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Biology: Processing Centers of the Human Brain


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About this Lesson

  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 12:07
  • Media: Video/mp4
  • Use: Watch Online & Download
  • Access Period: Unrestricted
  • Download: MP4 (iPod compatible)
  • Size: 130 MB
  • Posted: 07/01/2009

This lesson is part of the following series:

Biology Course (390 lessons, $198.00)
Biology: Animal Systems and Homeostasis (63 lessons, $84.15)
Biology: The Nerve Impulse (6 lessons, $11.88)

Taught by Professor George Wolfe, this lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Biology. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at The full course covers evolution, ecology, inorganic and organic chemistry, cell biology, respiration, molecular genetics, photosynthesis, biotechnology, cell reproduction, Mendelian genetics and mutation, population genetics and mutation, animal systems and homeostasis, evolution of life on earth, and plant systems and homeostasis.

George Wolfe brings 30+ years of teaching and curriculum writing experience to Thinkwell Biology. His teaching career started in Zaire, Africa where he taught Biology, Chemistry, Political Economics, and Physical Education in the Peace Corps. Since then, he's taught in the Western NY region, spending the last 20 years in the Rochester City School District where he is the Director of the Loudoun Academy of Science. Besides his teaching career, Mr. Wolfe has also been an Emmy-winning television host, fielding live questions for the PBS/WXXI production of Homework Hotline as well as writing and performing in "Football Physics" segments for the Buffalo Bills and the Discover Channel. His contributions to education have been extensive, serving on multiple advisory boards including the Cornell Institute of Physics Teachers, the Cornell Institute of Biology Teachers and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics SportSmarts curriculum project. He has authored several publications including "The Nasonia Project", a lab series built around the genetics and behaviors of a parasitic wasp. He has received numerous awards throughout his teaching career including the NSTA Presidential Excellence Award, The National Association of Biology Teachers Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for New York State, The Shell Award for Outstanding Science Educator, and was recently inducted in the National Teaching Hall of Fame.

