What makes the human brain so special?

The human brain is exceptionally uniqueIt has very complex characteristics compared to other animal species, including our phylogenetic cousins, the primates.

The abilities of human beings are extremely specific to our species: we can think in very complex terms, be creative and create technological devices that make our lives easier and moreover, we are the only species that can study other animals and their behavior. . .

Why are we so special? The human brain …

For years, the scientific literature has postulated that cognitive ability is proportional to brain size. This is not entirely correct, because two mammals with brains of similar size, such as a cow and a chimpanzee, should have behaviors of equal complexity, which they do not. And what’s even worse: Our brain is not the biggest one there is. Anyway, our brain, although not the biggest, if it is the best in terms of cognitive ability.

Apparently, the particular quality of our high cognitive ability does not come from the size of the brain in terms of mass, but in terms of quantity of neurons it contains. And that’s where we find a study led by Suzana Herculà-Houzel, a Brazilian neuroscientist, responsible for determining the number of neurons in the human brain.

Before their research, the vast majority of neuroscientists maintained that the human brain had 100,000,000,000 neurons. The truth is, this figure has never been determined in any study and has been a standard for years in the scientific literature.

This is how Suzana Herculà-Houzel, through a method devised by her, manages to determine the final figure for the number of neurons in the human brain: 86 billion neurons in total, including 16 billion in the cerebral cortex (Bark involved in complex cognitive processes). And by applying the same method to the brains of different mammals and comparing them, he found that the human brain, while not being the largest in mass, is quantitatively by the number of neurons it has, up to and all with primates, with whom we share a large part of our genetic load (97%). And that would be the specific reason for our cognitive abilities.

Why have humans evolved into this surprising complexity?

From there, other questions arise: How did we come to evolve into this incredible amount of neurons? And in particular, if primates are bigger than us, why don’t they have bigger brains with more neurons?

To understand the response to these situations, one must compare the body size and brain size of primates. So, he discovered that because neurons are so expensive, the size of the body and the number of neurons offset each other. So, a primate that eats 8 hours a day can have a maximum of 53 billion neurons, but its body cannot exceed 25 kg, so to weigh much more than that, it has to give up so refers to the number of neurons.

By determining the amount of neurons in the human brain, it is understood that it needs a tremendous amount of energy to keep it going. The human brain consumes 25% of the energy while it represents only 2% of the body mass. To be able to maintain a brain with such a quantity of neurons, weighing on average 70 kg, it would be necessary to devote more than 9 hours per day to it, which becomes impossible.

We humans cook food

So if the human brain is consuming so much energy and we cannot spend all the waking hours devoting ourselves to our food, then the only alternative is to get more energy from the food itself. So this coincides with the incorporation of cooking food by our ancestors a million and a half years ago.

Cooking is using fire to predict food outside the body. Cooked foods are softer, so they are easier to chew and turn to mush in the mouth, which means they can be digested better in the stomach and can absorb greater amounts of energy in much less of time. This way, we get a lot of energy for the functioning of all our neurons in a lot less time, This allows us to devote ourselves to other things beyond food and thus stimulate our cognitive capacity obtained with a brain of such magnitude.

So what is the advantage we have as human beings? What tea do we have that no other animal has?

The answer is that we have the brain with the greatest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex, which explains our complex and extraordinary cognitive abilities in all of nature.

What are we doing and what is no animal doing to allow us to reach so many neurons in the cerebral cortex?

In two words: we cook. No other animal cooks its food for digestion, only humans do. And this is what allows us to become human as we are.

From this conception, we must realize the importance of food, how food influences the maintenance of our cognitive abilities. and the scope we have in achieving behaviors of enormous complexity.

So you know: the next time your mom cooks something you don’t like or hear someone is going to study food, give them praise, because through their contributions they continue to learn our cognitive skills to stay. the same as the complexes.

Leave a Comment