Have you ever thought about…

Mal
2 min readApr 17, 2024

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Have you ever thought about how you… your mind… your personality… your “self”… exists… functions… That is, Have you ever thought about how you think about anything?

In the early 1970s I was studying Physiological Psychology at the University of California in Riverside. One of my courses involved dissecting a sheep brain, which is similar enough to a human brain to be useful in this course. The objective is to learn about brain anatomy. What all the various parts are, what their functions are, and how they work together.

Below is a diagram of a single nerve cell, or neuron. Neurons have branches that make contact with other neurons. Some connect to only a few other neurons, others connect with thousands of other neurons. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in a human brain. That is roughly the same number neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Hundreds or thousands of interconnections between each of those 100-billion individual neurons. I don’t know about you, but I find it very difficult to really comprehend those huge numbers. The complexity is truly mind boggling.

Diagram of a single neuron. — Wikipedia

After studying this for a while, I had sort of an existential crisis. Contemplating the notions that I… this thing I think of as “me”… I acquire my sentience from this incomprehensibly massive tangle of neuronal interconnections. Electrical and chemical signals sloshing around inside my skull. That makes me????????

When I look around at other creatures I ponder what their consciousness is like. We humans often think of ourselves a “superior” to other creatures. In part because we think we are so clever. Look at a tiny ant… it still has about 250-thousand neurons, all crammed into its tiny little head and body. Ants do so much.

Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace put forward the idea of Natural Selection (or Survival of the Fittest). Does having the most neurons, or the most relative to body size and weight, make a creature more fit for survival than one having fewer neurons? I don’t know… but it is an interesting thing to… think about.

Okay, I think my neurons are about to petition to have me silenced. So I think (oh no, there I go thinking again…) I’ll give my weary neurons a rest.

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Mal

On the internet they can’t tell that you’re actually a dog…