What Is Anatomic Basis For Brain Power?
( Originally Published 1936 )
A reader of my articles writes to ask an opinion as to what anatomical differences there are between brains of low and high ability.
He has understood that it is not size, shape or weight which makes the difference, but the blood supply to the brain.
The problem has racked the intellects of many generations of physiologists.
The old idea of the phrenologists, Gall and Spurzheim, was that there were definite areas of the brain, where there resided such qualities as "benevolence" and "craftiness" and "reasoning power." They placed "reasoning power," PROPERLY (this was the only good guess they made—their other locations have been proved by later and more careful studies to be all wrong), in the fore part of the brain. And they supposed that if the bony skull bulged at this point it meant the "reasoning faculty" had pushed it outward and that, therefore, the reasoning faculty is greatly developed in those with lofty foreheads.
Unfortunately for any part of their theory, the skull solidifies before the individual has a chance to develop any of the various faculties of reason, benevolence, etc. Undoubtedly, the size of the brain develops equally with the size of the skull; this is, for all purposes of debate, exemplified in the skull of an idiot which is small, particularly in front. But for normal persons, the brain develops symmetrically with the skull and does not "bulge" in any particularly specialized spot.
It might be, however, that within extremely narrow limits, two brains encased in two skulls of equal dimensions, might vary in weight. Such determinations have been made by many investigators. The results are so uneven that no general deductions can be made from them.
Many men of distinguished intellectual powers have willed their brains, to be weighed and examined after their deaths by anatomists interested in this problem. In general, a man of exceptional ability has a somewhat heavier brain than the average. But there have been notable exceptions—as when the brain of an eminent scientist was found to weigh only 1,150 grams, and that of a "public enemy" 1,300 grams.
BLOOD SUPPLY SAME
Blood supply, as suggested by my correspondent, is not of much consequence. The blood supply of all brains is about the same.
What does seem to distinguish unusual from average brains is the number of associations made between the cells.
The number of cells in the brain is incalculable. They run into trillions. So far as is known, they function by contacting one another, just as a telephone system functions by contacting different houses or offices, etc. The contacts are made by association cells and their fibers.
These association cells are more numerous the higher in the scale of animal life we go. It is reasonable to assume, then, that intellectual capacity is measured by the number of association cells.
The number of associations that can be made by the brain cells is so staggering that it defies the imagination. Think of all the possible associations between these cells, and then try to grasp the idea of this being raised to several billion.
In a recent article in a popular magazine, the author says, "The causes of headache are so numerous that it would require an entire book to name and explain them. The important thing is not to know all of them, but to understand that headache, constant or occasional, is Nature's signal to tell the person that there is something wrong going on in his body.
"If you have headache, stop eating till you are thoroughly hungry. "Clean out your stomach and bowels.
"Have a physical examination made of your body.
"Have your heart examined and your blood pressure taken. "Have your urine examined.
"Have your eyes examined and, if necessary, wear glasses. "Avoid overwork and take sufficient rest.
"Do not neglect yourself and, above all, do not be satisfied to stop the headache for the time by taking large doses of `headache medicines.' "
NOT ALWAYS DANGER SIGNAL
I do not know that I entirely agree with this advice. I do not believe that a headache always is a danger signal, although I agree that it always should call for a thorough medical examination to try to find its cause. Most headaches occur in nervous individuals, and are simply a way of letting off steam.
During the above discussion we have not mentioned much about migraine or sick headache. I have described that frequently before in this column. I believe it is responsible for over 50 per cent of what might be called "periodic headaches."
A patient wrote me the other day about migraine and referred to one of my articles and ended up by saying: "So what? What do I do about it?" That is another story, and I am inclined to believe that nothing we have at present can be depended upon to give permanent relief to all patients with migraine. However, a philosophic attitude toward it is about the best medicine.