We should all be thankful for our brains.
Your brain is a truly impressive piece of hardware. It has about 100 billion neurons, with as many synaptic connections as there are leaves in the Amazon Rainforest.
While you’re busy being thankful for food, family and friends this Thanksgiving, take a moment to be thankful for your brain. Here are some of the reasons why you should.
1. Your Brain Keeps You Alive
Deep within your brain, your brain stem controls most of the things that happen automatically to keep you alive— your heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing.
A little higher up, your hypothalamus makes sure you remember to eat and drink, and your amygdala helps you identify danger and avoid it.
Without your brain, you would be dead.
2. Your Brain Creates Your Reality
Your brain creates an internal model of reality, and your senses are used to verify its accuracy.
Think about the most vivid dream you’ve ever had.
Mine was a nightmare in which I was minding my own business, eating an ice cream cone, when a lion rudely interrupted me by swallowing me whole.
It all felt so real: the taste of the ice cream, its coldness on my tongue, the terrifying lion, and the sensation of falling down its cavernous, bottomless throat.
When I woke up, my brain thought I was in the lion’s stomach. But when I opened my eyes, my brain processed the information and told me I was safe in my bedroom.
Reality is all in your head.
3. Your Brain Is Good at Remembering
We all complain about forgetting things, but we rarely stop to acknowledge how much our brains remember.
In his Tedx talk, memory athlete Kevin Horsley asks the audience members to raise their hands if their memories are bad.
Most of their hands go up.
“If you think you have a bad memory, you actually have a good memory,” Horsley says, “because you can remember all your failures.”
So instead of blaming your brain for forgetting a few things, you should be praising it for remembering so much.
4. Your Brain Is a Trained Specialist
Your brain is good at a variety of skills. There are skills you have been taught, like doing arithmetic or riding a bike, and skills you have more or less learned on your own, like whistling or snapping your fingers.
But there are also skills that your brain was hardwired to learn, with very little effort.
Take recognizing faces, for instance. We’re so good at it, we even see faces on objects that only vaguely resemble them:
Your brain is also amazing at learning at languages. Even if you didn’t do very well in high school Spanish, odds are you could pick it up pretty fast if you moved to Buenos Aires.
5. Your Brain Is Plastic
No, not like Barbie. It’s plastic in the sense that it can change shape.
Your brain has a remarkable property called neuroplasticity. That means that it can “rewire” itself.
Neuroplasticity is most noticeable after a brain injury, when the brain has to repair itself. It can compensate for damaged areas by repurposing other parts of itself. If it happens at an early age, a human brain can even regain close-to-normal functioning after half of it has been removed!
So remember to appreciate your brain. It’s really pretty incredible.