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Introduction The Frontal Lobe Neurons The Limbic System Brain Anatomy and Function Final Thoughts The Senses - Vision Philosophical Principles The Senses - Hearing The Binding Problem Conclusion The Senses - Touch Brains and Computers The Senses - Taste and Smell Determinism And Free-Will
It's All In The Head
ABSTRACT: The paper covers the basic facts about the human brain. It begins by explaining what neurons are and how they work, followed by an overview of the anatomy and function of the brain. It starts with the senses, beginning with vision, followed by hearing, touch, smell, and finally taste. The frontal lobe is then examined followed by the limbic system. Following this overview, some philosophical implications are considered. First, the binding problem is explored, followed by a comparison of the brain to computers. The issue of determinism and free-will is then touched on followed by a consideration of the perceivable and knowable world being only a product of the mind.
If we were to categorize the subject matter of this website, it would fall under the philosophy of mind. However, any philosophy worth its salt should not conflict with science. It is even better if this philosophy, not only avoids conflict with, but is rooted in science. The purpose of this paper is to outline the thick scientific soil that the central theory of this website - that is, MM-Theory - is indeed rooted in. As a philosophy of mind, these scientific grounds ought to be, and are, none other than the neurosciences. Therefore, in this paper, we will cover the extraordinary breadth of neurological facts that the past century has given us. And what a breadth it is - too vast to touch on every minute detail. Therefore, as much as we will strive to exhaust the plethora of neurological facts, what we will have to satisfy ourselves with are the basics. There are plenty of textbooks and articles that can afford to devote more attention to the richer details, and if the reader is interested in learning more, these sources are readily available. We will begin by looking at the neuron - the basic cell that the brain, and any nervous system an organism may have, is built with. We will then look at the brain piece by piece. These pieces are the major systems that the brain is composed of, systems that work together to make the brain a fully functional thinking device. We will examine the structure of these pieces as well as their functions as they relate to our perceptions, experiences, and behavior. After covering these neurological facts, we will switch gears and examine some philosophical implications. This will serve to bridge the gap between the scientific foundation of MM-Theory, and the theory itself. This philosophy will be nothing new as it has been debated for centuries, but it is a crucial stepping stone for the reader if he/she is to understand the background from which this website comes. With all the above under our belts, we will be in the perfect position to present MM-Theory, and so without further ado, let's learn about the brain.
The neuron is the main cell of the brain and nervous system. Although it is not the only type of cell making up the brain, it is central to the proper functioning of the brain as an information processing organ. Neurons are unique among the cells of the body in that their main function is to transmit chemical and electric signals to each other as a means of processing information. Each neuron is like a wire that can carry an electric current. The brain and nervous system, therefore, are to the body as an electrical system is to a machine. Its role is to "bring life" to the machine, animating it as it were. The brain in particular also serves as the body's computer so to speak. The senses provide the input signals that the brain processes in order to compute what's in the environment and how to react to it. The output signals, therefore, determine how the brain and nervous system control the rest of the body. All these signals are relayed from one area to another by the interconnections of the billions of neurons that constitute this entire system.
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Figure 1: Neuron Anatomy There are between 50 to 100 billion neurons in the brain. Their structure looks very much like a tree as shown in figure 1. The axon is like the trunk, the dendrites are like branches, and the axon terminals are like roots. This structure makes for an efficient medium through which electric charge can flow. The electric signal that flows down the axon and dendrites is more of a quick impulse than a steady current. It is referred to by neuroscientists as an action potential, and when it occurs, we say that the neuron "fires". The action potential travels from the cell body towards the axon terminals. These terminals usually connect to the dendrites of other neurons but sometimes to their axons or cell bodies. One neuron can have up to 10 thousand connections like this. It is these connections that allow electric impulses to travel from one neuron to another. Although these connections are firmly in place, most neurons don't actually make physical contact with each other. There is a gap on the order of about 20 nanometers between the synapses (the ends of the axon terminals) and the adjacent neuron. When an action potential reaches the synapse, chemicals called neurotransmitters are released into the synaptic gap as it is called. These neurotransmitters find their way across the gap and bind to the other neuron at what are called receptor sites or just receptors. These are tiny mechanisms on the membrane of the recipient neuron whose function is to convert the chemical signal (the neurotransmitter) back to an electric signal that travels down the neuron's length.
There are many kinds of neurotransmitters and receptors. Different parts of the brain release different kinds of neurotransmitters and have different receptors for receiving them. However, not all neurotransmitters transmit the signal. Some prevent the recipient neuron from firing. These neurotransmitters are called inhibitory whereas neurotransmitters that allow the signal to be passed on are called excitatory. Because synapses don't have more than one type of neurotransmitter, we usually refer to the synapse itself as inhibitory or excitatory. Some drugs interfere with the brain by binding to specific receptors. Some of these drugs mimic excitatory neurotransmitters while others mimic inhibitory ones. Other drugs chemically react with neurotransmitters such that they can no longer bind to the receptors, while still others block reuptake, the process by which neurotransmitters are reabsorbed into the original neuron.
But even if a synapse is excitatory, this is not always enough to cause an action potential in the recipient neuron. In order for the recipient neuron to fire, it needs to receive a critical amount of electric current flowing into the cell body. This is known as the cell's threshold. The threshold is usually reached by summing up the amount of electric current from several synaptic connections, whereupon the neuron fires.
The action potential is made possible by an exchange of positively charged ions across the cell's membrane. When the cell is at rest, the exterior is coated with sodium ions (Na+) and the interior contains potassium ions (K+). Although the potassium ions are positively charged, there are other negatively charged ions within the cell, and the overall charge on the inside is negative (about -70mV). What happens when an action potential begins is that sodium channels on the membrane open up allowing Na+ to flow into the cell. The interior becomes more and more positively charged until it reaches around +30mV. Thereupon, potassium channels open, allowing K+ to flow out of the cell. The charge inside the cell drops again and shoots slightly passed -70mV. This process occurs in a chain reaction as sodium and potassium channels open successively along the length of the axon. This constitutes the electric signal. As the signal travels away from a particular channel, the amount of Na + on the exterior and K+ on the interior return to their resting levels. The neuron cannot fire again until this resting level has been restored (usually after 1 millisecond). Neurons form connections with each other in two ways: 1) When the brain is developing, neurons branch out, extending their dendrites and axon terminals, and make contact with each other. If these connections are found to be useful, they stick - otherwise, they atrophy. This process generally does not continue after the brain is fully developed. 2) Receptors in the synaptic gap increase or decrease in quantity. A neural connection can be fortified by increasing the number of receptors for an excitatory synapse. It can be weakened by decreasing the number of receptors. At an inhibitory site, increasing the number of receptors will make the synapse a more effective inhibitor of the recipient neuron. Decreasing them will make it a less effective inhibitor. This process occurs during the brain's development and after. A single connection can span from one end of the brain to the other - axons can be several inches long, the longest in the human body being roughly one meter.
