We’ve spent some time on this site looking at family roles, personality disorders, and a variety of other topics, including burnout. Although I’ve worked to keep the focus on facts, I’ve tried to ensure there would be value for writers as well.
Many of our stories include villains who have some sort of brain dysfunction. I have received a number of emails asking questions about these irregularities and how they might affect behavior. So in the interest of sharing writing information, we’re going to spend a few weeks looking at the brain. Now don’t panic. I promise it won’t be neurobiology kind of stuff. I’ll make it as non-medical as possible. And it will be fun, really.
Writing (good or bad) starts here, in the brain.
Science is learning more and more about the brain – how it functions, learns and remembers. A recent article in the Huff Post talked about ‘super-seniors’ whose brain function in their 80’s is better than most people in their 60’s. (This is good news for me.)
Our brains are small, weighing only 2% of average body weight but use up to 20% of the body’s energy. Each of our brains have about 100 billion neurons, each of which look like this:
Each of these neurons link to thousand of other neurons (from 1,000 to 10,000), but they never touch. In early pregnancy, they increase by 250,000 neurons per minute in the fetal brain, but in adulthood, the entire brain is only the size of a small cauliflower or about 3 pounds.
New research shows that neurons (aka brain cells) can reproduce in response to new activity (especially juggling), but child abuse can slow or stop brain development in children.
Gender affects our brains. Male brains react differently to pain than women’s, so the two sexes can’t discuss pain easily. Estrogen (present in both genders) enhances memory, which may be why so many women report memory problems in menopause.
The brain holds almost 20% of the body’s blood at any given time, but it is 3/4 water. Its computational power is astonishing. It can complete between 10 13 to 10 16 operations per second. And it needs good fats to do all this work. (Told you to continue reading.)
These operations include:
- Controlling body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.
- Accepting and processing information from our senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching). (This will be important when we’re talking about delusions and hallucinations.)
- Handling physical movement when walking, talking, standing or sitting.
- Allowing thinking, dreaming, reasoning and experiencing emotions.
Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
All of this happens in the midst of a dynamic, ever-changing ‘soup’ of chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters.
I have to admit I am always shocked when people ride motorcycles without a helmet. Why would anyone risk such a marvelous piece of internal equipment? We pack our laptop in a protective case with foam to keep it from bouncing and then pack it in a saddle bag on a bike, and climb on, without protecting our noggin.
By the way, you can’t tickle yourself, since your brain recognizes your touch as…well…your touch.
The brain is arguably the most important part of the body and yet we know comparatively little about it. Brains from those who have died can’t tell researchers much about the dynamic, active processes of the brain. And yet most of us are unwilling to have those same doctors put needles and scalpels into our brains.
So what kind of information is out there and how might it affect you as a writer? Join me as I provide a layman’s look at the brain – what works and what doesn’t and why. We are going to look at a whole spectrum of brain function, from mental health to mental illness. (We all know thriller authors love mental illness.) In the process, I hope you’ll find some interesting tidbits of information, some understanding of those who have debilitating illnesses most of us understand very little and an appreciation for the gray and white matter between your ears.
Don’t forget I’m moving to my own website. More details to come.
The image of the brain, above, is from photopin.com.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/hawkexpress/4734545741/”>hawkexpress</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>