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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2007, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
A rough guide to the inside of your brain
By Jane Elliott
BBC News, health reporter

The brain
The brain marshals the body
People have always been fascinated by the workings of the mind. Now a book in the Rough Guides series offers an insight.

Anatomically speaking, the brain is nothing more than a collection of interconnected nerve cells, a coordinating hub for the body's electrical system.

Yet these 100 billion neurones - more than 16 times the human population of the earth - govern everything we do, from breathing to directing how we think and feel.

Despite it being one of the most important organs in our body, few of us know what it does or what it means when it goes wrong.

Improving understanding

Dr Sarah Blakemore, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said that many of her patients, especially those with diseases like Parkinson's where the brain is affected, were keen to learn more about how the brain works.

However, little has been written for the lay person, she said.

It's possible to go through life blissfully oblivious of the brain's existence
Barry Gibb

Dr Morten Kringelbach, Neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, agreed, saying: "We (scientists) do far too little to educate people about the brain, it is all too easy to sit in our ivory towers, but communication is important.

"Knowing about what is happening in the brain is extremely important and currently there is a gap."

Now The Rough Guide series, famed for its realistic appraisal of holiday destinations, has published its first medical guide - "The Rough Guide to the Brain".

Brain facts
The average human brain weighs 1.4 kg
A scientific study showed that the hippocampus, a region of the brain vital to forming memories, was bigger in black cab drivers - presumably due to their requirement to learn 'The Knowledge'
Einstein's brain was stolen after his death
Sex stimulates the same part of the brain as chocolate
Videogame playing may be as powerful an analgesic as strong painkillers
A specific part of the brain, the temporal lobes, may play a role in religious experiences

Author Barry Gibb, a former neuroscientist from UCL and now a film-maker, said understanding the brain was essential to understanding ourselves.

"This 1.4 kilograms of wrinkled grey-white matter holds the key to our consciousness - the way we think and feel...the very same organ also oversees our physical selves.

"It's possible to go through life blissfully oblivious of the brain's existence.

"You never really know it's there. And yet your brain is you."

The book covers all aspects of the brain from how it functions and what happens when it does not.

Brain power

It charts the evolution of the human brain and how it differs from that of other organisms.

And it studies the "unexplained brain", including topics such as how the power of positive thinking can be used to help pain relief.

It tells how hypnosis has been used to 'anaesthetise' patients. One, Italian Pierina Menegazzo, aged 19, had her appendix removed following hypnosis in 1961.

The guide also takes a glimpse at the future, pondering whether the brain will evolve further and whether man can ever create an artificial brain.

The human brain is the crown jewel of evolution
Andrew Lockett

Andrew Lockett of Rough Guides explained the reasoning behind the decision to branch out into medical texts.

He said: "We started exploring scientific topics because many are ideal for a 'Rough Guide' treatment - giving the big picture, cutting through the jargon, and making everything both interesting and accessible.

"The brain is one of the most interesting scientific topics around, offering ample opportunity for the 'Rough Guide' style - including demystification of complex subject matter.

"Very few people have any sense of how the brain actually works, but it's fascinating stuff.

"The human brain is the crown jewel of evolution - perhaps the most complex biological entity on the planet."

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