Thanks to recent advances in medical technologies, the human brain has become one of the great frontiers of modern science. Brain scanning devices, artificial intelligence networks, and experimental wearables are allowing qualified scientists and amateur “biohackers” alike to begin tampering with the mysteries of the human mind and unlocking hidden human cognitive potential. We might soon find ourselves in a future where the human brain itself becomes just another dataset to be manipulated, uploaded, and stored like any other digital data.
It turns out, though, that the human body might be home to another ‘brain’ entirely, one involved with one of the most important things we do each day. Well, each day for many of us, anyway. Eat your fiber, folks. According to a press release from neuroscientists at Flinders University in Adelaide, the human gastrointestinal tract houses a system of millions of neurons which control the rhythmic muscle contractions which help waste travel through the digestive system.
Nick Spencer, one of the scientists behind the study of this “second brain” published in The Journal of Neuroscience, says “these findings identify a previously unknown pattern of neuronal activity in the peripheral nervous system," making the gastrointestinal tract "the only internal organ with its own complete nervous system that can operate totally independently of the brain and/or spinal cord." Spencer and his colleagues even suggesting that this “second brain” might be actually the “first” human brain because it likely evolved before the central nervous system. That is, humans were able to produce bowel movements long before we were able to think about producing bowel movements.
The enteric nervous system, as the “second brain” is known, has been known to science for some time, but this study is the first to identify this neuronal activity. While far from discovering an actual second brain, this research does reveal that there are still far more mysteries hiding within the human body and mind than we likely realize. What secrets will the neuroscientists of the future be able to unlock?