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5 Myths About the Human Brain

Updated on June 15, 2015
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Mario Buildreps is a graduate engineer. Become aware of topics in a way you have never heard before.

The Human Brain - the celebrated instrument of progress.
The Human Brain - the celebrated instrument of progress. | Source

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About the Human Brain

Humans like to brag with their mental capacities. The Human race has mental capacities that animals seem to lack. That is a conclusion we draw based on our inability to reason with animals and vice versa.

We tend to project our consciousness on the world around us, since we are the ruling species on earth. As if domination would be the criterion of consciousness. But is it?

Humanity posit claims about their brain that is often based on assumptions instead on facts. The facts on the contrary appear to be quite confusing when interpreted correctly, and wipe out most of the claims made today by Homo Sapiens about their own brain.

Often made claims about the Human brain is that:

  • The Human brain is anatomically unique
  • Humans have the largest brains in absolute size
  • Humans have the largest brains relative to body weight
  • Humans have the largest cerebral cortex, and the largest prefrontal cortex
  • Humans have brain centers not found in other species

Are these claims correct? A rational contemplation on this question.


Myth #1 - The Human Brain is Anatomically Unique

All higher developed animals (reptiles, birds, mammals) including Humans have brains that, despite differences in outer appearance and size, are very similar in their general organization and even in most of the details.

The structures in Human brains necessary for

  • attention
  • declarative memory (long-term memory)
  • emotions
  • motivations
  • guidance of voluntary actions
  • evaluation of actions

are all present in the brains of higher developed animal groups.

These structures have the same connections and distribution of transmitters and neuromodulation (neuromodulators and neuropeptides) in reptiles, birds and mammals. There are differences between brains of amphibians, turtles, birds and mammals, that have emerged for adaptation to their habitat.

But there is no decisive distinction to make in brain functions between these group of animals and Humans. Human brains are anatomically equal to that of animals.

Sperm Whale Encounter

Myth #2 - Humans Have the Largest Brains in Absolute Size

This claim is incorrect. The animal with the largest brains are Sperm Whales. It is an intelligent hunter with an alleged extraordinary thinking power and with an amazing adaption to their environment.

Neuroscientists think that we seriously underestimate the intelligence of marine mammals. In other words, Orcas and Sperm Whales might be even much smarter in another way than the size of their brain suggests. Another kind of intelligence than that of Humans. Like Moby Dick outsmarted the cunning captain Ahab.

Baleen whales, which filter plankton and krill for food, do not have brains as large as toothed whales that actively hunt their (single unit) food. Sperm Whales hunt on giant octopuses that are thought to be amazingly intelligent as well. Remember Paul the Octopus and his ability to predict correctly the winners of quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the 2010 World Cup? There was less than 0.8% chance to predict all seven winning teams correctly. Paul even outsmarted Goldman Sachs in his ability. Was this pure luck or pure intelligence?

Humans have the largest brains among current primates (Neanderthals had 25% larger brains), but by far not the largest brains among mammals.

Human don't have the biggest brains of the animal kingdom, not even in the top 3.

Brain Weights

Average Brain Weight (gr)
Sperm Whale
Killer Whale

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Myth #3 - Humans Have the Largest Brain Relative to Body Weight

The most important factor influencing brain size is body weight. In general terms, the larger the animals, the larger the brains.

The weight of the human brain compared to body weight is about 2%. In small rodents the relative brain weight versus body weight ratio can reach up to 10%. Among mammals have Humans the largest relative brain weight.

Contrary to common belief, do humans not have the largest brain either in absolute or relative terms.

Regarded from the common perspective that Homo Sapiens' capacities are exclusively thanks to their brains, we have to accept the fact there is something awfully wrong in this whole idea. It is true though that Humans have a larger brain than expected among primates.

If brain size would be the criterion of smartness, then some animals would be much smarter.

Cerebral Cortex
Cerebral Cortex | Source

Myth #4 - Humans Have the Largest Cerebral and Prefrontal Cortex

The cerebral cortex is the outside shell of the brain (0.8 to 2.5 mm thick). The prefrontal cortex is the outer part of the brain at the level of the forehead.

There are such enormous differences in both size of brains, organization of brains, density of neurons and the amount of glial cells, that such claims cannot be maintained.

For example the volume of the Human cortex is about 3,000 times larger as the volume of a mouse cortex. But the neurone density of a mouse cortex is 10 times higher, which is a necessary result of another architecture which is the result of another metabolism.

The amount of neurons in Sperm Whales are not yet measured, but based upon extrapolations of smaller whales, it is expected that Sperm Whales would have between 200 to 250 billion neurons. That is 2 to 2,5 the amount of the Human brain.

Recent discoveries about Elephant brains, commonly accepted among experts, show that they must have the same mental and cognitive capacities as Humans.

The typical intelligence of Humans cannot be measured by the size of the cortices.

