THE 12-OUNCE ACQUAINTANCE
Every part of the human body is well researched and invariably each year significant new revelations appear and this pattern will continue in the medical field because the human race seek challenges, they are endowed with inquisitiveness, genuinely interested in progressive therapies, diagnostics and medicine.Whatever we know is relatively pale in comparison to what we can further unravel and with technology, viral networks, Internet contiguity and super specialised pursuit in any field this quest can only precipitate. Take the 12-ounce human brain and our knowledge evolvement about it. Many theories proposed hundreds of years back are still being embraced, validated and accepted today at the same time innumerable myths, propositions, hypothesis and formative assertions have been disbanded.
- In 335 B.C., Aristotle believed heart is the seat of mental process.
- In 335-280 B.C., Herophilus (the father of anatomy) believed ventricles as the seat of human intelligence.
- In 1760, Arne-Charles Lorry demonstrates that damage to the cerebellum affects motor coordination.
- In 1583 – Felix Platter stated that the lens only focuses light and that the retina is where images are formed.
- In 1777, Philip Meckel proposed that the inner ear is filled with fluid and not air.
- In 1855, Bartolomeo Panizza shows the occipital lobe is essential for vision.
- In 1884, Karl Koller discovered anesthetic properties of cocaine by testing it on his own eye.
- In 1900, Sigmund Freud published his treatise ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ as well as brought out interesting conceptions about the unconscious, conscious, preconscious, Id, ego, superego and associated work.
The list is incessant both on the clinical medicine & surgical side of the brain as well as the cognitive and psychological side of mind development. The brain incontrovertibly is a complex organ yet not perfect in its design. Delightful perfections exist when it comes to evaluating the brain as it is today but let us dabble in a few of its design fallibilities or call it wishful design improvements.
SLEEP: A REQUISITE REPLENISHMENT FOR THE BRAIN
An automotive lead-acid battery gets discharged if a car isn’t started for months. One can extraneously charge it and once the engine is started it automatically recharges the battery. As long as the car is kept charged periodically the battery is a fully functioning entity. Contrary to this the human brain needs distinct periods of inactivity for it to replenish, perhaps a design flaw. We call it sleep and apart from us, animals too need this reprieve and sustained sleep deprivation could be fatal. We shut off our consciousness whilst we sleep but the brain is very active (dramatic increase in delta waves), perhaps more than when we are awake and is the period when dreams occur.
If sleep as a format of replenishment was corrected during design phase of human body and if our brain could keep getting charged whilst being awake, it would be such a remarkable preservation of bandwidth for the goal seekers, perhaps distressing to the indolent and intrinsic sleep lovers. One third of our life spent in sleep to replenish the body and mind was a biologically unacceptable proposition to Thomas Edison who categorized it as ‘Waste of time’. 1 to 3 % people are the sleepless elite the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Napoleon, and Florence Nightingale or from the more recent ‘sleep sparse’ club Marissa Mayer (Yahoo CEO), Jack Dorsey (Twitter founder), Jay Leno (host of The Tonight Show), Barack Obama, Donald Trump, the list is long.
Donald Trump’s famous quote in the Daily News was ‘How does somebody who is sleeping 12 and 14 hours a day compete with someone who is sleeping three or four’. Contrary to the prescription from National sleep foundation that states that adults need 7 -9 hours of sleep, when Napoleon was asked how many hours sleep people need, he is said to have replied: “Six for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool.” Say that to Randy Gardner the holder of maximum sleepless days spent (11 days and 24 minutes) or in retrospect to Rip Van Winkle for his 20 year sleep to avoid his pesky wife.
Sleep is required for normal levels of speech, rational decisions, memory, innovative thinking, cognitive skills etc. and plays a vital role in brain development. 17 hours of sleeplessness is equivalent to blood alcohol level of 0.05 % (2 glasses of wine) and affects part of the brain that controls language, memory and planning. Chernobyl accident at 1.26 am (April 1986) was a human error induced by fatigue and sleep depravity. The challenger explosion (Jan 1986) was another case of sleep deprivation of officials who got just 2 hours sleep and had to report back to the launch. Exxon Valdez oil spill, when the supertanker ran aground in Alaska (1989) destroying wildlife and spilt 258,000 barrels of crude, the third mate Gregory Cousins was allegedly sleeping at the helm. Though Randy Gardner (barring mild incognitive behavior, hallucinations, tiredness and lack of concentration) demonstrated that sleep deprivation might not have grotesque effects, it is a one off stunt.
