Your Infinite Potential: Marvels of the Human Body

By on January 5, 2021

You are human. Made from carbon that was born in the heart of a dying star. That travelled light years through space. That was previously part of countless other lifeforms.

Maybe even alien lifeforms.

Those carbon atoms form the roughly 37.2 trillion cells that comprise the human body – although that’s only the current estimate. Every single one of those cells will replace itself within 7-10 years from now.

humans are stardust

You are not the matter that makes up your cells then, but the information they carry. The programming that transforms that star dust into living matter.

Most of those cells contains a perfect blueprint of your body: an identical genetic code stored within the nuclei. The most efficient form of data storage we know.

A single gram of DNA could potentially store 215 petabytes of information – that’s 215 million gigabytes.

But these cells don’t all act the same. Each cell knows how to behave according to its location in the human body thanks to “gene expression.” Different genes are “active” at different locations in the body allowing bone cells to act like bone cells and brain cells to act like brain cells.

Genetic differences in metabolism

Allowing us to negotiate with our genetic destiny.

Any two people share roughly 99.9% of the same genetic code. But that small .1% difference is enough to account for more than three million differences.

After all, around 50% of the human genome is identical to that of a banana.

So different are we, that there are muscles that only exist in a portion of a population. 20% of the population lack the triangular abdominal muscles called the pyramidalis for example – and there are many more.

Human muscles

Each of us carry mutations that make us entirely unique. Unprecedented. We are all X-Men. And in rare cases, these differences can have far-reaching consequences.

Rare individuals born with mutations on both MSTN genes can build up to 100% more muscle than average humans.

What is your unique variation?

And yet, so related are we that if you go back to between 5,300 and 2,200BC, you reach the “genetic isopoint.” A time in history where every individual on the planet today shares the exact same ancestors.

We are at least 50th cousins.

I know this because every person on the planet is necessarily that related. That number drops radically on average when you consider only people from your same country, or county.

We are at least 50th cousins.

It doesn’t bear thinking about how related you probably are to your romantic partners.

You may even be carrying relatives in your own body. Some people, called “chimera,” carry more than one set of DNA. This can happen when a twin is absorbed by its sibling’s embryo in the womb.

Go back much further and we find we are related to every animal on the planet. We all come from LUCA: the Last Universal Common Ancestor that emerged 4 billion years ago.

Or do we?

LUCA Last Universal Common Ancestor

There are those out there that believe there may be an entirely different species living on this planet that does not share our genetic heritage. A “shadow biosphere” that could be hiding in the Earth’s most inhospitable places – perhaps even its magma. If this were ever discovered to be true, that lifeform would be just as different from us as an extra-terrestrial lifeform.

The Human Brain

You are human. With a brain comprised of over 100 billion brain cells, called “neurons,” and 125 trillion synapses in the cerebral cortex alone. That’s more than 1,500 times the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

It’s no wonder that the human brain is hailed as the “most complex known object in the universe.” And it sits inside your skull.

Human Brain

Be careful with it.

We know now that the human brain has a nearly unlimited ability to change and adapt in response to environmental cues. So plastic is the human brain, in fact, that were you to lose an entire half of your brain in what’s known as a hemispherectomy, the remaining half would adapt to take on the jobs of the missing portion.

Hemispherectomy patients very often retain the vast majority of their cognitive functions. With just half their brain.

Were you to lose your sight, you could train your hearing to the extent that you may develop “echo-location.” That means you can navigate with sonar by using clicking noises. Like a bat.

Individuals that have learned this ability can engage in complex activities like riding bikes and playing football – without their vision.

The human brain is so powerful, that gifted individuals through history have developed equations so accurate as to predict the shape of the universe at any point in time.

Shape of the universe

In fact, we all have this ability to comprehend the unfathomable. And we can do it while taking a stroll.

We have no idea how the brain generates our experience of consciousness.

Or even, truly, how to define consciousness at all.

We have no idea if we truly possess free-will, or if it is in fact just an illusion.

The Human SuperOrganism

You are human. A collaboration. Not a single organism, but a “superorganism” made from countless other species according to our best estimates. Those species are the bacteria that live inside our bodies and perform crucial symbiotic roles.

Human superorganism

They produce neurochemicals and hormones to alter mood. They break down food. They battle among themselves in order to – we hope – fend off harmful invaders and keep us in constant balance.

You are human. A collaboration.

If bacteria control our mood, how much of our personality is truly the result of a single entity?

See also: Superorganism: Microbiome Brain, Performance, and Health Effects

Even the mitochondria that reside inside our cells – that are considered a much a part of us as our very bones – are in fact the evolved form of an entirely separate alphaproteobacteria that lived over 3.5 billion years ago.

And so it is, that our mitochondria have their own, entirely different set of DNA.

Human Movement

You are a human. Capable of complex, dynamic, and powerful movement. A member of a species that is able to mimic nearly every other species on the planet.

That movement is infinitely more complex than we inherently recognize.

When you send a signal to your bicep, it will innervate 774 motor units, delivering the precise amount of force required to execute the movement.

