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Another good brain is wasted

The brain. What an amazing organ. Only three pounds or so in an adult, but containing millions of cells that create and transmit chemicals and electrical impulses controlling virtually everything we do. Every movement and thought. Every emotion. Our senses of hunger, thirst, smell, sight. It was that mere three pounds of gray and white matter in his skull that led Edison to create the phonograph, the light bulb, and thousands of other devices we now take for granted.

From Einstein's three pounds of brain came thoughts that brought about the atomic age and opened new concepts of the universe.

The brains of Mozart and Beethoven brought forth sounds that today, centuries after they died, still move audiences to joy and tears.

The brain of Shakespeare probed man's capacity for good and evil. The brain of Da Vinci conceived of man flying four centuries before the brains of the Wright Brothers made it reality.

But ask yourself: When was the last time you thought about your brain? Or anyone else's brain, for that matter? Not lately, I'll wager.

And I'm as guilty as anyone. But just the other night I found myself pondering the amazing workings of this most incredible of organs.

It was when a blizzard hit Chicago. Almost a foot of snow just in time for evening rush hour. And there I was, behind the wheel of my car, waiting for the light to turn from red to green, so I could continue my slow homeward journey.

As I waited, I saw a car creep into the intersection, then stop directly in my path. The person driving that car stopped because traffic ahead ahead of her was jammed for blocks. She should have known that would happen. But she moved into the intersection anyway, then just sat there.

The light changed. Now it was my turn to go forward. But I couldn't. The man next to me couldn't. The dozens of people behind us couldn't. We just sat because the woman and her car blocked our way.

That's when I began thinking about the incredible human brain. Einstein's equation: energy equals mass times the velocity of light squared. Edison searching the world for a filament that would light our homes and streets. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Popeil's Pocket Fisherman.

But there sat this creature, blessed with a three-pound brain mass and those millions of cells. Yet she was incapable of a simple thought: "If I put my foot on the gas and creep a few more yards, I'll stop and when the light changes those people on my left won't get past me."

The light changed again. And again. But she couldn't move. That was her bad luck, but why should she make her bad luck my bad luck? And the bad luck of dozens behind me?

It occurred to me that her brain's problem might be a lack of information. Input, as the computer people call it. I decided to give her some input.

I stepped out of my car and bellowed: "Lady, you know what you are? You are a (Editor's note: On rare occasions, Royko uses language that isn't appropriate for a family newspaper. So we have removed it. But you can use your imagination.)."

Because I have a loud voice, she heard every word. And her jaw dropped. A good sign. It meant the brain cells that receive and interpret crude, vile, obscene language were functioning. So were the brain cells that make jaws drop.

The driver on my right honked his horn. He waved and gave me a thumb's up gesture, an indication that his three-pound cerebral mass was in good working order.

Eventually, the woman moved on. And as her wheels spun, she turned and stuck out her tongue. How disappointing. It meant that my input had been rejected and, when the opportunity arose, she'd block another intersection.

Nevertheless, I'm still amazed at the workings of the human brain. And someday science will figure out why brains are wasted on so many damn fools.

Chicago Tribune