Sustenance of such experiments is infeasible. It is scientifically proven today that lack of prescribed hours of sleep (less than 5 hours average) leads to memory and cognitive impairment. As per available nutrition, technology, mind calming techniques etc. as on date, nothing has been able to beat this evolutionary requisite of sleep. Perhaps a state of dreamless, rich, intense sleep for 3 hours may evolve in future (without induced drugs, sedatives, analgesics) and till such time insistence on wakefulness to extricate precious bandwidth from one’s sleep quota to get more tasks done is self-deception and an avertible stance. Instead, organizing the wakeful hours till man gets around to inventing a solution is more pragmatic.
EXERCISING THE BODY TO KEEP FIT:
Needless to say exercise gives a good high and ardent pursuers love it but how about an evolution miracle say the human body that doesn’t need exercise and is capable of functioning and metabolizing well till the age of say 80 or perhaps 100 or beyond. Senior citizens may love it. Why wasn’t such a body designed. What about life extension as a concept? May not tend to immortality but suppose people remain absolutely healthy, sane, fit with seeming perpetuity. How about Agerasia; youthful appearance in old person (without any kind of surgery). Barring the strain on world’s resources, population, and other social factors, life extension does constitute an advancement in human induced evolution, doesn’t it? The average life expectancy has increased by 11 yrs. for men and 12 yrs. for women in the last 40 yrs.
Life extension sciences also known as anti-aging medicine and the likes of experimental gerontology and biomedical gerontology i.e. the study of slowing down or reversing the process of aging to increase lifespan exist. This field is also under immense research and there exist people such as ‘life extensionists’, ‘immortalists’ or ‘longevists’ . Breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, molecular repair, organ replacement, xenotransplantation (transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another), hormone replacements, laser skin resurfacing, peptides, wrinkle injections, supplements, herbs, calorie restriction diets, anti-oxidant supplements, anti-aging drugs (resveratrol, melatonin, acetyl-l-carnitine) are all available today to prolong life. Retention of vitality and good looks and neoteric developments are taking place. The global anti-aging products and services market in 2012 was $ 249 billion. Will all these eliminate the need for exercise, not impossible but highly improbable as per our present knowledge. Animals appear to have a life bereft of exercise but it just appears so. Barring reptiles and insects most animals too need activity to remain fit and animals in the wild are naturally fit as they hunt, migrate, forage, avoid predators hence expend immense energy just living daily. Fat accumulates when it is not metabolized and this is the reason pets have to be exercised in parks.
Exercise for aesthetic preservation and social attractiveness is only a human phenomenon and this could be an optional choice but how about no exercise needed to maintain a healthy heart, blood pressure, mood enhancement, cholesterol levels, diabetes, choked blood vessels, strength training that prevents osteoporosis and many others. 2000 gallons of blood is pumped by the heart per day (7571 liters) whilst beating with eternal recurrence of 100,000 times a day to supply oxygenated blood. An organ that is so remarkably worked yet for its preservation, the body needs to exercise it further. Exercise effects on cardio vascular arena is well documented but how about exercise contributing to mental and neurological function. Three or more times a week of aerobic exercise reduces Alzheimer’s disease probability by 40 % . Improvements in cognitive functioning, stress and anxiety levels, release of endorphins all are improved with exercise and movement. Endurance exercise improves new neuron growth to which hippocampus (part of the brain linked to learning and memory) is receptive. Ample evidence exists for the linkage between mental health and exercise hence working the body to keep it working may be an uncompromisable design structure of the body.
Wouldn’t categorize the above as design irregularities as it would be too rash considering the complexities with which our renal, digestive, neuro, cardio, lymphatic, skeletal, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, excretory, reproductive and various other systems work in such accord. A brilliant intertwined design is given to us, what we make of it with our prefrontal cortex thinking is our creativity. The crusade to understand our 12-ounce brain with our 12-ounce brain is on.