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Let's take a quick review of the parts of the brain we've seen and the general functions of these structures. Remember this. There are two major things you've got to do when you're a brain. The first thing you've got to do is you've got to get the signals, you've got to get them into the brain itself from all your sensory organs and up from the spinal cord, etc., and then the most important thing is to get those signals sent to the right place. Think about that. Imagine if I smelled something and it went to the part of my brain that took in hearing? What would that be like? I don't know, but it would be a very strange phenomenon. So the key is, and what we've seen so far is that the parts of the brain--the mid-brain, the medulla oblongata, the diencephalon, their major roles are relaying information. Now, I don't want to put down the fact that of course the mid-brain and the diencephalon have other roles. Remember that hypothalamus, how important that was in terms of having centers where there's hunger and thirst and a thermostat and everything else, but nevertheless, those are merely going to be sent to other parts of the brain for processing, and it's the processing I want to talk about now, the two major parts of the brain that do a lot of processing of information. I want to start down here--the cerebellum.
Now, the cerebellum, we learned a long time ago, when we were just little brain learners that the cerebellum literally did coordination and control. In a nutshell, that's absolutely true. But let's think about this--coordination and control, movement... Think about this. Right now I'm going to do a little experiment here. I'm going to stand on my toes. You can try this. Stand up. I want you to think about everything else that's going on here. I'm still on my toes. First of all, what has happened is my muscles have contracted down in my legs, but I'm also doing other things. I'm tightening muscles up in the top of my body. Why? Because my center of gravity has shifted, and so now since my center of gravity has shifted, I want to go forward. If I went forward I'd fall and I'd damage myself, so I don't want to do that, so other muscles in my body are tightening up to counteract the shift of my center of gravity forward. You see? I have my cerebellum to thank for that. It's a completely automatic thing my cerebellum just did for me. Here we go. I'll do it again. Standing on one leg. Now, I want you to think of all the other things your muscles are doing, shift legs, stand on your hands, do anything you want. Your cerebellum is pretty much going to keep you from falling.
So really what the cerebellum is going to do is it's going to coordinate positions of joints. It's going to cinch joints. It's going to cinch muscles. It's going to make actions smooth and it's going to maintain literally an equilibrium for you in coordination with things that happen in your ear, which we'll talk about at another time, so that you are literally not going to fall. So it's going to keep you equilibrated. The cerebellum is kind of cool.
I also want to talk about the top of your brain--the cerebrum. We're so impressed with this cerebrum we've even turned it into an adjective. "That's very cerebral." So this is how important a cerebrum is. It's not just an anatomical term, it's an adjective. Let's talk about this cerebrum and what it does. Well, first of all, I just happen to have a brain right here. This particular brain, which says, "Thinkwell" across it in case you forgot what you're watching, is divided into two hemispheres. That's the key here. Your cerebrum, and pretty much your brain itself, or the top of your brain, is divided into two sides, two hemispheres. Now, there's an outside layer called the "cerebral cortex," that is really where most of the activity comes. In fact, let's talk a little bit about the cerebrum and the cerebral cortex.
Now, the cerebral cortex is not big at all. Well, it covers the whole two hemispheres, but it's not deep. It's about five millimeters. So it's five millimeters deep, and it takes up about 80 percent of the mass of your brain, so they're very densely packed. Now, below the cortex is white matter, and below that or very deep to that are what we call "basal nuclei." So we have the cortex, we have white matter, and we have basal nuclei, all of which are a part of the cerebrum. I want you to remember what a nucleus means. We're not talking about the nucleus of a cell. We're talking about collections of neurons. These things are really very basic to what we call muscular movement and motor coordination. In fact, there's a disease you may have heard of called "Parkinson's Disease," where the basal nuclei may become damaged or degenerate, and that's why a person with Parkinson's Disease has dilemmas with motor coordination.
Now, I want to go back to the left and right side and talk to you about the fact that they're not in compartmentalized vacuums. They literally talk to each other. What we're going to see in a minute is that the sides of the brain have different functions. You've heard of being left-brained and right-brained, etc., etc. That's more than like a story. There are different functions to the left since and the right side of the cerebral cortex. But they talk to each other, and deep within the brain is something called the corpus callosum. It's located right below the central sulcus here, which is that first division, or that major division. The corpus callosum allows communication between the left side and the right side. There is some preliminary evidence that the developmental disability called "autism," that the corpus callosum may not--its dendritic tree, the nerves, the branching of the nerves, they seem to be underdeveloped, and someone with autism, one of the person's problems may be that the left side and the right side of the brain may be functioning independently of each other and not talking to each other. So there's left and right side coordination or communication with the corpus callosum.
And so we come to the lobes of the brain. This is just one half of the brain, the right side or the left side. What's going to happen here is these are divided into lobes--we have a growing body of knowledge about this stuff--they seem to have really specialized functions. Let's start right here. This is the frontal lobe. That's an easy one. The frontal lobe is in the front. What that does is that seems to control the voluntary centers. That's your voluntary stuff that happens here. Also, on the left side of the frontal lobe there seems to be some speech centers. Think about that--a part of your brain whose function is to control speech. Interesting. Think of all the things that go into speech. You have to think of the words you're going to say. You have to coordinate your tongue. You have to move your mouth just right. All of this is coordinated here, and there's another place where there seems to be a speech center too.
Let's go to the back of the brain. We're going to call this the "occipital lobe." Now, the occipital lobe is where your vision centers are going to be, which is interesting because the eyes are in the front of your head, and yet, on either side--remember, this is two-sided--on either side are going to be your vision centers.
There's also the bottom lobe here, which is called the "temporal lobe." Now, the temporal lobe--that's where smell, olfaction, and hearing, and at the top, the parietal lobe. The parietal lobe is going to be like conscious perception of touch, pressure, there's another speech center in here. So the parietal lobe, which stretches, obviously, across the top on either side of the brain, is going to be crucial, too. Reading. The parietal has a lot of those very cerebral activities.
So where do we go from here? Do you want to spend another five lectures with me on the brain, because that's what we could do? If I had to say there's a frontier left in the human body, it's sitting right in front of me--the brain.
Just this one last thing. Let me just show you how complex the brain and the study of the brain can be. You know, it seems like I've taken and compartmentalized all the different organs and I said, "This does this, this does this, and..." Forget it. That's just a generalized thing. Look at this. See the yellow? This is something called the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system of the brain is in many ways our most primitive part of our brain because it has been conserved so much through the evolution of the animal kingdom, but within this thing, within the limbic system, are a group of organs that control your emotions, your memory, your memory linked to vision, your memory linked to smell. Do you have a smell memory? Do you ever smell something? How powerful is that? Talk about primitive.
One of the memories probably that you're most conscious of is music. You know that. "Oh, I remember that summer when I heard t hat song. I was so in love." But, you know, that music thing is such a big thing. Try a smell memory some day. Right there--the limbic system. What's in the limbic system? We've got the thalamus. We've got the hypothalamus. We've got part of the cerebral cortex. We've got some nuclei. There's one called the amygdule, one called the hippocampus. All of these things are part of this yellow, and notice, most of those, you've heard those names before and I've showed them in kind of a vacuum. Well, it doesn't work that way. You know, if you want to really discover a frontier in human biology, learning about the brain, go into neurology, because that, my friends, is a place with much to be discovered.
Animal Systems and Homeostasis
The Nerve Impulse
Processing Centers of the Human Brain Page [1 of 2]

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