We All Have One, But How Are You Using It?

Posted by in brain, Louise Behiel, mental health | 49 comments

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:

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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>

 

49 Comments

  1. Ha Louise, my first thought when I read the title of your post was, could she be talking about the brain? LOL! Yes, why do people not protect this precious instrument. Our youngest son has fallen on his head several times and had test done showing that he has sections of his brain that does not function. Scary stuff indeed. So your series of new posts I will look forward to. Thanks Louise.

    • I’m sorry about your son, Karen. It doesn’t take much to hurt our gray matter. stay tuned for more info

  2. This is majorly awesome. I can’t wait to read what you’ve planned out!
    I have a question – and if you’ve done a past post on this, I apologize – but do you plan on tackling the ‘left brain’, ‘right brain’ discussion?
    I had no clue Estrogen had anything to do with memory!

  3. The brain is an amazing piece of eqiupment. Great work, Louise.

  4. I already feel smarter, Louise! Thanks for this post– and the new series.

  5. This is timely for me, as I’m revamping my antagonist and I need to know more about brain activity. Or inactivity. Or vulnerability. Or something. 🙂 Whatever I decide on, I’m sure your series will help.

    • here’s hoping I can give you the info you need. thx for stopping by

  6. Whoa, totally fascinating! I never knew men and women handle pain differently. That explains SO much. 🙂 I always love coming here because I learn something new every time. Thanks, Louise!

  7. Interesting article. I don’t really have any villains in my stories… a few bad girls, but they have socially redeeming qualities. Had an abusive husband in one of my stories… is ‘assholery’ a mental disorder? Couldn’t find an ICD-9 code for it. Oh, wait… I have Sasha… now that bitch is a villain!

    Looking forward to more.

    Veronica Marie

    • Thx for stopping by, Veronica. hope you enjoy

  8. Louise, another thing that should be mentioned is the damage that some sports do to the brain, and some of them even wear helmets. Helmets can’t save you every time. Once they’ve been damaged they are useless.

    • You’re absolutely right, Sandy. My nephew had a couple of concussions playing hockey when he was a kid (he’s in his mid 20s now) and my sister pulled him out of hockey. totally. we all thought she was over-reacting but turns out she was totally right. he’s in med school now, and we’re all thrilled she took the action she did.

      • Your sister was a very smart lady, and before her time.

  9. This stuff fascinates me – looking forward to the next installment in the series!

    Oh, and I *never* ride my motorcycle without a helmet! Not even backing out of the garage! I dropped the bike doing that once, whacked my head on the pavement, and that was enough for me.

    • wow – you are one lucky lady. I’m so glad to hear you take care of yourself on your bike. it’s fun but we have to be aware of the risks for our head.

  10. I’m no thriller author, but I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and the workings of the brain. These are important understandings for any writer, I think. Looking forward to this series.

  11. Louise, nice job. Love the comparison of how we protect a replaceable laptop but not an irreplaceable brain. But don’t get me started on idiots that don’t wear helmets. . . Hmmm, Kristy, you may be right hamsters on a wheel instead of brains. Might explain a few things. . . LOL!

    Louise, the brain IS complex and if you can explain the neurotransmitter and hormone processes of the brain in layman’s language, my PALs certified-self has got nothing on you! I didn’t know that male and female brains process pain differently! You taught this old dog a new trick! Great post!

    • Thanks Lynette. We’re going to look at this in layman’s terms. Won’t always excite an MD but will hopefully make it all a little simpler. and then we’ll talk about mental illness – and lord knows that is important for writers LOL

  12. I still remember the commercial they ran in my home state to encourage helmet use. They put the car at 50mph, then dropped a small, round watermelon out the window. No surprise, the melon shattered. After working in the ER (not as medical personnel) and seeing how many of the motorcycle trauma victims fared…well, I, too, couldn’t understand why people would voluntarily jeopardize such an important organ.

