November 25, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

What is hardest thing we do with our brains in a lifetime?

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What’s the hardest thing we ever do with our brains on average during a lifetime?

Our brains are wonderful things that some have called the most complicated structures in the known universe, but what exactly do we do with them? Do we tax them fully during our lives?

The old cliché that we only use 1% of our brain or some approximation thereof is malarkey in my view, but how hard is it for the average person’s brain to watch a boring YouTube video? Not very. On the flip side, what do we do with our brains that is incredibly hard? The hardest thing for the average person in their life?

I heard an interview NPR last month with an artificial intelligence (AI) scientist working on autonomous cars. He made the argument that for the typical human being, the action they take that is the most complicated task in their life for the brain is driving a car. It turns out that it is really hard to get AI cars to take in all the data ebbing and flowing around them and behave perfectly so perhaps it isn’t surprising that this particular scientist thought that driving a car would be the most challenging task for the human brain.

I recently had a discussion on this topic with some family and others where some very different ideas came up as well that seemed equally valid. Some of these notions seem to hinge on whether certain activities fall within the range of what an average person will encounter in their life and what exactly is an “average person”? Here are the ideas that sprouted as potential “hardest things people do in their lifetimes”:

  • Playing a musical instrument as part of group of musicians.
  • Playing complicated sports (does our brain unconsciously do calculus, etc. while shooting a basketball or soccer ball on the run?)
  • Theoretical physics (most of us don’t exactly do this say while eating breakfast each morning)
  • Doing a complicated dance or ice-skating to music with a partner.
  • Singing a challenging song
  • Speaking a foreign language
  • Learning to speak in the first place
  • Learning to write
  • Learning to walk/ride a bike
  • Dealing with death of a loved one, divorce, lose job, other such life challenges
  • Fighting in a war (fortunately most of us don’t have to do this)

What do you think is the toughest thing the average person’s brain will do in their lifetime?

How about your own brain so far? What’s the toughest thing it has had to do in your lifetime?

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