Beneath the Thinking Cap: The Functions of the Basic Brain

President Obama recently announced a proposal for the BRAIN initiative, a research project with lofty goals to map every neuron in the human brain. The idea is comparable to what researchers did with the Human Genome Project, with a similar aim of creating a massive science resource. What happens in between, however, proves far more complex. Whereas the human genome is made up of 20,000 to 25,000 genes, the human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections. The research will be long and grueling, but the end product could be monumental for understanding brain disease and advancing technology. However, the president’s proposal is hardly novel: a group of Europeans announced a similar plan last year and researchers have been hunting down solutions for brain diseases like Alzheimer's and autism for years. As the world races for answers, it’s important to note where brain research currently stands. So the question is: what do we know? Where are we starting? The years ahead may reveal a world-is-round-not-flat epiphany in the brain realm, but for now, we present the basics and how we currently understand the brain. Take a look at the cerebral cortex (made up of four lobes), cerebellum and brainstem and how they function.

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