The connections and reactions in the brain produce every experience, every emotion, and every insight you ever had. All of your movements, whether consciously or subconsciously happens by order of your brain. From holding a phone and chewing your food to the blinking of your eyes and the growing of your hair, everything you know, learn and remember, and even things that you seem to have forgotten, have a place in that wonderful brain of yours. Simply put: The Brain is a multifunctional powerhouse.
With some hundred billion neurons, our brains have the most connections of all animal brains on Earth. Even though our brains only represent two percent of our body mass, they use up a quarter of the available energy. For most people that is about five hundred calories per day. Because of the high demand for energy, it is important that this machine operates as efficiently as possible, perceives at the highest possible speed and adapts and learns from the situations we encounter.
Most devices experience wear and tear and become less valuable the more you use them, but the brain only becomes stronger, more efficient and smarter. It has an organizational structure with communication, task division, and execution efficiency that even the most successful companies can learn from.
Let’s take a look at this four-way breakdown of our brain based on the different roles and functions in our lives:
The Reptilian Brain: Instinct, Intuition, and Survival
The most primitive part, “the reptilian brain” autonomously regulates all kinds of essential life functions that you never have to think about, from the beating of your heart and the digestion of your food to the cleansing of your blood and the fighting of diseases. This part saves your life on a daily basis by activating “fight or flight” in dangerous situations and gives you the drive to protect yourself and your loved ones. From searching for food to the selection of a suitable life partner, this part of the brain gives you the instinct, intuition and drive to survive.
The Mammalian Brain: Emotions and Reward
When you find yourself in a threatening or stressful situation, this system directs the production of adrenaline, a chemical created and released by the adrenal glands, which causes you to be more alert and have more energy and, for a short period, makes you stronger, smarter and faster. When night falls, melatonin is released, a chemical that makes you want to rest or go to sleep. If you do something you enjoy, this system rewards you with a chemical like dopamine. Good food, a problem solved, a physical achievement or an intimate moment with a loved one makes this drug enter your bloodstream and give you that fantastic feeling of euphoria.
The Modern Brain: The Neocortex with our Uniquely Human Functions
What separates human brains from other animals is a very modern part: the neocortex, which holds some pretty amazing features that aren’t found in the brains of any other animals. Take, for example, the power to empathize, to really feel and experience something that someone else is going through as though you are living it yourself, even though you are not. Such as crying over a sad movie, or getting butterflies in your stomach from a love story.
We human beings have the unique ability to imagine things that are long past, have not happened yet or don’t exist at all. And we can translate those experiences into symbols, signs, and language. The fact that you can put your personal experiences into writing so that other people can experience them through imagination is absolutely astounding.
We can think about things that do not exist but that could be. This allows us to be creative, to look at things from multiple perspectives, to combine multiple variables and to experiment with them in our imagination. Creativity and innovation are abilities that only humans naturally possess. The neocortex allows us to be conscious of our individual identities and our own thoughts, to have self-awareness. It’s where the conscious mind lives.
The Management Department: The Frontal Lobe
The last part of your neocortex to reach complete, adult development is located in your forehead: The frontal lobe or prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain has some important functions, It is like the management department of your brain. It compares the present to the past, predicts a possible future outcome, connects cause and effect, inhibits inappropriate thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and directs conscious attention. The neocortex holds the qualities that we associate with being a responsible, independent, grown-up human being. It’s no coincidence that children and adolescents have such a difficult time planning, thinking long-term, and controlling their impulses. The prefrontal cortex does not reach full development until around the age of twenty-five years old. So before that time, you will have more trouble controlling impulses and making long-term predictions as to what might be the consequences of your actions.
This is why it is important for children to learn and follow rules and accept guidance from their parents. It is also why it is so important to test and try the validity of every one of those rules during puberty. If you don’t test what you’ve learned, and chose what works best for you, it’s difficult to live an independent adult life. So the frontal lobe is your mental filter, that determines what is logical, sensible, and important, and it works to filter out things that are unimportant or outright stupid.