NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The GUIDE: Brain and Brain - reprise [Full link to blog for email clients.][FT:C44]

Classic line, from classic Star Trek. "Brain and brain, what is brain?" This comes from "Spock's Brain", in which we discover that it you just connect the vocal chords, the patient can direct you in connecting the rest of the nerves!  In the interests of helping writers avoid such unscientific gaffes (and having those who know better laugh at them, at best, or stop watching/reading, at worst), I created this blog and the current project "The Lab Rats' Guide to the Brain (a guide to 'getting the science right' for writers and readers of science fiction)."

Back in the dim mists of antiquity - in other words, not quite a year ago, I started blogging The Guide, one column at a time, and posted this brief orientation to the overall structure of the brain.  To assist new readers and provide continued reference to trhe parts of the brain I figured I should reprint this blog and the "Back to the Basics" blog.  

In order to discuss the parts of the brain, I will tell people to hold their left hand at arm's length in front of their face, fingers together, palm flat and facing directly away from the face. To get the full effect, it also helps to imagine that hand in a baseball glove or catcher's mitt, but for now, just compare the hand and the picture at the right.   The thumb is the temporal lobe (light blue in the picture) and that's where a lot of the structures that process sound and help us make memory are located. Fingertips are the frontal lobes (purple). That's the control of muscle movement is located and where a lot of decision-making and "conscious thought" seems to take place. Neuroscientists call that "executive function" and it is mainly the conscious control of other brain functions. The outside edge of the hand is the parietal lobe (green). there's a lot of sensory structures there.  The forward edge of the parietal lobe is the main "somatosensory" (touch, vibration, hot, cold, pain, and position) strip and it is organized according to the different parts of the body.  Directly opposite in the frontal lobe is the "motor strip" which controls voluntary muscle movement throughout the body.  Down toward the temporal lobe are areas that handle speaking and reading. The occipital lobe (dark blue) is about where the heel of the hand would be in our model. It is almost exclusively related to vision and visual functions. However, some visual processing areas are also in the parietal lobe, since seeing quite frequently connects with hearing, speaking and reading. The cerebellum (red) and brainstem (dark green) are equivalent to the wrist - in many ways. The cerebellum coordinates muscle movement throughout the body, and the brainstem connects the brain to the body (via the spinal cord).

It seems almost as if for every function on the *outside* (surface) of the brain (we call it the "cortex" or "neocortex"), there's a structure deeper within the brain that acts as a relay, switch or preprocessing junction. By the way, we often call the deep structures "nucleus" or "ganglion", or even "fiddly bits" (with apologies to Howard Tayler), although many have their own names such as "thalamus," or "hippocampus."

Also, for those of you following this blog with interest, after the reprise of the Basics, I'll continue with diseases and disorders with Alzheimer's disease, Myasthenia Gravis, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, deafness, blindness, paralysis and finish up with a discussion of prosthetics and bionics.  Feel free at any time to post questions.  I'll try to collect them and come back with some "mailbag" posts in a few weeks  - just write them in the comments section, or email them to Teddy at TeddRoberts dot com. I might even let the LabRats out of their cages to assist.

Until next time, take care of your brain, it's the only one you've got.

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