Top photo via 2eat2drink
Ask yourself what a human brain feels like. Most of us would probably describe it as heavy, and that's certainly true (the average person's brain matter tips the scales at about 3 pounds). But what of its consistency? What does a mass of tens of billions of neurons feel like to the touch?
If you're like most people who've handled a brain (in, say, a gross anatomy lab), you might assume it feels solid, firm, almost rubber-like. But the brains you encounter in a lab setting have almost always been fixed and preserved with chemicals like formaldehyde, which have a dramatic effect on the texture and firmness of tissue like brain matter. In reality, however, a fresh, untreated brain is a surprisingly squishy thing, as this delightfully explicit video from the University of Utah Brain Institute clearly illustrates.
This whole video is fantastic, but my favorite part is watching neurobiologist Suzanne Stensaas part the brain's hemispheres like two halves of a glistening JELL-O mold.
"It's very, very soft," she explains, the seat of human consciousness joggling about in her palms. "Notice, it's totally squishy... much softer than most of the meat you would see in a market. So if I were to pinch this... I would easily damage this with my thumb."
In fact, she doesn't even need to pinch it. Around the 5:30 mark, you can clearly see a depression that was left in the tissue just from the weight of the brain resting in her hands. To think that we all go about our lives – breakdancing, bicycling, kickboxing, footballing, head-standing, head-banging, skiing or, hell, just plain walking from place to place – with this eminently fragile thing floating serenely in our skulls, enveloped in a protective bath of cerebral spinal fluid. It's kind of unbelievable.
I guess what I'm saying is please wear a helmet.
Big HT to Brian!