    • I can’t figure out why anyone would take such a chance. the range of injuries is ugly and always debilitating

  13. Can’t wait to learn more about this, Louise. And I’m with you on the helmets. I keep seeing posts from my biker friends on FB telling us to keep a special eye out for them when we’re driving…and I got ticked off one day…after seeing way too many people on motorcycles…NOT wearing them. So I posted a bit of a snotty comment that if they want us to care about them, then they need to care about themselves and WEAR A HELMET! I know firsthand that a head injury can impact your life…even a mild one. I was the victim in a car crash…NOT my fault, and I still have some issues after almost four years, not life altering, but annoying. It’s a lot better than it was (when I had two-year long headache).

    I do disagree with you on ONE small thing here. I’m not entirely sure that EVERYONE has a brain. I think some of them just have hamsters running circles on that wheel. And I think some of their wheels have stopped working… 🙂

    • LOL. thanks for the laugh, my friend. I forgot about those folks. I am sorry to hear about the outcome from your accident. a 2 year long headache? crazy making. I’m glad you’re getting better.

      • Yeah, we can’t ever forget those folks. I think most of the ones I come into contact with are when I’m out driving. You can tell right away that they have issues going on with their hamsters. Cell phones growing out of their ears is the main symptom. Although there are those who only seem to have a problem when they open their mouth. I’m thinking it causes some sort of wind tunnel effect. If they would just make good use of duct tape, then the poor little rodent in their head could do its job properly. ;D

        And thanks, it’s much better now. I rarely get headaches anymore, but it wasn’t much fun. They ranged from mild to OMG-my-head-is-going-to-explode….but mostly not enough to take anything.

  14. This promises to be a very interesting series, Louise. You always come up with the neatest topics!

    • thanks Sheila. here’s hoping I can keep it interesting.

  15. Ah… No wonder my memory lapses during PMS. This post is right after my neurology lovin’ heart, Louise. I’m looking forward to more!

    • thanks August. I look forward to your addition to the commentary.

  16. Juggling? Really? I’ll give that a try. Of course I’ll put on my helmet, steel toes boots, safety goggles and Kevlar vest before I start practicing. Or not. That could be fun too. It’ll be more like a fast game of duck and dodge.

    Wonderful information. Can’t wait for the series and your new website.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Your comments make me smile so often, my friend. It’s nice to see you here.

  17. Interesting topic, Louise. I wrote a post about the brain’s response to story that is related – you might find it interesting. http://www.janeannmclachlan.com

    • I’ll take a look at it Jane. thanks for the link.

  18. Louise, this is a clear explanation of a complex topic. I am hooked! I can’t wait to read your future posts!

    • Glad you enjoyed and I hope the rest are as interesting for you

  19. Louise, this was a clear explanation of an incredibly complex subject! I am hooked! I can’t wait to read your future posts!

  20. I love this. The brain is such a fascinating organ. It does so much and you are so right, that we don’t do all we can to protect it.

    • Jill, it’s nice to see you. hopefully we can all learn a little something as we go forward.

  21. Looking forward to the series. Just finished reading Measure of Madness by Paradis, and one of the men she interviewed had a brain injury that had gone undetected. Amazing the affect it had on his actions.

    • our brains are much more sensitive than we every thought. Kids laugh that a player got ‘his bell rung’ but we’re learning how serious this is for everyone, kids and big strong football players too. hope you enjoy. be well.

  22. Years ago when I was in my early 20’s, I was thrown from a car that rolled down an embankment. I landed on the right side of my head, neck and shoulder. I know it did a lot of damage, and I live with it every day. This was before seat belts, Louise. I feel sure some of the damage was done to my brain.

    • I’m sure it was, Sandy. while I respect the individual rights and freedoms, why would anyone not wear a helmet? Given what we’ve learned about the long term effects of concussion, I totally agree with you – it is not ‘nothing’ but a serious injury.

  23. I look forward to your series, Louise. I found this series very informative, though a trifle dense. http://www.charlierose.com/view/collection/10702. A friend of mine calls a helmet a brain bucket. I always wear mine on my bicycle. To heck with helmet hair–my brain is more important.

    • it is a fascinating series, Joan. Thanks for posting the link. Hopefully I can make it all a little bit simpler. fingers crossed.

  24. thx Susie. Hope you enjoy.

  25. This is so interesting Louise! I can’t wait for the series!

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