12.6-watts average. That is it. That is the average electric power (i.e. metabolic-energy) the human body must supply the brain for one “normal” day says Scientific American magazine. Want to know what sort of items can be powered with only 12.6-watts and for how long? To help better understand this comparison, let’s pretend we have a 12.6-watt battery to run some common household items. A basic clock-radio you might see on a bedside table in a cheap hotel will run for approximately 3-hours, if the radio volume is soft; maybe 4-hours if the radio is never used. A Nintendo Wii game-console can run on 16.8-watts for an hour. A standard 19″ CRT TV, 55-90 watts for an hour. A camping range-burner requires 800-watts for 1-hour. The average household coffee-maker requires 900-watts per hour. Getting the picture?
The human brain must conserve metabolic-power and run as efficiently as possible in order to function “normally” for a 14-16 hour day awake. Naturally, when asleep the brain is using much less metabolic-power, but still consumes small amounts. Power efficiency becomes critical in abnormal circumstances; either the body has enough metabolic-energy stored or it doesn’t. When the body does not, the potential for serious or traumatic harm increases proportionately to the danger, correct? Without the necessary brain-power for higher or acute cognitive and motor reactions, the greater the bodily harm or mortality. We see this organ-power equation illustrated in the animal kingdom every day. For example, animals falling prey to predators. Those animals with a higher healthier organ-power coefficient typically escape death, or their chances of escape are higher than those hunted animals with lower or less-healthy organ-power coefficients. Roadkills are another example. Animals with a low coefficient (i.e. tiny brains with tiny metabolic power to that tiny brain) typically cannot cross a busy highway 10-times without being hit.
In different more complex scenarios, humans are no different. Place an ordinary 20-something year old person who has been raised in a peaceful, quiet, unpopulated region all their life with absolutely no training or education of weapons or warfare, into a violent war zone for a 6-8 week period, their rate of survival — excluding mental health of course — will be extremely low, if not fatal. Too drastic? Then replace the war zone conditions with modern traffic rules and complex motor vehicles, multiply all that by ten(?) depending on the site’s population, and make it a teenager or 20-22 year old driver, and no driver’s education whatsoever. What might or probably will happen after 2-6 months? Ask an auto-insurance underwriter what the statistics would be.
Here’s the point in this so far: humans are surrounded, no… constantly bombarded, with a never-ending supply of stimuli to the eyes, nose, ears, skin, and tongue in a 24-hour period! It is impossible for our brains to receive, process, store, and use all the available daily stimuli when it runs on only 12.6 watts per day. What does the brain do to compensate…to cope? It prioritizes. For millions of years our brains have slowly learned what is critical to survive, what is needed to increase survival-rate, what is unnecessary but nice, and what is utterly useless. And it does this prioritizing FAST, real fast! It has to; 12.6 watts runs out quick, or in other words, cognitive fatigue, let alone physical exhaustion, leads to collapse. Perhaps the only exception to this metabolic law is drug use or abuse. The reliability or unreliability of drug-induced cognition, heightened or otherwise, I will leave alone or for another time. 😉
Suffice to say, our human brains are quite prone/susceptible to various degrees of ambiguity, superstition, memory-errors, and deception.
When success, advantage, surprise, control, victory, or secrecy are sought, one method of better assuring that outcome is through deception. You find it in many team sports, you find it in multimillion dollar business tactics against competitors, you find it in card games, you even find it among verbal human interactions. Deception is especially useful in combat and wartime. Perhaps one of the best examples of this was Operation Bodyguard.
Operation Bodyguard and its seven sub-operations leading up to the 1944 D-Day Normandy invasion of Nazi Fortress Europe, were highly successful operations of deception saving hundreds of thousands of American, British, Canadian, French, and other Allied lives. For several months prior to the actual invasion into Normandy, France, the Allied High Command under Dwight Eisenhower flooded the Nazi airwaves, radar surveillance with well-planned misinformation, and even inflatable tanks, artillery, and supply trucks creating a completely fictitious Army Group to deceive German reconnaissance planes. By June 6 and 7, 1944, the operations were so successful that Hitler and his élite commanders waited 7 weeks before fully responding to the Normandy invasion forces, much too late to stop it. Oh the power and usefulness of deception.
History is laden with examples of armies, sports teams, gifted magicians, and large groups of people being duped by simple tricks designed to divert and/or confuse the brain. Take for example, this clever trick play by a high school baseball team…
Magic tricks are plentiful with deception, diversion, and confusion, so many that there is no need to list the thousands or embed their videos here. But one poignant example of people or large groups being utterly fooled would be that of the Peoples Temple in 1978 at Jonestown, Guyana where over 900 men, women, and children committed mass suicide/murder following orders from their cult leader Jim Jones. Until 9/11 this had been the greatest loss of American civilian lives by a single act or day. What is important to remember is that our brains can be led to misinterpret information. Our limited senses can cause the brain to construct false perceptions of people and in the world we live.
Fact: the human brain has difficulty recalling an event in the past, and details are often distorted or incorrect. This applies to every single brain on the planet. Scientific evidence shows this fact repeatedly no matter how mundane or monumental the event, our human memory is not as good as we’d like it to be.
Our memory is not as fixed as we might perceive, but much more fluid. What does that mean? Conceptualization is the norm, errancy is prevalent… along with egocentricity I would think. 😉 This 17-minute TED video from award-winning Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist from Stanford University and UCLA, explains her ground-breaking research about the brain’s misinformation effect and its extremely imaginative capabilities for creating false memories. Dr. Loftus’ findings and talk are superb…
No matter how highly we hold our memory skills, the brain is simply not currently wired nor the metabolic wattage (12.6 watts) to be a precise 300-year DVR. Will it ever be? Ask that question in 10,000 or 100,000 maybe 1-million years. Right now the overwhelming scientific neurocognitive data suggests that our brain’s conceptualizing skills, including imaginative or experiential conjecturing, are far more dominant and gifted than fact-finding or fact-storing. Don’t despair though, we have the intelligence to improve this human condition…over a long, long period of course.
Superstition and Ambiguity
In my next post in the series Untapped Worlds — Departure, I will finish the Superstition and Ambiguity portions, establishing the/our brain’s faulty interpretations based on its limited (or very limited?) sensory feedbacks — it only learns what it is actually fed. Then move further (evolve?) to more impactful human experience. How can we upgrade our brains? How can we improve its immaturity before it’s too late?
Mmmm, we must leave port. To be well-traveled, more acutely aware, more precise, we must first depart from traditional cognition!
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
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