Our brains have enormous informational content. Even in sleep we are dreaming, remembering and figuring out stuff. There simply is no one thing that can account for our splendid abilities, aspirations and thoughts that move from the depth of unconsciousness to consciousness. And then the variability of human behavior; how the ideas, thoughts and worldview of, say, a criminal are different from those of, say, a saint is spectacular. Our feelings, our social worlds, artistic endeavors, our consciousness are all so amazingly different from each other. Arnold Sciebel, director at Brain Research Institute at UCLA, calls the brain “a cosmic celestial organ”, comparing 100 billions stars of galaxy to enormously large number of specialized cells of brain.
The inspiration behind this post is Carl Sagan’s “The Dragons of Eden”. The book in the same Sagan’s inspiring style reflects on the individuality and uniqueness of human brain. He says and I rephrase that human brain has almost 10 to the power 10 (1 with 10 zeros) neurons. And an average neuron has 1,000 to 10,000 synapses or links with adjacent neurons. Think of it in terms of bits of information. If each synapse responds by a yes/no answer, the maximum number of yes/no answers or bits of information that the brain could contain becomes 10^3 * 10^10 = 10^13 (10 trillion bits). Now, if the brain had only one synapse, humans would be capable of two mental states (yes/no answers). If there had been N synapses, the total mental states would be 2^N. Having characterized by 10 trillion bits, the possible mental states becomes equal to 2 raised to the power 10 trillion (multiplied by itself ten trillion times!). This is an unimaginably large number; larger than all the elementary particles in the entire universe! This immense number explains the unpredictability of human behavior, the individuality and astonishing uniqueness.
On top of this, in recent years it has been shown that these neurons are capable of wider range of responses than a simple yes-no and are actually precise electrical microcircuits making the number of possible brain states far more than we can even write down. No wonder we called ourselves, Homo sapiens (man, the wise!). Viking, the first spaceship that orbited around the earth and went out into space till the end of our solar system had a few million bits of information which is slightly more than what is contained in a bacterium yet less than algae.
We are still way behind understanding this incredibly beautiful organ with the gigantic amount of information and enormous processing speed all in three pound lump of tissue inside our skulls.