Human movement

Except we are only ever able to engage a fraction of these muscle fibres at a time. Estimates suggest that even trained athletes only ever utilize 50% of their motor units and those are mostly the smaller, less powerful kind.

See also: Interoception and Physical Intelligence: Control Your Physiology

This restraint mechanism exists for self-preservation. But were we able to contract every fibre at once, we would be able to leap high into the air. Stories of “crisis strength” suggest we gain this ability in response to a dire need, giving rise to urban myths of Mothers raising cars off the ground to save their children.

Or Viking Berserker warriors that could turn the tides of war single handedly.

As it is, a trained boxer is capable of delivering around 5,000 newtons of force. This relies on a specific network of muscle activation called the serape effect and is equal to half the force that a one-ton car exerts on the ground.

The boxer is able to contract only the required muscles and relax those antagonist muscle groups, resulting in powerful and efficient movement.

Powerful Human Movement

A highly trained martial artist can throw kicks with over 9,000 newtons of force. A baseball pitcher can throw a ball at over 100 miles per hour.

Human Senses

You are human. Capable of reading and interpreting the changing environment around you. With many more than just five senses.

But perhaps we shouldn’t categorize our senses at all?

Muscles are not just machines used for force generation. Muscles are secretory organs that release complex chemicals to alter countless other processes throughout the body. And they are sensory organs: that provide us with feedback about the world around us through muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs.

Every part of your body is infinitely more complex than it appears at first pass.

Human senses

We combine this with information from our other senses: our sight and sense of balance (equilibrioception) in order to generate a mental model of our entire body and where it is in space.

This tells us precisely how much force we need to generate on each joint to stabilize or mobilize and achieve the desired outcome.

This is achieved with the help of fascia: a complex cat-suit of connective tissue that spans the entire body and even enters and fills the muscles themselves. This fascia, observed by Leonardo DaVinci, was discarded as an inert film wrap until recent studies revealed it to be much more: a substance that contains its own muscle cells and nerves and that can even help to convey force from one muscle to another across vast distances.

Human Fascia

All this information forms our perceptual motor landscape. This is not formed of individual senses but rather a coalescence of data from multiple senses that together create an impressionistic picture of the world around us. This is multisensory integration.

This is not the truth but the lie we need to believe in order to enhance our chances of survival.

See also: The Truth About Fascia

And in fact it is delayed by the time it takes for the last signal to reach our brain such that an artificial “snapshot” can be created by combining that information into a single unit of “now” – a psychological present. Scientists believe that this subjective “now” in fact lasts around 2-3 seconds and is built from countless unconscious “nows,” only some of which we will become aware of.

This is not the truth but the lie we need to believe.

Neuroscientist now use mathematical models to better understand the brain. Many describe the brain as a Bayesian prediction machine: a system designed to anticipate changes in the world around us. To predict the most likely outcomes and to thus allow us to move in the most useful way.

Complex human machine

A batter cannot react to a baseball being thrown at them. They can only anticipate that movement based on telegraphing and other minute cues and countless prior experiences – of trial and error.

Consider that the smartest AIs created by humans are capable of beating chess masters but our best robots can’t even come close to matching a toddler in a task as simple as picking up an orange.

Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert believes the brain exists for movement. And proponents of embodied cognition believe that without a physical experience of the world around us, we would be unable to internalize concepts and ideas – unable to think.

Adaptable Humans

You are human. An adaptoid. Mutable. Constantly changing.

Human bones that appear so rigid are in fact “banks” for minerals that are constantly broken down and reabsorbed.

Infinite human potential

So plastic is the brain that our life experience even changes the way we perceive the world around us and handle the process of thought. Wrestlers, are more inclined to use their brains’ motor regions when performing tasks such as mentally rotating 3D objects.

We can grow new capillaries (blood vessels) to supply often-used muscles with more blood. This can increase that muscle plasticity. And our fascia can remodel itself in response to common patterns of movement.

We can even change the expression of our DNA. Altering which genetic code is active and which is dormant, resulting in profound changes that we can even pass on to our offspring.

Shaped by the environment

Thanks to this changeability, we are shaped by our environments. Our limitless potential is forged into something powerful and concrete as we learn to move optimally through space and time.

This change is arranged around the interplay of organism, intent, and environment.

We crave this learning process. We are information processing machines. We have dopamine pathways built into us that make us yearn for challenge, stimulation, and growth.

That is what play is!

The difference? Humans are the only species on the planet that can change their own environments to this extent.

You are human. You are limitless.

When we choose to train, we change that environment to elicit the changes we want. To tap into more of that unlimited possibility.

Many humans have accomplished incredible things this way. Things that are seemingly impossible.

You are human. You are limitless.

Humanity

Remember that when things seem tough. Your entire body is built to adapt and thrive in the hardest of times. You are capable of incredible things. You are made from primordial matter born in the heart of a dying star. You got this.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

2 Comments

  1. Absolutely beautifully written man, I’d say this is your best post.

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