A brain cell, you shouldn’t have!

Though you may be blissfully unaware, there is a lone brain cell in that lovely cranium of yours that belongs to me. Every single time someone sites this blog or mentions my name, that loyal neuron you hold in trust for me lights up in a dazzling cascade of depolarisation. Ions cross membranes and a current is fired down the Misagh axon. It’s really quite splendid to behold, and modern neuroscience has proven it.

The mind-blowing thing is, the neuron won’t fire when you think of another member of my family, or anything else you might associate with me, such as bad writing, hairy (but taut) abdomens or big (but straight) teeth. Only when you think of me.

I am truly flattered. That you should have a neuron specially dedicated to me is a civil and kind gesture. That you should feed it with oxygen and glucose to keep it bright and sparky is also appreciated. I only hope that you do not smoke or engage in any frivolous activity that might harm my cell. In return I can guarantee you prime real estate in my head - a charming cottage block with panoramic views of my hypothalamus.

Though we have known about regional specificities and synergies of the brain for some time, the discovery of neuron-level specificity of thought is a groundbreaking. It takes us a step closer to being able to actually trace specific thought patterns leading to an expression, or even divulging a person’s motive - scary.

But a deeper question remains; where does thought come from? What elicits the creative impulse, or the spark of reason? Sure scientists can pinpoint where it takes place - its itinerary and route of travel - but how does it actually rise from its non-existent polarised state to embark on an electrifying journey into existence? Is the answer in the mind’s interface with a greater metaphysical reality, the elusive soul? Could it be beyond cell and protein, beyond empirical observation? Or is it just that homo sapiens have not delved deep enough into the infinitely microscopic yet?

From Discover Magazine:

Brain Scientists Find Single Cells That Can Think

You may not be devoted to Halle Berry, but at least one of your brain cells is. Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at Caltech, and Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at the University of California at Los Angeles, revealed this spring that their research team had discovered individual brain cells that fire in response to particular people and places. A Bill Clinton neuron lights up at photos of the former president, but not for other ex-presidents, males—or Hillary. Such faithful neurons conflict with the conventional wisdom—a single cell is not supposed to know so much. With almost as many neurons in the neocortex as stars in the galaxy, there still aren’t enough for every possible input, and the researchers suspect that brain cells get reserved only for important people—like Bart Simpson. Still, every idea may leave its own electrical trace. “Someday,” says Koch, “we may be able to track the footprints of your thoughts.”- Jessica Ruvinsky

7 Responses to “A brain cell, you shouldn’t have!”

  1. 1 Sanisha November 21, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    hi Misagh

    wow, how very thought provoking…i am wondering >> if the brain has billions of neurons available and all are potentially dedicated to a billion specific people….it seems unlikely that we would need that amount, or ever come across that many people or even have the energy to process it all…then i read this:

    “With almost as many neurons in the neocortex as stars in the galaxy, there still aren’t enough for every possible input, and the researchers suspect that brain cells get reserved only for important people—like Bart Simpson.”

    so it seems, that despite having enough space in the brain…it becomes necessary to see the world in archetypes & maybe even stereotypes in order to make thought process simpler and quicker…therefore we dedicate one cell at a time to someone or somthing that represents all the other people you will never in your lifetime meet…? its sad, but it makes sense & seems fair from logistic/practical point of view.What do you think ?

  2. 2 Barney November 21, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    Before I’d heard of Bill Clinton, did the Bill Clinton cell exist? Was it there in potential? Or did it slyly insert itself into my brain the first time I saw Mr C? Have I so much spare brain capacity that I can waste cells on Clinton et al?

    As I age, I’m leaking brain cells, my neurons are dying, I’m heading down the hill towards dementia. What happens then to the Clinton cell? I’d much rather hang on to the cells that are dedicated to Baha’u'llah and the Master, to my family, and to remembering who I am…

    Now, what was I saying……………?

  3. 3 Misagh November 25, 2006 at 8:26 am

    I’m assuming that your Bill Clinton cell was either vacant and unlabelled before you heard of him, or perhaps an older, now obsolete politician was evicted to allow his residency. Either way, I think you’d suprise yourself of how many spare cells you have, even if you’re heading down the hill towards dimentia! Hehe… Yeah I think we’d all hope to hang on to our more crucially devoted cells - our faith, family and identity, longer than the others…

  4. 4 Misagh November 25, 2006 at 8:33 am

    Sanisha, I think we compartmentalise everything in order to identify it and use it - and hence this neuronal specificity. But perhaps that is the only way it can be. What we ultimately learn though, as we advance further, is that every compartment is actually arbitrary and man-made, and their boundaries/definitions in flux. After all, what is a number? A name? A discipline? Etc…

    Is a number arbitrary? A mathematician may prove me wrong.

    This probably made no sense :-)

  5. 5 Jenna December 1, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Thanks Misagh - prime cranial real estate and we’ve only just met! I am touched.

    As for the last paragraph, it’s great to be reminded of how wondrous thought actually is. Just how does a (structured) moosh of fat and fluid and blood and flesh produce coherent, illuminated ideas? How is it that this moosh can instantly process and respond to stimuli, and make us feel elated or pensive, hopeful or worried? It is indeed amazing.

    Happily adding your blog to my very exclusive and classy list of procrastination websites,


  6. 6 Misagh December 2, 2006 at 6:39 am

    Don’t mention it Jenna, you deserve that prime real estate. We’re expecting a boom soon, so you’re in a good spot.

    Mind (science and spirit) is a favorite here at Moving Form so stay tuned! And welcome, I am honoured to make the cut for your exclusive (and very classy) procrastination websites.

  7. 7 Ashkan M December 6, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    Wow Misagh, that is one brilliantly articulated article u got there. Its Good to know that there is at least one brain cell in my brain that’s actually working properly .hehe. Anyhoo, i was surfing the net (google to be percise) searching for interesting brain facts and after million mouse clicks or so i found myself engaged in your Brain Cell Article.

    Keep Up The Good Work.


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