Nearly all living creatures on this planet have one form or another of a nervous system that transmits sensory data to the creature's brain.

What's really interesting to me is that this data is transmitted with electronic signals. So, my question is if our bodies use electricity to power our nervous systems, then do we naturally generate electricity?

It would be fascinating if I could understand how we naturally harness this power. I can only imagine what leaps our species could make with bioelectric power generators and circuitry.


closed as off-topic by rek, L.Dutch Oct 29 '18 at 2:55

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  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "Data is transmitted with electronic signals": no it isn't. The nervous systems of living creatures on Earth work mainly with chemical neurotransmitters; the electric signals measured by electrocardiograms and encephalograms are side-effects. Even the propagation of nervous impulses along the axons of neurons is electrochemical. (This is why the speed of nervous impulses is so low, on the order of 20 meters/second at best; electric signals would travel very very much faster.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 28 '18 at 22:25

We do indeed generate electricity, though it is a tiny amount. The electrical energy available from neurons firing is somewhere around 85mW. There's plenty of power going around through the brain. The brain consumes 20W of power in the form of sugars, but most of it does not go to the electrical impulses.

For some points of reference, a USB device is allowed to draw up to 2500mW (2.5W), and that can go up to 10W with some negotiations. A hairdryer may consume 1000W and the Nisan Leaf comes with a 80,000W engine!

We generate electricity by ion pumps. These are small molecular structures on the surface of neurons which use energy (in the form of ATP) to create an electrical potential. If the neuron fires, this potential changes rapidly, propagating a tiny electric charge.

The power of the body is not in its electrical subsystem. The power of the body is in its ability to carry fuel (glucose) and oxidizer (oxygen) to all the cells in the body. If the body wants to transmit power, it uses these tools rather than electricity. Your muscles are stimulated by electrical impulses, but the brute lifting is done purely chemically.

We have looked at harnessing that bioelectric energy. There have been efforts to make blood sugar meters that are embedded under your skin without batteries. They rely on blood sugar and blood oxygen to react within a fuel-cell, generating the power to manage the meter!

  • $\begingroup$ Fascinating. I had no idea the body uses sugars to this extent. $\endgroup$ – Austin Trigloff Oct 28 '18 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinTrigloff Actually, if you want really fascinating, looking one step further is where it really goes nuts. Glucose has too much energy to use efficiently. You need to break it into smaller units to be effective, like getting change for a $20. You can make 38 molecules of ATP from one glucose molecule. ATP is the real powersource of our bodies. Once it's in the from of small bills *ahem* I mean ATP, we can do amazing things $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 29 '18 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ Or, if a more styalized viewpoint is more your kind. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 29 '18 at 6:10

According to this article our brain generates only 0.085 Watts. And about leaps. Suppose you have a modern processor and supply it with significantly more volts. Will the processor work faster? There is a thin area for overclocking but generally it will be destroyed by high voltage. I suppose the brain has the same problem. It just has a specific voltage and current with which it works, but it won't work with higher parameters.

And the human brain is currently a black box. No one knows how we do 1+1=2. So adding additional circuits does not really make sense.

I think the idea of Elon Musk of a direct interface of a human brain and a computer is much more promising than changing the brain itself. A direct interface allows us to be better at the following tasks:

  1. Perfect memory
  2. Fast mathematical computations
  3. Better remote communication. Communication may even be better than oral.
  4. Adding additional sensors (night vision, radiation measurements)

And the interface does not need to understand how the brain works. It only needs to be able to communicate with it.


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