I bought the Discovery: Human Body – Pushing the Limits series because I was interested to see what they had in the section on “Brain Power”. I finally got around to watching it and I was sadly disappointed. Although it touched on some interesting subjects on the power of the brain, it was more like a very brief introduction and lacked the depth I was hoping to find. It didn’t really cover anything I didn’t already know and what it did cover wasn’t really what I was looking for – except the part about lucid dreaming which was far too brief to be meaningful. I found My Brilliant Brain – Unlocking Some of the Brain’s Biggest Mysteries from National Geographic a much more informative documentary on the power of the brain:
- Part 1 – My Brilliant Brain: Born Genius
- Part 2 – My Brilliant Brain: Accidental Genius
- Part 3 – My Brilliant Brain: Make me a Genius
The Human Body: Pushing the Limits contains four episodes – sight, strength, sensation, and brain power. I have only watched the episode on brain power. Here’s what it essentially covers:
Slowing Down Time in Emergencies
During emergencies, our perception of time seems to slow down. In this episode, they featured an incident where a group of men are caught in a firestorm and their slowed-down perception of time allows them to make the right decision that ultimately saves their lives.
How does our brain slow time down?
The video featured an experiment from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston where researchers dropped volunteers from great heights to scare them to see if danger makes people experience time in slow motion. What they found was that although the volunteers estimated their own fall to last about a third longer than dives they saw other volunteers take, they found that the brain did not actually speed up during times of danger.
“people don’t actually see time in slow motion during an event. Instead, it’s a completely retrospective assessment… when you’re in a life-threatening situation, your brain writes down memory much more densely, and then retrospectively, when you look at that, you have so many details that you don’t normally have that it seems as though it must have lasted a very long time. ” – Big Think
Extrapolating from this, I found a paper by Dr Nobuhiro Hagura about how time slows down for professional sportsmen allowing them to make the winning move. Dr Hagura found that “the more people prepare for an action, the more dramatically time seems to slow down for them just before they actually begin the action.”
Modifying Perception on Taste
In this next part, they told the story of a man who was lost at sea. Even though he had access to a steady supply of food, the flesh from the fish that he caught wasn’t giving him the nutrients he needed for survival. After a while, he found himself searching for the parts of the fish that he didn’t normally eat – the eyes and the internal organs which were rich in vitamins and minerals that his body needed to function. Ordinarily, he would be too disgusted to eat those parts of the fish, but because his body needed the nutrients, his brain overrode his perception on taste so that he craved those parts of the fish. In this segment, the focus was on the power the brain has to control what we are willing to eat in order to get the nutrients we need to survive.
Consuming Our Own Bodies for Survival
The story in this segment was about a man who was exploring in a cave when his rope broke and he got stuck. Although he was able to get water, he was unable to find a food source. In order to survive, his brain starts to break down his body to get the nutrients to survive. There is more about this process in the article “How Your Body Fights to Keep You Alive When You’re Starving“.
“…starvation is a process… When we experience prolonged low energy intake, and as long as water is available, our bodies enter into a successive series of metabolic modes. It’s the body’s way of recognizing that food is scarce, and that it needs to re-allocate resources in preparation for what could be an extended period. In essence, your body is buying you some valuable time to give you a fair chance of finding some food.”
Eat Less, Live Longer
They also discussed how people on a calorie restricted diet can expect to live up to 20 years longer. You can read more about that here:
- Eat Less, Live Longer? – The Scientist
- Eat Less, Live Longer – CBS News
- Want to Live Longer? – Mail Online
Function of Sleep
In this segment, they showed how your brain will shut down your body in order to get sleep. When we lack sleep, we start to make stupid mistakes and we can’t follow even simple instructions. The most significant point from this segment is that if you have an exam, the best thing you can do is get a good night’s rest because sleep is important in learning and memory. It has been found that sleep is important for the consolidation of new information – making stable memories that can be recalled later.
It reminds me of the chapter in Nurture Shock about sleep where they found that a sixth grade child losing an average of one hour sleep a night functions at the level of a fourth grade child. Aside from the academic relevance of sleep, lack of sleep was also tied to weight gain and emotional instability.
This was the part of the documentary that interested me the most but they barely scratched the surface on lucid dreaming. There is more about lucid dreaming in our previous post on it.