Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ont. Science Ctr. looks at the brain

First Published:

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Did you ever ponder, think, and wonder, about the thing that allows you to ponder, think and wonder? The human brain is capable of landing a space probe on a comet millions of kilometres from earth. But it’s also one of the least understood organs in our body.

The Ontario Science Centre is about to change that, with a new exhibition opening Wednesday. It’s called Brain: The Inside Story.

You’re looking at the most mysterious organ in the human body. The brain controls everything — that every person does — every day. And yet, even its physical properties, are a scientific curiosity.

Nylen: “The brain is a three pound organ of jelly-like goo — which is the technical term.”

Kirk Nylen of the Ontario Brain Institute is fascinated — by that lump of goo. More than anything else he’s surprised by its seemingly endless complexity.

Each individual brain is built and shaped by what it experiences. Not only through the senses, but by how we interpret the things we encounter. Connections are built, and blocks of memory begin to form — allowing us to do things like learn new languages, or process patterns and bits of information — into images.

Rob DeSalle: “The way that those connections are molded throughout our life, is really, really, astonishing — and it’s those connections — the pattern are made, that make us who we are.”

And trying to understand those connections — mapping them — may hold the key to understanding everything from Autism, to Alzheimer’s Disease. They’ve already unlocked some surprising answers, to everyday frustrations:

So have you ever wandered around the house wondering ‘where did I put my keys?’ Well, it’s not that you’ve forgotten. It’s that you remember too many times when you’ve done a similar action. Repetitive actions tend to stick in the brain and blur together. And they when you go to look for your keys, your brain can’t sort out which was the most recent case of putting them down.

Over the next ten years, scientists foresee a quantum leap in understanding not just the physical components of the brain, but the emotional, and functional aspects as well.

DeSalle: “Knowing the wiring of our brain is really the first part, the first step in trying to understand a lot of disorders that we have. We all have a brain, but it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. What modern neuroscience is trying to do, is construct this instruction manual.”

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