A Different Kind of Electric Current
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One approach neuroscientists take to studying the brain is to see what parts of the brain become active when the subject is exposed to a certain stimulus. For example, a subject might be shown a set of moving spots on a computer screen while an fMRI machine scans their brain to see what parts are active. In this way, neuroscientists can identify specific parts of the brain as serving a specific function. In the example of moving spots, certain areas in the parietal cortex might "light up" as they say. Therefore, these areas are recognized as "motion detectors". Other areas have been discovered for detecting many different kinds of stimuli - as well as internal mental states such as thinking and feeling emotion - and a term often used to refer to these specific areas is "modules". A module is a network of neurons that responds to a specific stimulus such as color, human voices, temperature changes, pin pricks on a certain part of the body, and so on. We will be borrowing this term for the majority of this website - with a few slight modifications. First, we will call it a "MOD" for short. Second, we will generalize MODs as neural networks that perform any function whatsoever - not just responding to external sensory stimuli. So for example, the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain that has little to do with sensory stimuli, is a MOD whose function it is to help in the formation of long term memories.
Definition: MOD A MOD (short for module) is a network of neurons.
MODs need not be confined to one small area of the brain. They are simply networks of neurons, and therefore can be spread out throughout a wide area. For example, a hypothetical MOD could be composed of only four neurons - one in the frontal lobe, one in the limbic system, one in the right temporal lobe, and one in the medulla - and so long as their dendrites and axon terminals were connected, they would be a genuine MOD. This also means there could be several thousands of MODs taking up the same volume of space in the brain. Also, a MOD could be composed of several smaller MODs. For example, the occipital lobe could be thought of as a MOD for vision, and it would be composed of smaller MODs for detecting lines, color, motion, etc. If one wanted to treat the entire brain as one big MOD, he/she would not be mistaken. Furthermore, a MOD need not be found in a brain or a nervous system at all. Of course, this only makes sense in principle - you will never find a MOD anywhere else but in brains and nervous systems. But suppose, just for the sake of argument, we could make a MOD. Suppose, hypothetically, we had a tool kit with a box full of neurons and all the trinkets the avid neural engineer needs to build a MOD. All we need to do is sketch out a customized design for a MOD, like in the image above, figure out how many neurons we need and in what arrangement they are to be put together, and go to work. These neurons can be put together any which way we like, and the resulting structure will be a MOD by our definition. As you can see from figure 2, these MODs might end up looking like the brains from a strange alien species .
Figure 2: Possible MOD designs built from the neurological tool kit. But why contemplate such a silly scenario? The concept of a MOD is very dominant throughout this website, and it should be understood in as general a context as possible. The key insight in the above scenario, as fanciful as it is, is that a MOD is really any arrangement of interconnections between neurons, even ones that don't exist. We will indeed be considering MODs that don't exist, and we will be asking what kind of mental experiences an organism could have with such a MOD. It is this most general scope in which we ought to contextualize the idea of MODs. Without doing so, the idea of MODs will be useless to the rest of this website. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. A much more informative way of thinking about MODs, for our current purposes, is to consider the major ones that do exist. Therefore, we turn to the brain, an integrated system of MODs working together to bring about our conscious experiences. Let's now look at the anatomy of the brain as a system of MODs, touching on one at a time.
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Brain Anatomy and Function
Figure 3a: The hind-, mid-, and forebrains.
Figure 3b: Left and right hemispheres.
Figure 3c: The 4 lobes of the brain.
There are three major structures that make up the brain: the hindbrain, the midbrain, and the forebrain (figure 3a). Along with the spinal cord, the hindbrain is composed of the medulla, pons, and cerebellum. The medulla and pons control autonomic body functions such as heartbeat and breathing. In addition, the medulla also controls certain reflexes such as coughing, sneezing, and vomiting. The primary role of the cerebellum is to coordinate bodily movement with gait and vision. The main structure in the midbrain is the tectum, which processes visual and auditory information and also controls eye movements. The forebrain consists of two major components: the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. Each one of these performs a wide variety of functions, many of which are interdependent. One way to differentiate between them would be to describe the limbic system as carrying out more primitive functions whereas the cerebral cortex carries out more advanced or "human" functions. In other words, the limbic system is usually associated with the fight/flight responses, sexual arousal, simple emotional reactions, memory formation, learning and conditioning, and so on, whereas the cerebral cortex is usually associated with more intellectual and social tasks. The cerebral cortex is also involved in processing complex sensory information and initiating voluntary actions. These two structures will be of primary interest in the remainder of this paper, and so we will examine them in more detail, starting with the cerebral cortex.
Right & Left Brains
The two most convenient ways to partition the cerebral cortex are by hemisphere and by lobe. The two hemispheres are known as the "left brain" and "right brain" (figure 3b). The left brain carries out tasks related to logic, fine detail, language, math, and scientific thinking. The right brain carries out tasks related to creativity, global perspectives, music, emotional perspectives, and spatial visualization. The two hemispheres communicate via the corpus callosum, a thick bridge of neural fibers that allow information to be exchanged. The four lobes of the brain (figure 3c) are the occipital lobe (at the back), the temporal lobes (one on each side), the parietal lobe (above the occipital lobe), and the frontal lobe (in the front). The occipital lobe is exclusively devoted to visual processing. The temporal lobes carry out auditory processing as well as higher visual processing such as object and facial recognition. The parietal lobe is involved in processing the visual perception of motion, math, and language comprehension. The frontal lobe is involved in problem solving and planning, as well as social behavior including speech. It is also involved in processing tactile sensations and motor control. Out of all these lobes, the occipital is the most thoroughly understood - therefore, this is where we will begin delving into the details.
The Senses - Vision
The Visual System
Figure 4: The eye and retina.
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Light enters the eye through the lens. The lens refracts the light such that the image entering the eye gets inverted. The inverted image is then projected onto the retina at the back of the eye. The retina consists of two receptor types: cone cells and rod cells. Rod cells, or "rods" for short, respond to light at low amplitude (dim light). They are the cells that allow us to see in the dark. Cones, on the other hand, respond to light at higher amplitudes, and can be classified into three types characterized by the wavelength of light they respond to: 420 nm (red), 530 nm (green), and 560 nm (blue). Incidentally, rods don't differentiate between colors, which is why, in the dark, we only see shades of gray. When the rods and cones respond to light, they initiate an electric signal that travels down the optic nerve towards the brain. All this can be seen above in figure 4.
