Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm not surprised at all

Over at is a report that the brain doesn't work simply by firing synapses. I mention the link at because I like that site. They have a link to the original Caltech article.

I'm not surprised by this news at all. Here and there in my meandering thoughts you'll find a few that sort of dwell on this. The problem of simply mapping a group of signals to an individual memory cannot explain how we have such a large capacity for memory. It doesn't even come close to explaining Kim Peek's abilities. Mr Peek's abilities far and away outstrip our imaginings of how to store that much data in synapse activity alone. There had to be more to it and I'm betting this is merely a nice top view of a larger iceberg of information about the human brain.

If you can 'influence' the state of a set of synapses through chemical and electromagnetic properties that set may indeed have millions of states; all of which are valid and linked to other states. It would not be unreasonable to also think it may be problematic to measure those states accurately without influencing them as well.

Why do I think this is important? 

I think this new information is important because the efforts currently underway to mimic the mammalian brain synaptic constructs is doomed to fail. I'm sure we'll learn something important from such efforts, but the main lesson will be that this kind of mimicry will fail really spectacularly. You can assemble all the parts of a vehicle in many ways, not that many of them actually produce a useful vehicle.

If you arbitrarily say that a clump of neurons can have 1 billion synaptic states. Once you also allow electromagnetic and chemical signaling inputs the state table multiplies by magnitudes of order.

I'm also reasonably certain that the principle of 'failed system analysis' shows that we can see more of how things work when they're broken than when they are not. Take for instance the condition of 'depression' which is a prime example of something that seems to have a chemical based explanation. We use chemicals to attempt to alter synaptic activity. Some times it works, some times it doesn't and such chemicals can induce wild and dangerous undesired effects. I predict that we'll find out current chemical treatments for depression are much like pouring chlorine in the gas tank of the 10 year old family minivan because it seems to have a positive effect on some vehicles.

On a final note, in science fiction stories we've seen authors suggest sleeping arrangements which emit chemical vapors which help induce sleep and restful states as well as machinery which electromagnetically induces sleep states. Perhaps science fiction writers are still ahead of the game in some areas?

Of course we should prepare for the onslaught of claims that cell phone towers are causing brain damage all over again.

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