libraries.

The more we realize and learn about the human brain, the more profoundly we realize how impossible it is to have come into existence without a master designer:

We created man in the best possible design.    (Quran 95:4)

It has been calculated by leading scientists that the likelihood of our brains evolving to their present status through random selection is 1 in 10 (raised to the 40,000th power), a probability so outrageous as to be ludicrous and therefore well nigh impossible.  To deny the existence of a master programmer necessary for the highly concise development of the human brain is extreme arrogance and self deception.

Utilizing our brains, we have advanced greatly in all fields.   We know so much more about the Universe, the solar system, the earth, our bodies and how they function.  We have taken great strides only because we have been questioning, analytical, and critical.  Without these qualities, we would still be in the dark ages.

It is therefore surprising that the human being, ever so critical in the fields of science and technology should be so passive on the subject of religion.  It behooves us then to apply to the subject of religion the same skeptical scrutiny that we apply to all other fields.

There are thousands of religions existing today, each with multiple subsects, all with important core similarities but with differing traditions and rituals.  Nevertheless, all religions as they exist today are shamelessly dishonest and contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents.  Still they flourish, simply because of the remarkable resistance of their adherents to rational inquiry.  If open inquiry is made, then the person is persecuted.

We live in an age now where we must understand that if a body of belief wants to be vibrant and growing, then it has to offer proof of authenticity by being responsive to the criticism directed against it.  No religion should be immune from skeptical scrutiny; and if it cannot survive this, it is not worth having.

Knowledge should be courageously pursued to expose the proponents of doctrinal religions.  We have a responsibility and we will be held accountable if we shirk it:

You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it for yourself.   I have given you the hearing, the eyesight and the brain, andyou are responsible for using them.   (Quran 17.36)

Most people do not think deeply about the religion they belong to.   To many it is an inherited part of their lives and the set of beliefs has been accepted without prior questioning.  This is extremely dangerous.

The time has now come for us to think about our religion.  If we look at the Universe at large, we find it is exceptionally beautiful and intricately constructed.  Its elegance and precision is one of its most remarkable properties.  The scale of the Universe, with its hundred billion galaxies, each containing more than 100 billion stars, speaks to us of the inconsequentiality of human events in the cosmic context.

If God made this fantastic Universe, He also gave us our curiosity and intelligence.  We would be unappreciative of these gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the truth in the Universe and within ourselves.

It seems so petty to divide ourselves into sects as we have done.

If we use our God given intelligence and common sense, we can see clearly that God does not differentiate between human beings.  We do.  He created us as one congregation - to worship Him alone.

How unfair it is to set up partners against Him in the form of dead saints and prophets who are themselves powerless, and to attribute power to them, when He alone is the obvious creator!

- Shakira Karipineni

 

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