Richard F. Taflinger, PhD

Interlude I:

Introduction to Gathering Information

Before it is possible to think and communicate about anything, you must gather information. Without information, you have nothing to think about and nothing to say. This information is input to the brain in which it is stored and from which it is retrieved.

Before discussing where the input comes from and how it is stored and retrieved, let's take a look at where these events take place -- the brain.


Thinking is done in the brain, that incredibly complex mass of cells behind your eyes and between your ears. Anatomically the brain is sets of nerve endings and chemical emitters and receptors, and functions through chemical and electrical discharges.

All animals have something that functions as a brain, be it a small nerve ganglion in a mayfly or the 20 pound organ in a blue whale. The average human brain weighs a bit under three pounds.

If all animals have brains, why are humans different? Why are humans the only ones (so far as we can tell) that think?

One theory looks at the brain mass/body mass ratio. The brain does more than think; it is responsible for the proper functioning of the entire body. The brain controls breathing, body temperature, heart beat, walking, blinking, all those aspects ofstaying alive that don't need conscious control. In general, the housekeeping of the body. The brain/body ratio theory basically says that the lower the ratio of brain mass to body mass, the more of the brain that must be devoted to housekeeping, although there is a certain minimum brain mass required for even simple housekeeping (for example, the African pygmy shrew has a brain/body ratio approximately equal to human beings (1:.02); few would ascribe to it equal intelligence). It would seem that any brain left over after housekeeping chores have been taken care of could be devoted to other things. Like thinking.

Of all the animals on Earth at present, the animal with the greatest brain/body mass ratio is the human being. The average human (150 pound body, 3 pound brain) has a ratio of approximately 1:.02 (for each pound of body mass there is .02 pounds of brain mass). The average dolphin has a ratio of about 1:.00825 (the blue whale mentioned above has a ratio of about 1:.000165). The two highest ratios in the animal kingdom are the human and the dolphin (by comparison, the wolf, a very intelligent canine, has a ratio of about 1:.00156).

Let us assume that the wolf requires its entire brain for housekeeping (a totally unfounded and, to me, absurd assumption). If this is the case, then the human brain has left over, after housekeeping, nearly 13 times thebrain mass the wolf has that can be devoted to thinking.

Let's try an animal further down on the scale in terms of both brain/body ratio and perception of ability to think. Making the same comparison as human and wolf between a human and an alligator (ratio approximately 1:.000072), an animal not usually considered extremely bright, then the human has 278 times the brain mass that can be devoted to thinking. With that much capacity left over after housekeeping the human brain can devote itself to other pursuits. Those other pursuits are called thinking.

To carry out the housekeeping functions of the brain, it must have input from the world outside the body it is keeping. It must know about cold or heat, it must know about light or darkness, it must know about hunger, thirst, or satiety. The brain must adjust the body to fit the conditions. For example, if the air temperature drops, the body converts more fat to energy to maintain body temperature. If the body is exerting itself, it needs more oxygen to keep the muscles functioning; the lungs automatically begin working faster and inhaling deeper to increase the amount of oxygen and the heart speeds up to deliver more fresh blood and thus more oxygen to the muscles. To stand on two legs requires balance which requires constant small adjustments of muscle tension and body position. All of the above is accomplished without conscious control. You do not have to think about speeding up your heart or adjusting each individual muscle to avoid falling over. These are housekeeping functions and you can ignore them. However, as shown above, housekeeping is not the only thing the human brain is capable of or does.

To conceive, imagine, ideate, to think, also requires input from the world around the brain. Without that input, there is nothing about which to think.


The information you get in order to think about anything comes in in two ways. The first is somatic input, the second extrasomatic. Somatic (which translates as "of the body") input is that which you gather through your own senses. Chapter 1 discusses this way of gathering information.

Extrasomatic ("out of the body") input is what you get from any source other than your own senses. Extrasomatic input can be further divided into personal and nonpersonal input. Personal input is that which you get from your family, culture and/or society. Nonpersonal is that which comes from research and the various media (books, newspapers, television, radio, etc.). Extrasomatic input will be discussed in Chapters 2 and 3.

Go To Chapter One: Somatic Input of Information

Go Table of Contents

Return to Home Page

You can reach me by e-mail at: richt@turbonet.com

This page was created by Richard F. Taflinger. Thus, all errors, bad links, and even worse style are entirely his fault.

Copyright © 1996, 2011 Richard F. Taflinger.
This and all other pages created by and containing the original work of Richard F. Taflinger are copyrighted, and are thus subject to fair use policies, and may not be copied, in whole or in part, without express written permission of the author richt@turbonet.com

The information provided on this and other pages by me, Richard F. Taflinger (richt@turbonet.com), is under my own personal responsibility and not that of Washington State University or the Edward R. Murrow School o f Communication. Similarly, any opinions expressed are my own and are in no way to be taken as those of WSU or ERMSC.

In addition,
I, Richard F. Taflinger, accept no responsibility for WSU or ERMSC material or policies. Statements issued on behalf of Washington State University are in no way to be taken as reflecting my own opinions or those of any other individual. Nor do I take responsibility for the contents of any Web Pages listed here other than my own.