I promised a blog post about the human brain and a ‘science glitch’ in a science fiction novel I read recently…

(Did you think this was going to be about zombies?  Seriously?  *shakes head*)

Short explanation:  Part of the plot of this novel depended on the fact that one of the characters had, many years ago, perfected a drug to give humans a greatly increased lifespan, but not actual immortality, because it couldn’t cause brain cells to replicate indefinitely the way it did with all other cells of the body; after nine-hundred-plus years, the person would die anyway when their brain cells died.  According to the character who explains why this all happens, humans are born with all the brain cells they’re ever going to have, and once those grow too old, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the body is “young” and healthy.

But you know what they say about a little science…

I thought it was a neat idea, except 1) humans do get more brain cells than the ones they’re born with (Ever notice how a newborn’s head is smaller than an adult’s?  There’s a reason for that: an adult has a bigger brain, which means more brain cells than were present at birth), and 2) the lifespan of a human brain cell is one hundred twenty years, give or take, not almost a millennium.  If a fictional immortality drug allows humans to live hundreds of years by causing cellular regeneration, their brain cells have to regenerate, too.  (Otherwise you end up like the characters in that creepy old novel about a couple who ate carp brains to gain immortality after they noticed that the swans who ate the carp weren’t aging at all. They lived a really long time, but they slowly became mindless as their brains turned to mush.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t one of those bits of science trivia that I just happened to pick up somewhere for no apparent reason.  I researched this; I read up on it; I squirreled away every tidbit of information on the topic that I came across, because it’s relevant to my own writing.  (I’m sure that Grace’s mother still regrets mentioning in my presence that she’d read something in a scientific journal about how memory is thought to be stored chemically in brain cells and, because of that, replacement of old brain cells with new ones would result in gradual memory loss… I think my comment at the time was, “I love it when I find scientific justification for something I was going to do anyway.”)   Y’see, there’s a character in “that novel” who has (used to have, but he doesn’t know yet that it got fixed a while back) a problem with memory fade because of a natural replacing-brain-cells thing.


About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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6 Responses to Braaaaaiiiinnnnsssss…!

  1. Mei-Mei says:

    My solution for this kind of thing is to make the characters aliens so their physiology doesn’t have to conform to humans’…I’m only partially kidding.
    Seriously, though, it’s not that hard to put some research into your science. I refused to see Lucy after I saw that trailer where Morgan Freeman is like, “We only use 10% of our brains.” Just, no.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Making the characters some other species just means having to figure out the implications of THEIR physiology instead.

      The thing about humans only using 10% of their brains is sooooo outdated, but it keeps getting repeated by people who don’t know any better. The fact that those tests were done on people who were unconscious and thus using less of their brains than they’d have used when awake seems to get overlooked. (If you’re, y’know, NOT MOVING, naturally the parts of the brain used for movement aren’t going to be active. Likewise, the parts that are involved in conscious thought won’t be active if you’re in a drug-induced sleep state. Funny how that works…)


  2. I didn’t know the 120 years brain cell thing. That’s certainly interesting. I’ve often toyed with the idea of writing a story with injectable memories because all memory would have to be composed of a specific arrangement of atoms, no?

    Why them couldn’t you create “abstract of complex mathematics” or something more nefarious?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no idea where I first encountered the thing about brain cells living for about 120 years. Read that info sometime in the last years of the 20th century…

      If memories are stored chemically in brain cells, it makes sense that you could have “injectable memories” made of the same chemicals. I did read somewhere that memories are ‘taken apart’ when read, and that every time a specific memory is read, it gets copied and re-recorded. (I’m not explaining this well. Sorry. I don’t have the science jargon today.)

      “Why them couldn’t you create “abstract of complex mathematics” or something more nefarious?” I have no idea what you mean by this, but it sounds interesting. Could you elaborate?


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