In reviewing a fair amount of Medical Pathology lately involving all body systems, I thought of the song title heading this piece.
You have hundreds of different body tissues in dozens of organs all looking more or less the same under the microscope. I’m talking about the general patterns now, not a super-analytical view of various cells rendered by a histopathologist.
Then you have brain tissue.
And guess what my fine-feathered friends? It's right up there in the "average" department compared to things like the lining of the gut and the covering of the heart. It's actually sparser in cells present compared to many other tissues.
So, if you can imagine an alien who has visited Earth, some life form completely different than us being debriefed by his leader who probes as follows: “You are telling me that intestinal and liver and lung tissue have similar appearance to brain and spinal cord tissue under the microscope? Tissue that’s in charge of basic cellular processes like digestion and respiration looks the same as the tissue that generated brilliant thoughts that came from people like Einstein and Beethoven along with highly complex movements of prima ballerinas and Nadia Comăneci (there’s another blast from the past a la the Bacharach song).”
“How is that possible?”
It’s the “elephant in the room” kind of problem we have in explaining the workings of the brain. But beyond that, can an epiphany, a realization, a higher physics treatise, a concept such as love, or the idea for a symphony all be attributable to brain neurons? Indeed, isn’t consciousness (i.e. self awareness) more of a psychological construct rather than something one can even try to localize in a brain region? Thus, in separating issues that lend themselves to the abstraction known as the human mind, are we not furthering the argument that mundane brain tissue is completely unable to explain its awesome role based on its appearance compared to what’s in similarly appearing mundane organs elsewhere in our bodies? Chemistry and physiology makes brain tissue more unique than that noted in your tail bone but hardly explains the reason we are not functioning like infants, lower animals or cave men.
Scattered reports have described transplant recipients of kidneys, hearts and livers developing certain personality traits and interests of the donors. Coincidence? Self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s related to this “inability to know what we don’t know we don’t know” phenomenon re: how brain, blood and other tissues/organs really function.
Then there’s this compartmentalization aspect to the human brain. Region X “is in charge of” language. Region Y is “in charge of” vision, etc., yet it’s impossible to explain such localization based on raw appearance of the tissue. Then you have this: The right half of the brain looks grossly and microscopically almost identical to the left side. However, they do many things differently! How exaclty does that work?
This brings us to Multiple Sclerosis. It is largely a white matter disease rather than a gray matter disease such as Alzheimer’s. Is there a purpose for this selective attack in MS? Is there a reason for it the way Alzheimer’s links to aging?
Let’s leave that for next year- for now ponder this and 2008, that year of transformational ideas:
Normal Brain Tissue: Involved in Master thought and brilliant choreography.
Normal Human Pancreas: Involved in producing enzymes to help break down burgers and fries.
Published On: December 16, 2008