Randall Munroe answers some absurd questions; Danielle George reveals what’s in store for this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures; Jim Al-Khalili explores the strange world of quantum biology
The Average Joe’s brain has a broad 50:50 ratio of long and short connections between the various brain regions, with a sllight bias either way that varies from person to person.
The frontal cortex – part of the brain believed to be involved in abstract thought – is built out of ‘mini-columns’. These are units of brain tissue that typically consist of 80-120 neurones.
The thalamus is the brain’s relay centre. Information from the brain’s sensory parts bottleneck at the thalamus, where they’re filtered and sent to the cortex. This is partly regulated by dopamine receptors.
In average people this is the part of the brain that is activated when you tackle a maths problem. Any part of the brain in constant use enlarges as it strengthens your most vital connections.
A genius’s brain is heavily biased towards long or short connections. Short connections indicate an aptitude in one interest, while long connections suggest aptitude in many interests and the ability to see problems from new perspectives.
Geniuses have a denser concentration of mini-columns than the rest of the population – it seems that they simply pack more in. Mini-columns are sometimes described as the brain’s ‘microprocessors’, powering the thought process of the brain.
Research shows that geniuses have fewer dopamine receptors in the thalamus. Dopamine inhibits neuronal signals, cancelling out information it deems worthless. The shortage of such receptors in geniuses might mean they can consider unusual solutions to a problem normal brains disregard.
Einstein’s brain was smaller than normal, but his maths-processing parietal lobe was enlarged. Developing a skill over time that relies heavily on one area seems to cause enlargement and strengthening.