Before these signals reach the occipital lobe, they undergo filtering in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). Only about 40% of the signals entering the LGN from the eyes make it through to the cortex. The rest are filtered out as "noise". The LGN also receives signals from the cortex. The LGN is divisible into a left side and a right side, and each side is divisible into six layers. Layers 1 and 2 receive signals from M-cells - cells carrying information about motion - while layers 3 through 6 receive signals from P-cells - cells carrying information about more static phenomena such as color, shapes, textures, and depth. Layers 1, 4, and 6 receive signals from the contralateral eye (the eye on the opposite side of the body of that particular side of the LGN) while layers 2, 3, and 5 receive signals from the ipsilateral eye (the eye on the same side). What this means is that the 6 layers are divided into groups of 3, each corresponding to one of the eyes, and that for each group of 3, 1 layer corresponds to M-cells (motion) while the other 2 correspond to P-cells (static details). Therefore, the LGN also acts as a junction for some of the fibers in the optic nerve to cross over to the opposite side of the body. This "cross over" is typical of the body's relation to the brain - it is not unique to vision. All tactile sensation on the left side of the body, for example, is processed by the right side of the brain, and the right side of the body by the left brain. The same goes for hearing and motor control. The eyes are slightly more complex though. It's not that information coming from the left eye is processed by the right brain, and the right eye by the left brain, but that the left side of each eye - that is, signals coming from the left side of each retina, and therefore the right of our visual field - is processed by the left brain, and the right side of each eye - the left of our visual field - is processed by the right brain. The cross over occurs when the left side of the right eye crosses over to the left brain, and when the right side of the left eye crosses over to the right brain. Nevertheless, as "mixed up" as this may seem, a retinotopic mapping from the retina to the occipital lobe is maintained - that is, every cone or rod that is found next to another cone or rod corresponds to a neuron in the occipital lobe that is found next to a neuron corresponding to the other cone or rod. In other words, the map of the world that is projected onto the retina is the same map that ends up in the occipital lobe.
Upon entering the occipital lobe, these signals are processed by neurons that make up a thin layer called area V1 ('V' for 'Vision'). Area V1 is also known as the striate cortex - "striate" meaning striped because of the bright and dark colored bands that can be seen on the cross section of this region of tissue. It has been suggested that the first neurons the incoming signals encounter are "spot detectors" - that is, cells that respond best to spots of light that hit the retina. The next set of specialized cells the signals are processed by are what might be called "line detectors" or "orientation detectors". There are different types of line detectors - there are as many types as there are discernable orientations that we can perceive lines to have. For example, there are line detector neurons that respond best to lines oriented at 20°, others oriented at 60°, and yet others oriented at 150°, and so on. Take the type that respond best to lines at 20°, for instance. We say that it is "primed" to respond to lines at this orientation, and by "primed" we mean that it fires at its highest frequency. It may fire less frequently to lines oriented at 10° or 30°, but it will still fire. Usually the cell will stop firing when the line is oriented at about 0° or 40° - that is, the range of orientations that it responds to is about 40° with the middle of this range (20°) being the orientation it is most sensitive to.
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Nearly all neurons respond to stimuli in this manner. That is, they are all "primed" to respond to the center or mean of a specific range of stimuli. Furthermore, there is usually a range of such neurons, each responding to a slightly different point in this range, and to points beyond the range of any one particular neuron. This can be seen with line detectors. For example, the neuron that is primed to orientations of 20° can be expected to find neighboring neurons that are primed to orientations of 10° and 30°, and they in turn to neighbors primed to orientations of 0° and 40°. Neurons primed to orientations beyond these ends also exist - there are neurons for the entire range of orientations.
For every small group of cells on our retina, there is a full set of line detector neurons in area V1. This set consists of line detector neurons for orientations from 0° to 180°. What this means is that for any small group of "spots" in our visual field, our brain can tell us when these spots are arranged in a line and what orientation this line is in. If these spots were in a different region of our visual field, a different set of line detector neurons would respond to them. In other words, these line detector neurons are arranged such that there are enough for every possible location in our visual field, and for every location, there are enough for every possible orientation. In addition, each set of orientations can be divided into neurons that respond best to signals coming from the left eye and those coming from the right eye. This phenomenon is called "ocular dominance" - it means that some cells "prefer" signals from one eye over the other. All together, these line detectors are arranged in a small 1 mm wide section of tissue called a "hypercolumn". A diagram of this is shown in figure 5. As you can see, a hypercolumn is made up of smaller columns of neurons. Each column consists of neurons specialized for lines at a specific orientation coming from one eye. One hypercolumn corresponds to a small collection of spots arranged in a straight line in our visual field. So for every collection of spots in our visual field, there is one hypercolumn for detecting whether or not those spots constitute a line. These hypercolumns are a perfect example of a MOD, and we would say that for every collection of spots in our visual field, there is one MOD for detecting whether or not those spots constitute a line.
Figure 5: Example of a hypercolumn. As it turns out, some line detector cells are more numerous than others. For example, there are more neurons devoted to detecting horizontal and vertical lines than there are for any other orientation. This is known as the "oblique effect". This explains why we seem to have a much more keen sense of when a line is horizontal or vertical - with more neurons responding to these orientation, the perception becomes more salient. The oblique effect can be explained by the process by which environmental stimuli contribute to neuronal development. A plethora of studies show that the more a child whose brain is still developing is exposed to a particular stimulus, the more developed the neurons that respond to that stimulus will be. For example, a child who is reared in an environment where music is often played will have a better chance of developing a talent for music because the neurons for processing music will be more developed. This principle can be carried over to our perceptions of horizontal and vertical. We so happen to live in a world where horizontal and vertical orientations are the most often perceived orientations. Tabletops, words on paper, and the horizon are all horizontal. Trees, streetlights, and people who stand upright are all vertical. Because we are exposed to a much larger quantity of these kinds of things, the neurons for detecting vertical and horizontal become much more developed than all other line detector neurons, and thus we become more acutely tuned to these orientations. After line orientations have been detected, the signals continue deeper into area V1 to be processed by more complex cells. These "complex cells" (because that's, in fact, what they're called) detect, not only orientation, but direction of motion. That is, if the line so happens to be moving in a particular direction, specific complex cells that are primed for motion in that direction will respond. In addition to complex cells, there are "end-stopped cells". These cells respond, not only to moving lines of a particular orientation, but to lines of a specific length or corners at a specific angle. For example, an end-stopped cell might respond to a corner moving in an upward direction, but not to the same corner moving in a downward direction. Another end-stopped cell may respond to a 2 inch long line moving to the left, but not to a 3 inch long line also moving to the left.
