Just Sheer Naked Magic
What weighs about three pounds but has more parts than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy (Flieger)? What fills the space occupied by only three pints of milk yet includes components that, laid end to end, would stretch several hundred thousand miles (Diagram 19)? What looks like an oversized walnut made of soft, grayish-pink cheese but contains the equivalent of 100 trillion tiny calculators (Restak, Brain 27)? What, according to James Watson, co-discoverer of the helical structure of DNA, is “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe” (qtd. in Begley 66)? To all four of these intriguing questions there is but one surprising answer: the human brain. This miraculous organ is remarkable in its structure, its function, and its chemical composition.
What is the brain? According to Richard Restak, the human brain is the master control center of the body. The brain constantly receives information from the senses about conditions both inside the body and outside it. The brain rapidly analyzes this information and then sends out messages that control body functions and actions. (“Brain” 561)
According to Tether, the brain is divided into three main parts: the cerebrum, thecerebellum, and the brain stem (421). These parts, in turn, are largely made up of nerve cells, called neurons, and helper cells, called glia. Researchers have discovered that there may be as many as 100 billion neurons in the brain and a far greater number of glia, possibly as many as one trillion (Kolb and Whishaw 1).
Important discoveries throughout the decade of the 1990Тs in molecular biology and genetics are revolutionizing our understanding of how the human brain works(Kotulak ix). Advances in imaging technology are allowing us to learn more about the human brain than ever before in human history (Kotulak x). Keith A. Johnson and J. Alex Becker have even placed “The Whole Brain Atlas,” which consists of dozens of images of the brain in normal, damaged, and diseased states, on the World Wide Web for anyone with access to the Internet to view and study.
One area of the new brain research reveals that the first three years of a childТs life are crucial to the development of the brain. Proper stimulation of infants can, according to Kotulak, affect the development of language, vision, brain power, aggression, emotions, touch, and education (9-11). An editorial in the New York Times states that the importance of early stimulation Ц to promote the healthy brain development in children Ц is a “compelling argument for the expansion of support for new parents and of quality child care programs” (“Nurturing”). North Carolina, Vermont, Colorado, and Ohio are implementing programs to offer support services to families with young children (“Nurturing”).
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