Thursday, March 10, 2011

Care to Take a Walk Through Your Brain?

Then head to the American Museum of Natural History's latest special exhibit, Brain: The Inside Story, on through August 15, 2011.  Although the museum's general admission is actually only a "suggested donation," for this exhibit you'll have to pay full price. Entrance into the exhibit is $20 for adults and $11 for children (members get into special exhibitions for free), or you can purchase a museum ticket that includes this and/or other exhibits, such as the IMAX theater or the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

You will receive a timed-entry ticket for the exhibit, but you should still arrive early as lines will form regardless of entry time. Also, although we were told the exhibit would only take an hour to see, and we bought a ticket to a following IMAX screening of Sea Rex: Journey to a Prehistoric World, at the next available hour, I would suggest leaving, at minimum, an hour and a half for the Brain exhibit, as we were forced to skip over parts of it in order to make our IMAX show on time.

Upon beginning your journey into the Brain, you will walk through a larger-than-life, colorful fiber-optic neural pathway that will lead you to the interactive adventure awaiting inside. There, you will learn about memory, cognition, breathing and other functions controlled by the most complex organ in the body. You can peer into the brain activity of a dancer preparing for an audition, and learn how practice leads to fluidity, as it "creates more efficient neural pathways." (So, tell your mom that she was right all along, that practice really does make perfect, and you now know how to get to Carnegie Hall...).

Perhaps surprisingly to those who have never studied it, the average human brain is only three pounds, about the size of a cantaloupe. Yet, the brain is constantly changing and, as you proceed through the exhibit, you'll be invited to participate in perception tests, foreign language games, and other experiments designed to guide you further along the neural paths that lead to the exhibit's exit.

You'll learn about all five senses controlled by the brain, sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, and how they interact to collect information (and ferret out misinformation) about the world around you. Did you know that your brain runs on electricity? Or that different parts of your brain are stimulated by different activities such as listening to music, or telling a lie? How about that if all of the neurons in your brain were marbles, you would have enough marbles to fill the New York Public Library?

Relative to body size, humans have larger brains than any other animal, yet many of us do not know enough about this important organ that controls every minute of our waking, and our sleeping, life. You will have a fascinating time exploring these and other facts at the Brain exhibit. So, set aside an hour and a half, go to the American Museum of Natural History, and take a walk through your brain.

The American Museum of Natural History is located at 79th and Central Park West.

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