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Seeing Parallel Lines
Finally, there are "spatial frequency analyzers". These neurons respond to gratings - that is, a series of bands that can be detected in a visual scene. Some examples might include the railing on a balcony or a wall of interlocking bricks. In other words, any visual stimulus wherein parallel lines of various shades take up a specific region will cause these neurons to respond. Some of these neurons respond to gratings of high frequency (where the bands are thin and close together) while other neurons respond to gratings of low frequency (where the bands are more thick and farther apart). There are also neurons that respond best to gratings that are oriented at a specific angle, like the line detector neurons mentioned above. Spatial frequency analyzer neurons don't need an artificial image, like the ones provided here, in order to respond. They will respond to gratings in the environment that are "less than perfect". For example, a series of houses would stimulate some spatial frequency analyzer neurons as would the keys on a keyboard, books on a shelf, layers of rock on a mountainside, and other such things. One possible function that spatial frequency analyzers perform may be to recognize automatically when two or more lines are parallel (see sidenote ). There are two pathways the signals take from area V1: the ventral pathway and the dorsal pathway. The ventral pathway is also known as the "what" pathway because it is down this path that objects are recognized for what they are. The dorsal pathway is known as the "where" pathway because it is down this path that the motion and location of objects are detected. The term "how pathway" has also been suggested since it is down this pathway that the means by which objects can be manipulated are computed - a task that depends on the location and motion of objects. Both these pathways constitute the "extrastriate cortex" because it is extra to the striate cortex. Let's examine the what pathway in more detail.
Color Opponency Theory
Areas V2 through V4 are the next sections along the what pathway after area V1. Area V2 overlaps with the where pathway as well. It is in these areas, mostly in V4, that information about color is processed. Color processing is done differently here than in the eye. In the eye, cone cells responded to red, green, and blue light. In the brain, however, color is discerned by what is called "color opponency". This is a system whereby inhibitory MODs respond to opposing colors. For example, one MOD responds to red and simultaneously inhibits the MOD that responds to green (the opposite of red). When green is present, it is the green MOD that responds and inhibits the red MOD. Another pair of MODs that work the same way are those for blue and yellow. A third pair is black and white MODs. It is believed that the inhibitory nature of these MODs is what makes it impossible (or very difficult, at least) to imagine "bluish-yellow" or "reddish-green" colors. Further down the what pathway, we encounter the inferotemporal cortex, or the IT cortex for short. It is here where the signals are first interpreted as objects such as circles, squares, triangles, and other shapes. There are two neuron types that perform this function: primary cells and elaborate cells. The primary cells respond to very simple shapes such as slits, spots, ellipses, squares, etc. whereas the elaborate cells respond to more complex shapes, and sometimes only to shapes of a specific color or texture. The latter shapes can take on an extremely wide range of forms, colors, textures, and other details. For example, one study showed that there are cells that will respond to an apple with a stem, but not an apple without a stem or a stem without an apple. Figure 6 shows a possible sample of tissue that might be found in the IT cortex. As you can see, it is divisible into columns, just like the MODs for line detection. These columns are arranged according to shape, and as we go down any particular column, we see that there is a wide variety of ways in which the particular shape changes. Some change by orientation, some by texture, some by color, and yet others by some completely different manner.
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Figure 6: Possible sample of IT cortex.
Figure 7: All these faces stimulate the fusiform face area, and are therefore recognized as faces. The signals are then further processed in the fusiform face area (or FFA for short) for the detection of faces. It is because of this MOD that we are able to discern other people and animals apart from inanimate objects, and thus engage in social interaction. The FFA also responds to images as far from real life faces as those in figure 7 - thus suggesting that only a few simple features - namely, circles with points near the center and an arch below them - are needed to stimulate this area. Unlike the IT cortex, the FFA is not divided into columns or sections whereby each distinct face we see stimulates a different set of neurons. There isn't a unique neuron for seeing aunt Thelma and another for seeing uncle Jack. Instead, neuroscientists believe that the FFA distinguishes between various faces by what they call "distributed coding". This is to be contrasted with "specificity coding" which means the representation of different stimuli by different neural circuits. For example, if one set of neurons responds to seeing an apple while another to seeing a pear, we would call this specificity coding. However, if the same set of neurons responded to either the apple or the pear, but a different pattern of signals were processed, we would call this distributed coding. It doesn't take much for one to realize that the range of stimuli that can be represented by distributed coding is vastly greater than the range for specificity coding. Many MODs process information in this way, and the FFA is thought to be one of them. Therefore, the FFA can represent an extremely wide variety of different faces. Some studies have also shown a difference between the function of the FFA on the left side and that on the right side. The left side identifies faces based on the physical and spatial features, whereas the right side identifies the emotional expressions.
The FFA marks the end of the what pathway, and so we now turn our attention to the where pathway. The where pathway is involved mostly in the perception of depth and motion. We perceive depth from cues in the environment. Some examples include occlusion, linear perspective, motion parallax, and several others. We have occlusion when we see that one object is partially hidden behind another object, thereby making the hidden object appear farther away. Linear perspective refers to the tendency of parallel lines to appear to come closer together as they become more distant from the observer. They don't really come closer together in 3D space, of course, but when projected onto a 2D surface, such as the retina or a painting, they actually do come closer together. This is used by the brain as a cue that the lines are moving farther away. Motion parallax is a phenomenon that arises with motion. When the observer is moving, such as in a car or bicycle, by fixed objects, such as trees, buildings, and mountains, the farther objects will appear to move by more slowly than the near objects. The brain uses the difference in speed as a cue that the faster objects are closer than the slower objects. There are many other depth cues (see link ), but one of them is perhaps the most important of all, and should be mentioned here.