HUMAN BEING’S ADAPTABILITY TO A RANGE OF TEMPERATURE:
The average human internal temperature is maintained at 37 deg C (98.6 deg F). When it produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate it is called Hyperthermia and occurs due to sustained exposure to high temperatures. When the body temperature rises to 40.6 to 41.7 deg C (105-107 deg F) it is a life threatening medical emergency. At the other end of the spectrum, Hypothermia occurs when core body temperature drops to 34.4 deg C (94 deg F). Wim Hof (Dutch & nicknamed Iceman) holds the world record for his ability to withstand cold. In 2011 he stayed immersed in ice for 1 hour, 52 min and 42 seconds beating his own Guinness World record. He described his capacity to withstand cold due to his ability to turn up his thermostat by using his mind, his ability to influence his autonomous nervous system and immune system and ability to raise his cortisol levels & lower the cytokines merely by meditative techniques. In 2009 Hof finished a 26.21 miles marathon above the polar circle in Finland (at minus 20 Deg C, minus 4 deg F) dressed in shorts. Finished it in 5 hrs. and 25 min .
These examples are of course within realms of human possibility with appropriate mind training but imagine if such a design adaptability existed for the body and if all human beings were impervious to weather then the hankering for warmer places like Florida, San Diego, Nice, Sardinia, Malaga and hordes of others places would taper off and the population distribution would see a better scatter. Emperor penguins survive the -93 Deg C inexorable onslaught and unrelenting winds during Antarctic winters. Polar bears can withstand cold because they have large compact bodies with relatively small surface areas hence internal body heat is preserved. They also have a heavy fur and fat insulation that helps body heat. If human’s had an internal design to survive such extreme cold and heat , would be a distinctive improvement in our overall movement, would it .
The ‘design improvement requisite list’ is long and one doesn’t jeer at evolution with discontent for our present position. Yes perfect design may be a serviceable hypothesis but multiple rationale exist for why we are the way we are. People say the human esophagus is poorly designed and when you swallow food or water, the epiglottis closes to cover the trachea so that food and water doesn’t go to the lungs. Why have such close intricacy in the first place which is not totally perfect as children and adults could choke and there have been many fatalities. Why not have altogether separate pipes, one from nose to the lungs, and the other from mouth to the stomach so that it eliminates the possibility of any transgression. It has been argued that the respiratory system is not a design irregularity rather is in fact enveloped in architectural brilliance.
Unlike other primates our airway and esophagus intersect and yes could cause choking if not careful but it allows the majestic phenomenon of ‘speech’. More granular clinical explanation highlights how mucus and other irritants trapped in the lungs can be egressed and passed to the stomach using this connected system, how separate systems & pipes for eating and breathing will make the design bulky with duplicity, how sense of taste and smell is intertwined and the existing respiratory, olfactory and gustatory systems work in accord and augment our sense of taste. Similarly to make the body adaptable to cold it may need some vital compromises somewhere else in the body which may perhaps increase our fat layer making us less nimble, agile or aesthetically unpleasant like walruses.
It is terrific to possess the speed of a cheetah, strength of a lion, endurance stamina of a horse, flight capabilities of a bar headed goose but structural compromises may be needed. If human beings could listen to all frequencies of sound, the noise in the head would be so unbearable besides we would be on such a constant alert all the time thereby unable to rest and replenish. Eyes could have been designed like those of the Mantis shrimp. They have 12 types of colour receptors as against humans who have just three and have the most complex eyesight. Innumerable probabilities exist and alterations could be done in the brain to accommodate perhaps a few of these improvisations but we have inherited this human form and as Bill Hicks puts it ‘We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution’.
Natural evolution has given expansiveness to us and if viewed from a certain perspective also laid stipulations on our form, structure, speed, age, mortality, reach, adaptability, sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch etc. but we evolved technologically using our 12 ounce brain, the largest prefrontal cortex amongst all species that distinguishes us from animals. We aren’t the fastest but we have designed faster travel systems, we aren’t the strongest but we have systems that can protect us, we lack a capacity to fly but have designed systems that can attain escape velocity. We have the capacity to think and feel and the sagacity to understand how we think and feel. Let us get reacquainted with this remarkable 12-ounce organ both from a clinical as well as cognitive standpoint. As Thomas Edison puts it “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around”. Though this quote puts emphasis on the brain and appears to dilute other bodily sensations it is finally in the brain that all sensations are felt. Let us keep putting our respective minds into whatever we do.