Organization of Human Brain
Organization of Human Brain | Source

#Myth 5 - The Human Brain is Differently Organized

There is no decisive distinction to posit between the brains of Humans and that of animals. That speech and logical functions would be THE discriminating difference between Human brains and animal brains is unproven.

Animals have a functioning communication centers in the brain, as well as logical functions. These functions are often dismissed as instinctive functions. They nonetheless serve as logical centers.

There is no ultimately discriminating difference between the organization of the Human brain and that of animals.

What Makes Humans Different Then?

There are just a few decisive differences between the Human brain and the animal brain. But these theories are still unproven, especially when compared with the brains of cetaceans.

  • The Human brain would have more synapses (1 quadrillion = 1,000,000,000,000,000), against an unknown amount in cetaceans. Meaning that it is still an assumption that this would be THE difference.
  • Humans have the highest Encephalization Quotient (EQ=7) of the larger animals (weight of brains relative to body weight). This is an undeniable fact.
  • Humans are the only species with a very advanced eye-hand function. This is also an undeniable fact.

Speech seems not to be decisive, since cetaceans have a very advanced way of communicating as well, which is still far beyond our comprehension.

There appears to be just TWO decisive differences between Humans and the most intelligent animals. The very high EQ and the unique advanced eye-hand function. From which the advanced hand functions is likely to be the best evolutionary tools. It seems to be a complex mind-matter interaction that makes the difference.

There are also similarities between some of the smartest animals and Humans:

  • Elephants have an advanced eye-proboscis coordination
  • Octopuses have an advanced touch-tentacles coordination

Homo Sapiens is a species that seems to develop an extraordinary consciousness via the hands. This function requires complex feedback loops to and from the brain that appears to be an evolutionary bull's-eye.

But what is the reason to define world dominance as a measure of intelligence? There seem to be other highly evolved less egoic beings on earth that adopted other, less destructive criteria. We might learn something from them. That means if we are intelligent enough.

© 2015 by Buildreps


Source i.a.: Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and Language. Maxim Stamenov, Vittorio Gallese, 2002


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Buildreps, every little bit helps...but the math is puzzling...

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Europe

      Thanks for the comment, jgshorebird. It is a good link you posted here. Only what puzzled me is that Sandrine Thuret in this video said that by the time we are about 50 we replaced all our brain cells. She also said that the hypocampus produces about 700 new neuron cells per day. That adds up to about 13 million new born adult brain cells, which is not even 1% of the total amount of brain cells.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I read your article because I watched a recent TED Talks video:

      Very thorough. Thanks.

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Europe

      Thank you for the compliment, Elsie. You can be right about animals reading your brain, because they are directly connected to "Indra's Net", but they are still unconscious. Humans have a higher consciousness but mostly their ego blocks them from connecting to the Net. The ego thinks it is separated from others. It's great to see that you have developed such divine insights! Thank you for sharing.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting article. Enjoyed reading those facts, they certainly make you think, In my old age, I do work at keeping my brain healthy, but sometimes I think that animals have a very alert brain and know exactly what we are going to do and you can't foul them.

      Just my thoughts, been farming all my life, the animals can read our minds I'm sure of that.

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Europe

      You mean biggest brain I suppose? :) Thanks for reading, peachpurple!

    • peachpurple profile image


      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Oh yes the whale has indeed the buggest brain, clever..

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Europe

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Audrey. There was indeed quite some research necessary to write this Hub. During that research it became increasingly clear that the more we know about the brain, the mysteries around of it only grows.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Build - Interesting theory. I am highly interested in the brain and memory. I almost wrote a hub once about animals and their brains compared to humans. My interest now is the memory of various people. You did a lot or research for your article and thank you for sharing your findings. I am learning a lot about the brain. Blessings, Audrey

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Europe

      Thanks for your comment, Larry. Our uniqueness seems to be a combination than just only the brain itself. Humans can create with their hands, and that combined with the brain contributes to an exponential specialty.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting. We try to attribute all this uniqueness to our brains, and in function it is, but really in structure it isn't that much different than many of the other brains in the animal kingdom.

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Europe

      Thanks, Billybuc . That's a good idea. I don't want you to get any form of mental decay. I like your Hubs too much for that, and that you soon go for your next series of 1000 Hubs :D

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      As always, a fascinating read. I learned quite a bit from this very informative article. Now I need to go exercise the only brain I have. I don't want it to atrophy on me. :)

    • Buildreps profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Europe

      Thanks Harishprasad, for your wonderful comment!

    • Harishprasad profile image

      Harish Mamgain 

      5 years ago from New Delhi , India

      What a wonderful hub ! The human race would be astonished if in future scientists are able to decipher the speeches of other co beings, get to know how they think about us humans and some of our activities that has caused so much havoc on earth. Buildreps , this is really a very interesting, informative and enlightening hub. Voted up.


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