Here I have a real human brain. It’s a brain that was donated to us here at the medical school at the University of Oxford to help us teach our medical students. And it’s quite awesome and more than just a little sad to think that in this organ, more than perhaps anywhere else, a person once lived. In fact, you could put it more
strongly than this. You could say a person was once alive because this brain was once able to do what brains do. Perhaps we should just spend a moment to imagine what a day in the life of this brain would have been like. The brain would have, one morning, found itself in bed and the thalamus would have broken out of the brain’s sleep rhythm. The person would have woken up, he would have opened his eyes. As he was opening his eyes, lots of nerve impulses would have fluttered into the optic nerve, would’ve traveled towards the back of the brain where the nerve cells living in the occipital cortex would have formed images on the retina. These retinal images would have then been sent down to the temporal lobes. The inferior temporal lobes have cells that recognize faces. They would have recognized the person’s wife sleeping next to him. His Broca’s area would have formulated and articulated the greeting to the wife, “Good morning, Darling.” His temporal lobes would have listened out for a reply. The wife would have said, “Go and make some coffee.” The motor cortexes together with the basal ganglia underneath would have started off this motor program. The man would have got up, and walked down the stairs to the kitchen in a well-rehearsed motor pattern which runs on autopilot because the cerebellum would have rehearsed these actions so many times that he doesn’t even have to think about them anymore. The auto pilot basically runs out of the cerebellum. He goes into the kitchen, he puts the kettle on, he brews the coffee. The olfactory bulbs which bring information in from the nose would have smelled the coffee. The orbital frontal cortex would have thought about whether or not he found breakfast delicious. And during all this time, his prefontal cortex would have worried about getting the children off on time to the school run. Each of these parts of the brain would have contributed something their own thing to the person’s experience and this morning. But while each of them has their own role to play, they work together in such an intricately interconnected manner that if you live inside of one of those brains, you have this impression of being just a single person rather than a collection of organs that is distributed across this brain.