When you picture someone with a superhuman brain network, what comes to mind?
A superhero with psychic abilities, or a genius running complex calculations in their head at top speed? In reality, you don’t have to look further than the mirror. A recent paper published by a group of Norwegian neuroscientists reveals the incredible power of “nerd” cells: A fascinating network in your brain performing more complex calculations than NASA rocket scientists do every day!
The discovery of nerd cells is just one of a long line of neuroscientific advancements revealing the incredible information-processing abilities of the human brain. Few are aware of just how much their brains are capable of, but becoming aware of the amazing processes happening below the surface is the first step to harnessing them to work for you!
What Are Nerd Cells Doing For You?
As you go about your day, you probably don’t think much about how your brain determines how fast you have to run to catch the bus, or how far you have to step to walk down stairs. Making sure you can navigate the world without falling or running into things takes a lot of math, but researchers have never been sure which brain networks perform these essential behind-the-scenes calculations, or how.
One major theory suggests that the continuous attractor network is responsible for making sure you keep your bearings as you move through your daily routine. According to the theory, an unknown brain network performs complex calculations to constantly update a mental map of your surroundings as you move through the world.
In April 2022, neuroscientist Charlotte Boccara and her team, Davide Spalla and Alessandro Treves, published a groundbreaking paper. The team described a previously unknown network of “superhuman” cells they termed nerd cells, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the stereotype of a bespectacled “nerd” with a blackboard full of equations.
A news article from the University of Oslo press office compares the action of these cells to NASA scientists calculating a rocket trajectory—but the math this brain network does is much more complex!
According to Boccara and her team, the complex networks in our brains that help us navigate the world “receive inputs from cells conjunctively coding for position, direction, and self-motion.” That’s three complex equations at once, all calculated simultaneously by nerd cells with superhuman processing power.
How does this change the way we look at the brain? Not only has this discovery finally confirmed a decades-old theory about how we navigate the world, it also demonstrates that if we can harness them to our potential, our brains are capable of incredible things!
More Incredible Discoveries in Neuroscience That Changed How We Think About Brains!
Humans have always been fascinated with the brain and how it works. Thousands of years ago, ancient Greek philosopher Alcmaeon authored the first known writings describing the brain as the home of thought and reason, while ancient Egyptian physicians recorded how those with brain injuries struggled with speech or coordinated movement. The study of neuroscience has advanced further than ancient peoples could have ever imagined, and there is still endless potential for discovery!
Boccara and her team’s paper on the continuous attractor brain network is one of several recent discoveries that underline just how many amazing things our brains are doing behind the scenes. Here are two more discoveries that changed the way we think about the brain and its incredible power.
Glial Cells: More Than Just Packaging
There are two major types of cells in the brain: neurons, which interact with neurotransmitters and electrical signals to transmit information, and another group known as glial cells. Previously, these cells were thought to provide structure for neurons, but scientists have now discovered that glial cells form a powerful brain network in their own right.
There are five distinct types of glial cells stationed throughout your central nervous system (CNS), which comprises the spinal cord and the nerves present throughout the brain. Without these cells and their crucial support, the CNS could not function properly.
The many tasks glial cells perform include maintaining the blood-brain barrier, cleaning up unneeded neurotransmitters, supporting new neurons as they grow, and, in the case of microglia, acting as the brain’s personal immune system. If nerd cells are brain cells with superhuman genius, glial cells could be considered superheroes defending the brain from outside threats.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Another discovery that surprised scientists is the relationship between the brain and the microbiota of the gut, which neuroscientists now call the gut-brain axis.
The gut microbiota is made up of billions of bacteria and other microbes that live in your gut. These friendly microorganisms help digest food, secrete useful biochemicals, and keep pathogens from gaining a foothold in your digestive system.
So how does this affect your brain power? When the population of the microbiota in your gut is unbalanced by a poor diet, prolonged stress, or illness, your brain and its health can suffer.
Among the biochemicals produced by your gut microbiota is serotonin, a hormone your brain uses to regulate your mood. An imbalance of serotonin is associated with many mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
Likewise, a 2019 study by neuroscientist Robert Smith and his team revealed that having a robust gut microbiota is linked to healthy levels of interleukin-6, an intercellular messenger associated with a healthy sleep cycle and abstract thinking.
Harnessing Your Brain Power: Two Innercise™ Exercises to Get Started
In this article, we shared with you three discoveries that changed the way we think about the brain and how it functions. Learning about the power of your various brain networks makes it possible to harness them in order to achieve our goals in work, in school, and in our creative pursuits!
Have you ever heard the claim that we only use 10% of our brain power? This is a common myth, but that doesn’t mean your brain function is set in stone. Since our brains are moldable, a concept neuroscientists call neuroplasticity, there are exercises you can do to optimize the use of the brain’s abilities.
To wrap up this article, we’ve included two basic Innercise™ exercises, both from John Assaraf’s Innercise, The New Science To Unlock Your Brain’s Hidden Power! You can perform these exercises as part of your daily routine, or whenever you want to boost your productivity!
Take 6: Calm the Circuits
This Innercise™ was designed to calm the stress response. In a high stakes situation where your heart speeds up and your thoughts are racing, it can be hard to focus and think, since stress dampens your executive function. To make the most of your brain power, you can do this Innercise™ anytime you feel overwhelmed by nervousness, anxiety, and stress.
To do the exercise, take six deep, slow, rhythmic breaths in through your nose, and release them slowly out through your mouth. It can help to imagine you’re breathing out through a straw. This controlled breathing alone will help calm you, but we recommend you repeat one of these mantras (whichever you prefer) to yourself as you breathe in and out:
I breathe in calmness, I breathe out stress.
I breathe in calmness, I breathe out fear.
I breathe in calmness, I breathe out anxiety.
The STT Process
Our brains have incredible power, but in order to make them work for us, we need to decide what we’re working for, and how we plan to achieve those goals!
This Innercise™ is called the Strategies, Tactics, and Timelines (STT) Process. In this context, a strategy is the method you will use to achieve your goal, while a tactic is a specific action you will perform to put that strategy into practice, according to a specific timeline.
The purpose of this Innercise™ is to help you develop a truly actionable plan to work towards achieving your goals. When you’re ready, think about how you can use these three parameters to develop a plan, and start writing one down!
Remember, specificity is key here. If your goal is to get a new job, “At 11 a.m. on Monday I will sit down and apply to three jobs,” is better than “I will respond to job postings on Monday.”
The other key is to start small, then build up. If your goal is to lose 30 pounds and you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle, don’t make your strategy going to the gym every day for a full-body workout! Start smaller, like getting out for a brisk walk after lunch, or getting to the gym every Monday and Friday!
Finally, if you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up—find some small way to get back on track! If you’re trying to lose weight through exercising and you find yourself skipping the gym one day, try and go for a walk that afternoon. Something is better than nothing!
From the superhuman cells to the gut-brain axis, there are numerous fascinating processes happening inside your brain every day! Neuroscientists are consistently discovering more and more about how the brain networks that underlie our thoughts, reasoning, and emotions work.
In the 1920s, scientists were only beginning to understand that different parts of the brain have different jobs, something that seems like a no-brainer today—no pun intended! Who knows what we’ll learn over the next century?
Regardless of how much there is left to discover, we can still put the knowledge we have today to good use. It doesn’t matter how intelligent or unintelligent you feel, your brain networks have incredible processing power that you can harness to help achieve your goals, and achieve the success you’ve always dreamed of!