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Blanket of Stars
The most important depth cue is binocular disparity - the difference between the images picked up by the left and right eyes. The closer something is, the greater the disparity. For example, if you hold your thumb up about 2 inches directly in front of your face and close one of your eyes, you will see your thumb in a certain position within the visual field of your open eye. Then, if you close that eye and open your other one, you will see that the position it takes within the visual field of that eye is noticeably different. You can see the change in difference more conspicuously if you continuously switch back and forth between your two eyes very quickly. Next, move your thumb farther away - about at arms length - and repeat the exercise. You should notice that the difference in the position of your thumb within each eye's visual field is much less than when it was only 2 inches away. This tendency for objects to change positions less when farther away is the major cue used by the brain to determine depth. It knows that close objects change position much whereas far objects change position little. Neurons for perceiving depth have been found in various parts of the brain, but mostly along the where pathway. Neurons that respond to binocular disparity in particular are found mostly in area V2, but also in the medial temporal cortex (or MT for short) and as early in the process as area V1. These can all be found along the where pathway. In addition, there is area V3, which is in the what pathway, and it too is involved in depth perception. It might be that area V3 is involved in the detection of non-positional depth cues such as shading or relative size of objects - that is, cues that determine the appearance of the object rather that its position in space.
Another function of the MT cortex is the perception of motion. We mentioned neurons in area V1 that respond to a particular direction of motion that lines and corners/angles of specific length and orientation travel in, but the MT cortex seems to respond to scenes in which various objects are moving in the same direction. For example, studies have been done in which various points are seen moving in various directions across a screen. A subset of these points moves in the same direction. Subjects who have lesions in their MT cortex have trouble recognizing that these points are moving in parallel - that is, they fail to see these points as belonging together. They can still see that these points are moving, but not as a group. Therefore, the MT cortex is known to be involved in detecting parallel motion.
A different form of motion that we perceive is our own movement through the environment. This kind of motion is experienced differently than that of objects moving on their own because we know that when we move through the environment, the objects we pass by aren't actually moving even though their images do sweep across our visual field. Therefore, a different part of the brain - the medial superior temporal area (or MST for short) - processes information about this kind of motion. The MST seems to be primed for outward and inward flowing motion - that is, motion constituted by points moving away from or towards a central point. This is typical of how objects in a scene move across our visual field when we walk, run, or otherwise move around the world. The MST also responds to rotation - that is, points moving around a central point. This comes in useful when tilting the head from side to side - we wouldn't want to misperceive the world as rotating.
The Auditory System
The Senses - Hearing
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As sound waves enter the ear, they travel down the auditory canal and cause the eardrum at the end to vibrate. On the other side we find the ossicles, three tiny bones that connect to the eardrum. It is actually the malleus, the first of the ossicles, that alone is connected to the eardrum. The incus comes second, connected to the malleus, and lastly the stapes connects to the incus. These structures are essentially connected in a chain. When sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate, each vibration pushes on the malleus, which in turn pushes on the incus, which in turn pushes on the stapes. The stapes is connected to the fluid filled cochlea. When the stapes pushes on the cochlea, it transmits vibrations through the fluid. These vibrations press on the organ of corti, a complicated structure that transduces these mechanical vibrations into electric signals that can be transmitted to the brain. The organ of corti is a long organ that consists of two main structures: the tectorial membrane and a bed of hair cells. The tectorial membrane is a flab of tissue that acts as a barrier between the hair cells and the vibrations flowing through the fluid. The greater portion of the hair cells are buried within the tissue of the organ of corti, but they do have cilia - very fine strands of hair - that protrude into the surrounding fluid. The vibrations push on the tectorial membrane, and this brings it in contact with the cilia. When the cilia are touched in this manner, the hair cell initiates the electric signal that gets sent to the brain. It turns out that high sound frequencies have their greatest effect on hair cells nearest to the stapes whereas low sound frequencies have their greatest effect on hair cells farther away from the stapes. This allows the brain to distinguish between different frequencies by detecting which neural fibers the signals are coming in on. The area of the brain that makes these detections is the primary auditory receiving area or area A1 ('A' for 'Auditory'). Before the signals reach area A1, however, they are processed by other brain structures. Immediately after they leave the organ of corti, they arrive at the cochlear nucleus, then proceed to the superior olivary nucleus, followed by the inferior colliculus, and finally to the medial geniculate nucleus (or MGN for short). You might recognize the name "medial geniculate nucleus" as similar to the "lateral geniculate nucleus". Indeed, the MGN is the auditory equivalent to the LGN, the structure that filters visual signals, and is located adjacent to it. In other words, the MGN filters auditory signals on their way to area A1 so that the amount of noise received is minimal (and that's electric "noise" - not loudness).
We saw that area V1 was retinotopic, and the same is true for area A1, except that we call it "tonotopic". This means that the different spots on the organ of corti that sound vibrations stimulate map onto area A1 in the same arrangement. Figure 8 shows how this arrangement works. This arrangement is also characterized by pitch, low frequency sounds having low pitch and high frequency sounds having high pitch. It seems that area A1 serves as a "pitch detector" much like how the hypercolumns of area V1 are "line/orientation detectors".
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Figure 8: Tonotopic mapping of organ of corti (in the cochlea) to area A1. The location in space where sound emanates from is also an important feature for the auditory cortex to detect. Neurons that respond to interaural time differences serve this purpose. Interaural time differences are the differences in time between the reception of sound by one ear and that of the other ear. For example, if a sound emanates from 5 feet to the left, your left ear will pick up the sound slightly before your right ear. There are neurons in the auditory cortex that respond, not to the sound itself, but to the difference in time between the sounds entering each ear. These neurons are similar to the neurons in the visual system, the ones that respond to binocular cues - that is, to differences between the positions of objects in each eye's visual field. We saw that these neurons are what allow us to see our world in 3D, and this is also the function, in terms of hearing, of these particular neurons in the auditory system. They allow us to hear sound as coming from specific locations in 3D space. Some of these neurons respond to any interaural time differences, whereas others respond only to sounds coming from specific locations in space. The secondary auditory cortex (area A2) is the next MOD to process sound information. It has been found to be involved in the processing of sound patterns such as voices, environmental noises, and rhythm. Thereafter, the signals are processed by the auditory association cortex. One of the functions of the auditory association cortex is to integrate information about melody, harmony, and rhythm into a musical experience. Centers for recognizing human speech have been proposed but not found. Wernicke's area, on the contrary, is very well known for giving us the ability to comprehend spoken language. This is slightly different from the processing of human speech. The latter is to be understood as the recognition that the sound being heard is that of a human voice, but it does not entail the comprehension of language. Examples include the babbling of a baby or someone speaking in a foreign language. But Wernicke's area is what allows us to hear someone speaking and understand the meaning of that speech. The right homologue of Wernicke's area has been shown to detect the emotional content of speech, such as tone and expression. Wernicke's area is just anterior to the parietal-temporal-occipital association area, or PTO for short. This area integrates visual, auditory, and tactile information. Its proximity to Wernicke's area facilitates our ability to read written language and Braille - that is, because the function of Wernicke's area is language comprehension, visual and tactile signals coming into Wernicke's area can be interpreted as having linguistic content and meaning. The PTO, as well as areas along the parietal-temporal border, also seems to play a role in our tendency to categorize items in our environment. For example, it has been shown that these areas respond differently to plants, animals, body parts, colors, numbers, letters, nouns, verbs, proper names, faces, facial expressions, and also sub-categories of foods such as fruits and vegetables verses meats. Furthermore, it has been shown that the PTO is involved in doing math problems. One interesting finding is that damage to the angular gyrus of the PTO can hinder one's ability to read phonetically based texts but not ideographically based text (see sidenote for details of this study ).
