Arts & Entertainment


With Coffin Ed.

In a week where two AFL players were rubbed out for king hitting another player and Australia anointed a new world boxing champion, there were certainly mixed messages regarding pounding blows to the head. Amidst the outburst of sporting jingoism that surrounded Jeff Horn in Brisbane with a ticket tape parade and even a bear hug from Alan Jones, did anybody put in a good word for the human brain?

Boxing of course has long had its critics but they are quickly silenced during the euphoria that greets the crowning of our own world champ. Despite all the focus in recent years on coward punches and deaths caused by blows to the head, we cast all that aside when it comes to boxing. After all the bare naked fist is contained in a glove and there are rules which govern the contest. Nevertheless the eventual aim of the prize fight is to pummel the opponent’s head to the point where the brain finally says – “that’s it, I’m losing consciousness and I am going to shut down”. Boxing fans love a knockout!

We’ve all seen those simulations of the brain copping a punch to the head, where it flops around inside the skull like a jelly on a plate in an earthquake in Tokyo. Luckily we don’t actually see it during a prize fight and simply embrace the whole romance and history of boxing as the noble pugilistic art – that’s of course unless you are a neurosurgeon or somebody who regards the brain with all the awe and wonder it deserves.

A few weeks ago I was watching a TV program on Scott Flansburg, an American man who is widely known as the “human calculator” due to his ability to solve mathematical equations at an incredible speed – often faster than a normal human being could do with a calculator. Amongst his many such talents he can also be given any numerical date in history and tell you what day of the week it is, virtually instantaneously!

When his brain was scanned by neuroscientists they found that unlike most people whose mathematical calculations are restricted to a small part of the brain, Scott used his entire brain at lightning speed. Rather than actually juggle any numbers consciously he claims to almost immediately see the answers, as if the brain is working at a furious subconscious pace. Subjected to numerous scrutiny over the years there’s no doubt that he is a true marvel, one who graciously spends much of his time as an educator, inspiring children that mathematics can be fun.

Needless to say he won’t be stepping into the ring any time soon and he remains an incredible example, albeit a most unusual one, of what a wonderful instrument the brain is. Whilst nobody has yet appeared with the ability to match him, you would have to think that there is somebody out there with a similar phenomenal gift. Maybe that person is lurking here in Australia and should she or he suddenly materialize, the stage could be set for a World Title Fight.

Not with bloodied boxing gloves but simply with the power of the mind – two “human calculators” going cranium to cranium to see who is the fastest of them all. The event is unlikely to full Suncorp Stadium but should an Aussie champ triumph, would be there be a ticker tape parade and a bear hug from a shock jock?

It’s all totally fanciful but perhaps the human brain is deserving of a bigger fan base than it currently attracts. A bit more reverence for that big lump of grey matter might see less coward punches and a decline in the burgeoning ‘sport’ of mixed martial arts. Again given the human propensity to inflict pain on others and often enjoy that infliction as a spectator sport, it’s unlikely to occur. All we can hope for is that brain waves greatly outnumber brain snaps, be it Kings Cross on a Saturday night or Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear button!

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