Experiment: The Brain—Your Nimble Noggin

Would you rather have a computer or a brain in an emergency? Knock a robot off its legs, and you decide! Our brains are designed to process millions of bits of complex information, day in and day out, including split-second decisions to avoid an accident.

Let’s hit the slow motion button on a memorable moment in your life. Imagine the last time you almost fell on a slick floor. While your body movements may not have won an Oscar for special effects (no impossible backflips in cyberspace), something more amazing did happen. Your brain kept operating the seemingly impossible way our wise Creator designed it to perform every day.

Take a closer look at that near-fall—just before you sighed in relief from a crisis averted. In a millisecond, your body sent an SOS to your brain that it had lost balance, your feet shouted that they were sliding, your eyes scoured the room for something to grab, and then your hand responded to the signal zipping down from the brain. In fact, it probably took you longer to read that sentence than it did for your brain to avoid that tailbone-biter.

In other words, that wrinkly gray tissue in your head is fast. Super fast. Unlike computer technology, which people often tout for speed, the quickness of the brain leaves silicon in the dust. Computers accept a string of human commands and spit out results, but your brain deals deftly with millions of signals from all five senses every second, making innumerable conscious and unconscious decisions at the same time.

The brain processes the morning light coming into your eyes, family members’ excited voices hitting your eardrums, the sticky sensations on your fingers, the sweet flavor on your taste buds, and the pleasant cinnamon smell filling your nose. And that’s just in a single moment at the table, eating breakfast rolls.

But there’s more to your noggin than noshing on breakfast. Your brain knows how to respond quickly. When your senses say something needs to happen fast, your brain responds. You could say it zaps into action.

Your Nimble Noodle Network

Of everything God made in the universe, the human brain is easily one of the most impressive. Inside your head are around 100 billion microscopic cells called neurons. These neurons constantly “talk” to each other using chemical and electrical sparks that travel down a chain from one cell to the next, similar to children whispering down a line in a telephone game. Unlike children talking, however, your neural communication never stops. Your brain is always on and working, whether you are conscious of the chatter or not.

The signals make a great car race impersonation. When the message zooms from your foot up the spinal cord to your noggin, the information travels around 150 miles per hour (241 km/h). Not to be outdone, the message leaving your hand speeds along at more than 200 miles per hour (322 km/h).

All that racing around over short distances adds up quickly. It means you react fast. In most cases, a healthy brain can process what the five senses tell it and respond in 100–300 milliseconds. And if you encounter something really dangerous, like a hot stove, the signal doesn’t even have to go all the way to the brain—its extensions into the spinal cord can make some decisions automatically.

Think about it: you can react to danger in less than half a second. (While there’s no danger involved, you can test this brain speed in the experiment below.)

See For Yourself

Ruler Experiment

You’ll need to think fast for this experiment, and you’ll need a friend to help.


A ruler, a pencil, and a piece of paper to keep track of your results


Have your friend hold the ruler vertically so that the zero end points down toward the floor. Put your hand in a C shape around the bottom of the ruler. Get as close to it as you can without touching. This will allow you to catch the ruler when it falls.

Ask your friend to count from one to ten. At some point during the counting, he or she will drop the ruler.

Catch the ruler as fast as you can by pinching your fingers shut.

Write down the point where your fingers pinched the ruler.

Repeat the process several times.

Calculate the Results

To figure out your reaction time, use the following equation, where d is the distance the ruler falls in inches and t is your reaction time in seconds: t = 0.072 x √d.

  • At 2 inches (5 cm), your reaction time is around 100 milliseconds (0.1 seconds).
  • At 6 inches (15 cm), your reaction time is about 175 milliseconds.
  • At 7.7 inches (19.6 cm), your reaction time is about 200 milliseconds.
  • At 12 inches (30.5 cm) your reaction time is about 250 milliseconds (0.25 seconds).

Try This:

Try catching the ruler with the hand you don’t write with. In other words, if you’re left-handed, use your right hand to catch. Are your times different with that hand?

Turn on a TV or radio in the same room that you’re trying the experiment. How did it impact your reaction time?

Get a group of friends or family members to do the experiment. Plot the times on a graph. Does age make any difference? Do women do better than men?

Ask your friend to tell you ahead of time when the ruler will drop. Were you able to snatch the ruler faster?

So, the next time your neurons sizzle to keep you from danger, push the stop button (on your body, that is) and think about your amazing three-pound cerebrum. We humans are pretty clever designers, but nothing we make compares to the ingenuity God wired into our brains. To see His marvelous work, we just have to use our heads.

John UpChurch serves as the editor for Jesus.org and is a contributor to the Answers in Genesis website. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee with a BA in English.

Answers Magazine

July – September 2013

To say that the human brain is more amazing than a computer misses the point. We now know that it’s nothing like a computer— and far more powerful! In this issue of Answers you’ll learn why a computer will never match the human brain. Also, discover why the big bang is a theory in crisis, what the Bible says about women in combat, and much more!

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