Reading Kata Kana vs. Kanji The PTO Study
The Somatosensory System
The Senses - Touch
We have a wide variety of tactile receptors (touch receptors) all over our bodies - on the surface and deep inside. There are four main receptor types for conveying information about physical contact with regular object. There are merkel receptors, meissner corpuscles, ruffini cylinders, and pacinian corpuscles. Merkel receptors respond to pressure applied to the skin and to fine details of objects. Meissner corpuscles respond to flutter and moving the skin along surfaces. Ruffini cylinders respond to stretching of the skin and pacinian corpuscles respond to vibrations on the skin.
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Besides these receptors, there are thermoreceptors for sensing temperatures, nociceptors for sensing pain, and proprioceptors for sensing the position of limbs. There are separate thermoreceptors for sensing cold and hot. Receptors for cold are referred to as cold fibers and receptors for hot are referred to as warm fibers. Nociceptors respond to tissue damage, intense pressure, extreme temperatures, and chemicals that burn. Proprioceptors are found in the joints of limbs so that they can detect how the limbs are positioned relative to the rest of the body. In this way, they can send signals to the brain that can be used to determine where touch sensations on those limbs are coming from spatially. From the skin (and other internal organs), touch signals travel to the spinal cord and proceed to the brain. On their way, they cross over to the opposite side of the body, just as they do for vision and hearing. Most fibers, but not all, first encounter the ventral posterior nucleus, or VPN for short, in the brain. You may notice the VPN is the tactile equivalent of the LGN of vision and the MGN of hearing. After the VPN, they proceed to the somatosensory cortex. The somatosensory cortex consists of the somatosensory receiving area or area S1 for short ('S' for 'somatosensory'), the secondary somatosensory cortex or area S2, and additional somatosensory areas. Area S1 is the first part to process signals for touch. Just as area V1 is retinotopic and area A1 is tonotopic, area S1 is somatotopic, meaning that it is mapped according to where touch signals are coming from on the skin and inside the body. It is often said that area S1 represents a homunculus (little man) inside the brain. This is usually depicted graphically as in figure 9. As you can see, some body parts are disproportionately large - this reflects the fact that some body parts are allocated more S1 neurons than others. This is similar to the oblique effect we saw occurring with vision - that is, the effect of having more neurons devoted to horizontal and vertical orientations than any other orientation. With more neurons processing touch sensation from certain body parts, such as the lips and hands, more sensitivity and detail can be experienced from these body parts.
Figure 9: The homunculus of the somatosensory cortex. The somatosensory cortex is also organized into columns - just like the columns of area V1 and A1. There are different columns for different types of touch sensation (such as contact, temperature, pain, etc.). There is a full homunculus for each type of touch sensation (each type of column). Experiments on monkeys show at least 10 overlapping homunculi, one for each type of touch sensation. In addition, columns for processing pain information are not the only brain centers involved in the experience of physical pain. The somatosensory cortex also contains MODs for processing information about motion. That is, when an object is brushed across the skin, these MODs become active. Just as the visual cortex has separate neurons for sensing motion in different directions and different regions in the visual field, the MODs for tactile motion are also separated according to the direction of motion and where on the body it is felt.
From area S1, signals move on to area S2, or the secondary somatosensory cortex. Area S2 becomes active when subjects attempt to discriminate between different textures. Some studies suggest that area S2 may perform an integrative function between tactile and auditory sensations.
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The Gustatory System
The Senses - Taste and Smell
The senses of taste and smell are referred to as the chemical senses because they are the only senses triggered by chemicals binding to receptors. For smell, these receptors are called "olfactory receptors" and are found on the olfactory mucosa, a small region at the top of the nasal cavity. There are about 1,000 different types of olfactory receptors therein, and these types are separated from each other by the four "zones" that make up the olfactory mucosa. Obviously, this means each zone must contain more than one type of olfactory receptor, but whatever type is contained by one zone, it won't be found in any other zone except that one. These different types correspond to the wide variety of smells we can discern. From the olfactory mucosa, signals are sent to the olfactory bulb - a small protrusion on the underside of the brain. The olfactory bulb is divided into about 1 to 2 thousand glomeruli. Each glomerulus receives signals from all of one receptor type, which means that each glomerulus corresponds to a distinct smell. The glomeruli are segregated according to the same zoning scheme as with the olfactory mucosa - that is, for each zone of the olfactory mucosa, there is a corresponding zone in the olfactory bulb. From the olfactory bulb, the signals are sent to the primary olfactory cortex (or piriform cortex) and then to the secondary olfactory cortex. Some fibers even go to the amygdala in the limbic system for emotional responding.
The Olfactory System
In the gustatory system (taste system), the receptors are called taste buds, and are found in tiny structures all over the tongue called papillae. Chemicals from the foods we eat and liquids we drink dissolve in our saliva and bind to the taste buds. There are four types of papillae. There are filiform, fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate papillae. Filiform papillae are cone shaped and they exist all over the surface of the tongue. Technically, they are not really receptors as they don't send signals along any nerve fibers. The fungiform papillae get their name from their mushroom-like shape. They are found on the tip and sides of the tongue. The foliate papillae are folds that exist on the sides of the
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tongue. Lastly, circumvallate papillae are flat mounds surrounded by a trench, and they exist, few in number, at the back of the tongue. Contrary to popular belief, the different papillae are not associated with different tastes. Each of the different kinds of papillae contains taste buds that can respond to foods and drinks of all flavors. Papillae on the front and sides of the tongue are connected to the chorda tympani nerve. Papillae on the back of the tongue are connected to the glossopharyngeal nerve. There are even taste receptors elsewhere in the mouth and the larynx - these receptors are connected to the vagus nerve. These nerves connect to the nucleus of the solitary tract in the spinal cord and then to the thalamus. From the thalamus, it branches to the frontal operculum and the insula.
