Brain farts

  • Knowing your way around the brain is useful, and somewhat essential for understanding findings which use fMRI, neuropsychology and EEG.
  • But it’s so … BIG!  The Human Brain Coloring Book is the best systematic approach I’ve come across to build your own map of the brain (in your brain).  It will not disappoint.  But trying to learn a map for the sake of it can be a bit dull.  I think it’s more interesting to look at places you’re interested in, for no particular reason, or because you’re interested in what goes on there.  This way, your motivation keeps you naturally interested and the areas that you come to know eventually begin to join themselves together.
  • Top-down.  Being interested in the brain, I started with a pretty good idea which end of the body it was located in, but had to work quite hard to remember which lobe was which and what functions were associated with that region.  However, when I felt lost, I knew I could always zoom out a level and be pretty comfortable with where things were. Thankfully I’m fairly comfortable with that lower level of anatomy now and I can repeat the process (recursively, right down to the neuron I suppose).
  • It really is like geography, so knowing a relatively small number of anatomical terms can really help narrow things down.  For example, if you’re trying to locate something in the cortex then if you’re looking for a gyrus you know it’s on a ‘hill’ so you’ve immediately eliminated half of the cortex where you won’t find your structure.  Likewise, if you’re being directed towards a sulcus you can rule out the other half of the cortex.  The same goes for navigation terms like medial, lateral, anterior, posterior etc. which provide more precise locations regardless of whether you’re finding your way around the whole brain (e.g. medial temporal lobe) or a smaller region within it like the lateral geniculate nucleus.
  • Bottom-up.  I find this useful when I’m interested in a particular function and wonder where people think it’s implemented in the brain.  For example, a bunch of brain areas were thrown around in this article which argues that the brain isn’t suited to multitasking.  After a bit of mind-wandering I realised I sort of knew that the frontal lobe is associated with executive functions but I learnt that it’s necessary (but not sufficient).  Wikipedia is really good for quickly following these function to structure or structure to function questions.  Getting interested in function or structure in this way is also a useful way of picking a page in The Human Brain Colouring Book to work on for an intensive but constrained and motivated anatomy study session.
  • The human cerebral cortex is 2-4 mm thick.  That seems quite thin!

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