Our brains are complex. Trying to keep track of everything happening there would be like trying to watch an entire city, and that’s the amount going on in each brain all the time. This site simplifies all that and shows brain function as stories about the superheroes who might live in a city like that.
These are some ways Brain City Heroes introduces the principles of real science in the brain, with links to start learning more.
Like describing events in a city, the basis of describing activities in the brain comes down to who’s doing what and where — which in these stories becomes “chemicals causing chain reactions in different brain regions.”
There are separate pages for each of the main heroes — Ace Telcholine, Dopa Mean, Nora Drenaline and Sera Tonin. Each one represents a different signaling chemical and acts out the important jobs they do in the brain.
There are many more brain chemicals that will be showing up as they become important to the stories.
Epi A. Drenaline shows up with a burst of intensity in Stage Fright. He’s based on epinephrine (also called adrenaline), a more extreme “cousin” of Nora’s. He creates focus and alertness, like his cousin, but also increases heart rate and helps trigger fight-or-flight levels of tension.
A signaling chemical’s main job in the brain is to help decide whether traffic can cross the local “intersection.”
See, each block of Brain city is a single brain cell. At the end each cell’s axon (roads, in the story) there’s an intersection where signals pass from one cell to the next by causing or preventing a green light, called an action potential.
In the stories, the heroes fly around in their helicopter, ironically called Action Potential, which lets them skip the traffic lights completely. That’s because the four “hero” chemicals are special. Each of them can spread from small areas in the brain between the cells, instead of along the “roads,” to affect huge regions of the brain in a single burst.
The heroes do take the surface roads too sometimes, of course. That’s how they affect traffic, but they can do both at the same time. Really, there aren’t just one of any of these chemicals in the brain, like the characters in the story. There are billions of these molecules, constantly performing different functions in different parts of the brain.
Like real city blocks, every cell is a bit different, but different neighborhoods are known for different kinds of cells. Each brain region has special arrangements of cells and connections to other regions that create a hardwired function.
The network of roads define the memory neighborhoods of Brain City, just like the networks of brain cells rearrange to store memories in your head.
Mix-dela Radio represents the amygdala, which processes signals from all around the brain and sends out an emotional state for everyone to tune into and for the higher functions to interpret. There are two of these regions in the brain, but the one in the right half of the brain is more focused on finding reasons to panic, which is why Stage Fright is focused on Mix-dela Radio “East.”
Broca’s area is a real place, which helps find the relationships between all the words the brain takes in, like the ones you’re reading now. That helps the brain process language, along with some other regions.
Sensetown is Brain City’s name for the thalamus, a big area in the center of the brain that helps carry sense and movement information. This area is the first stop for most sensory information in the brain, with nerves directly from each of the eyes and each of the nostrils. That makes it the busiest neighborhood of brain city, with the most to experience.
The city government in these stories is the depiction of conscious thought. Nobody’s completely sure how consciousness works, but it involves cooperation of lots of different “departments” working together. It issues orders, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the brain will immediately obey.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. This page will expand as the stories start to include more regions and characters.
Ultimately, each new piece of information learned seems to hint at even deeper levels of complexity to the brain. Scientists have discovered all these details of how our brains work, but even they still have so much left to discover.