Another brain center involved in taste is the orbital frontal cortex (or OFC for short). Olfactory signals also connect to this area. It is believed that this is the center where taste is experienced. The reason for this is that the subtle differences between the variety of tastes we experience is actually a combination of taste information and smell information. It is commonly said that there are four taste sensations: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. But studies have shown that we only experience these tastes when smell sensations are absent (so when we plug our nose, for example, we can only taste one of these four flavors). When we chew our food, the air in our mouths, which contains some of the food chemicals, gets pumped into our nasal passages. This allows the olfactory mucosa to process smell information at the same time as our taste buds process taste information. This information converges in the OFC. With the combination of smell and taste signals, the OFC gives us the vast range of flavors we enjoy. So whereas an orange, banana, and peach might all taste sweet without smell information, and therefore indistinguishable, they taste distinctly unique when smell information is involved.
The Frontal Lobe
The Frontal Lobe
The frontal lobe is involved in a wide variety of functions. The major ones include personality, self-control, planning and thinking, motor control, social skills, speaking, and self-awareness. It is believed to be the seat of our more abstract thought processes. It is also involved somewhat in our emotions. The left frontal lobe, for example, has been observed to be more active during happy moods, whereas the right frontal lobe has been observed to be more active during unhappy moods. The major sections include the orbital frontal cortex, Broca's area, the prefrontal cortex, the superior frontal gyrus, brodmann area 8, and the motor and premotor cortices.
The orbital frontal cortex, or OFC for short, regulates changes in behavior in response to changes in rewards and punishments. For example, studies show that subjects with damage to the OFC who have been conditioned to respond in a certain way to a certain stimulus, such as pressing a button when a particular picture appears, have trouble adjusting to changes in the reward/punishment scheme. That is, if they have been rewarded for pressing a button when picture A shows up and thus conditioned to do this, but then the arrangement changes such that pressing the button in response to picture A results in punishment, they will experience difficulty in learning not to press the button in response to picture A. This is true despite the fact that they express full knowledge that punishment now follows such a response. The OFC seems to play this role in both social and non-social contexts. For instance, subjects with damage or undeveloped OFCs have difficulty recognizing when certain behaviors are socially awkward or inappropriate, and therefore will often fail to suppress this kind of behavior. These subjects will often swear excessively, display inappropriate sexual behavior, and more readily partake in addictive behaviors such as gambling or drug use. The prefrontal cortex is also involved in the control of our impulsive behaviors, but it seems to carry out this task by way of planning and cogitation. That is, unlike the OFC, which learns right and wrong behaviors, the prefrontal cortex rationalizes right and wrong behaviors. It is the part of our brain that, holding our impulses at bay, tries to invent a carefully thought out strategy to handle situations that our impulses would otherwise respond to in a reactive manner. It plays a major role in the delay of immediate gratification for the sake of attaining greater rewards in the long run. This often manifests as our moral sensibility in the sense that we delay the gratification of socially inappropriate or illegal behavior in order to attain the long term gratification of social approval and freedom. For this reason, the prefrontal lobe plays a large role in the regulation of our emotions. In addition, the cognitive strategies we use to get by in the world come in the form of attitudes, values, belief systems, personal identities, and the like. Therefore, it is said that the prefrontal cortex is where our personalities stem from. Injuries to the prefrontal cortex (and the OFC) result in aggressive and inappropriate social behavior. An interesting story is often told about Phineas Gage, a railroad construction worker who suffered a major injury to his prefrontal cortex and OFC, and subsequently became shockingly inept in social contexts (see link ). Studies also show that the prefrontal cortex is involved in seeing humor in punch line jokes (i.e. jokes that require one to "get it" as opposed to slapstick jokes in which something funny happens such as a man slipping on a banana peel), and also in detecting deception (i.e. being able to detect a lack of sincerity in someone's speech and body language). The superior frontal gyrus has been shown to become active during moments of high self-awareness. That is, under conditions when one can reflect on one's self, this area becomes more active. This is in contrast to moments when one becomes heavily engaged in certain tasks such as puzzle solving or artistic activities. The feeling of "losing one's self" in these tasks is an indication of the function of the superior frontal gyrus. A subcomponent of the superior frontal gyrus is brodmann area 8. Activity in this area correlates with subjects' experiences of uncertainty. That is, when subjects are not sure
The Story of Phineas Gage
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about a particular situation or are confused about a certain notion, this area becomes active. It has also been suggested that brodmann area 8 corresponds to the experience of hope that often accompanies feelings of uncertainty. That is, when one feels uncertain about something, one often holds out hope that there will be certainty in the near future. The function of Broca's area is speech - spoken and signed. Subjects with damage to Broca's area exhibit mixed and incoherent speech. The right homologue of Broca's area is associated with our ability to express emotion in speech - not just in tone, but in facial expressions and body language as well. There is an adjacent area of the brain called the pars opercularis that seems to contain a high concentration of mirror neurons - neurons involved in the mimicking of others under observation. It has also been noted that children with autism have a less developed pars opercularis. These findings suggest that the pars opercularis helps us to learn the social standards in how to speak - that is, whereas Broca's area makes the syntax and grammar of speech possible, the pars opercularis makes speech effective as a means of successful socialization. There is a small area just posterior to Broca's area called Exner's Motor Writing Center, which is involved in writing. This center is found between Broca's area and the premotor cortex, the area for planning motor action. It is believed, therefore, that when one wants to write what one could otherwise express verbally (via Broca's area), Broca's area sends signals to Exner's motor writing center, and from there it proceeds to the premotor cortex for initiating the hand movements needed for writing.
The motor and premotor cortices are responsible for initiating bodily action. The premotor cortex seems to be involved in making the decision on whether to actually carry out the action or not. For example, studies have shown that when subjects are asked to think about performing an action but without doing it, only the premotor cortex becomes active. When they are asked to carry out the action as well, both the premotor and motor cortices become active. The premotor cortex has also been shown to contain mirror neurons. Working with the premotor cortex is the supplementary motor cortex. This area seems to contain "programs" for performing tasks that require a specific sequence of motor actions, such as lighting a candle or getting dressed. In other words, if the supplementary motor cortex suffers damage, a certain number of pre-learnt behaviors involving motor actions will become difficult, if not impossible, to perform. Which behaviors this happens to depends on where in the supplementary motor cortex the damage was incurred. But assuming all neural structures are working properly, signals from the motor cortex are sent to the appropriate muscles throughout the body in order to make the intended action happen.
The Limbic System
The Limbic System
The limbic system includes all those structures below the cortex but above the hindbrain. It is often referred to as the "primitive" or "animal" brain because it is this system that we share in common with other mammals and some non-mammal animals. It is the source of many of our survival instincts and drives, as opposed to the cerebral cortex, which is the source of our intellectual and creative skills (the "human" brain). The major components include the thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdella, parahippocampal gyrus, cingulate gyrus, nucleus accumbens, mammillary bodies and septum. There are other structures, but these constitute the major ones. The thalamus is involved in filtering incoming sensory information and regulating sleep and wakefulness as well as some autonomic bodily functions. The hypothalamus is the main center for the production of hormones. The hippocampus is involved in forming long term memories and associations between experiences. The amygdella acts as a storage unit for "programs" that, when run, manifest our "fight/flight" responses. The parahippocampal gyrus is involved in visual memory, especially in memorizing scenes. The cingulate gyrus is involved in the regulation of our emotions, and is thought to play a role in coordinating the interplay between our thoughts and emotions. The nucleus accumbens is heavily involved in rewards and punishments, and is therefore the main center for conditioning. Finally, the mammillary bodies work with the hippocampus in forming memories and the septum is involved in pleasure and anger. Overall, the major functions of the limbic system are emotions, learning and memory, and instinctual responses. The primary function of the thalamus seems to be to filter incoming information from the senses such that it can be processed by the cortex in as easy a way as possible. We have seen this already when discussing the LGN, the MGN, and the VPN. Other functions include the regulation of sleep, wakefulness, and attention, plus regulation of the visceral and gustatory systems. The hypothalamus sits just below the thalamus and it regulates the endocrine system - the release and regulation of hormones. It is here where such hormones are synthesized and secreted. It works in conjunction with the pituitary gland by releasing hormones that trigger the release of other hormones from the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus also regulates the body's circadian cycles - the cycles of sleep and wakefulness that we feel through a 24 hour period. Some studies show that it uses daylight cues in order to accomplish this. Other functions of the hypothalamus are the regulation of temperature in the body as well as hunger and thirst. The hippocampus consists of two structures in the posterior half of the limbic system, one on each side. Its role is to form long-term memories. It does this by fortifying associations between experiences on the cortical level - that is, sensory and cognitive experiences. For example, if one was to experience the sight of a painting while at the same time listen to a song, the hippocampus would form an association between these two experiences such that the next time one saw the same painting, but in the absence of the song, one would be reminded of the song (and
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visa-versa). Physiologically, neural connections would be formed between the visual cortex and the auditory cortex - that is, the sight of the painting would correspond to activity in the visual cortex (occipital lobe) while the sound of the music would correspond to activity in the auditory cortex (temporal lobe), and the hippocampus would work on creating neural connections between them. Ultimately, the hippocampus tries to program the cortex so that when one of the cortices is stimulated, it automatically stimulates the other cortex, thus forming memories.
The hippocampus is connected to one end of the fornix - a long structure that wraps around the interior regions of the brain. At the other end of the fornix, we find the mammillary bodies and septum. It is believed that the mammillary bodies participate with the hippocampus in the role of memory. The septum, on the other hand, plays a role in the regulation of anger and pleasure. Also at this end of the fornix are the amygdala - two pea shaped structures involved in the "fight/flight" responses. That is, our reactions to fearful stimuli, such as loud noises or dangerous animals, and to other threats we feel inclined to attack or scare, such as an enemy or prey, are brought about by the amygdala. The amygdala functions like a storage unit for "programs" in that, when stimulated, one of several programs, such as the "fight" program or the "flight" program, is executed and causes us to behave accordingly. The stimuli for executing these programs, however, are not determined by the amygdala. Other areas of the brain involved in learning and conditioning have this effect, and through their interactions with the amygdala, we learn to react to these stimuli in a very conditioned way. Numerous experiments can be sited in which subjects become conditioned to respond to stimuli in a completely unwarranted manner. For example, the famous "Little Albert" experiment conditioned an 11 month old child (named Albert) to fear white rats by scaring him with a loud noise every time he was exposed to a white rat. He eventually reacted to the white rat by crying without experiencing the loud noise. This was due to his brain being programmed to trigger the fear response in the amygdala whenever the white rat was presented. The amygdala also responds to smells and pheromones, and controls the facial expression of fear.
The Little Albert Experiment
It also happens that some fibers from the thalamus connect directly to the amygdala. This is to ensure that certain stimuli in our environment, such as snakes, spiders, animals with sharp fangs, and other fear inducing creatures, trigger the fear response as quickly as possible. Since the thalamus is the first brain structure that visual signals encounter, this setup makes for the best way of ensuring survival against these threats. It is also because of this neural wiring that phobias are so easily acquired and hard to overcome. That is, the phobias that humans acquire most readily are those that center around dangers that really were a serious threat to primitive man - such as snakes, spiders, animals with sharp fangs, etc. The reason such phobias are so prevalent compared to phobias of things such as moving vehicles, hot stoves, and electric outlets, is because the wiring between the thalamus and the amygdala are already in place, and it just requires one or two close encounters for the conditioning to take place. In other words, even though things like moving vehicles, hot stoves, and electric outlets are indeed dangerous, the brain has not evolved enough to be prepared for the conditioning of fear in response to them. Surrounding the hippocampus is the parahippocampal gyrus. This structure is also involved in memory, but it is specialized in the memory of topographic information or visual scenes, as opposed to faces, objects, or any information from the other senses. The existence of a memory center specializing in visual scenes might explain the rare instances of "photographic memory" found in some people. The cingulate gyrus coordinates a lot of the information between the cortex and the limbic system. It is primarily involved in the regulation of emotion. It coordinates emotional responses to sensory information, particularly to tactile pain, and it regulates aggressive behavior. The anterior portion of the cingulate gyrus is involved in painful emotions. Because of its close connection with the cerebral cortex, and its similar appearance - with its folds and sulci - it has often been referred to as the "limbic lobe", but this term is not universally accepted. The nucleus accumbens is also involved in the regulation of emotion, but its role is more inline with the conditioning effects of rewards and punishments, and is responsible for many addictive behaviors. Most of the highly addictive drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, have their effects in this structure. Other, more natural, substances, such as food and drink, as well as activities, such as sex and highly stimulating games, have their reinforcing effects here as well. The mesolimbic system, which sits right above the nucleus accumbens, is also involved in the conditioning effects of rewards and punishments, but its role seems to be more the arousal of cravings or desires rather than the pleasure derived from satiating them. It is thought that the mesolimbic system is responsible for the incessant drug seeking behavior of addicts who no longer enjoy the effects of the drugs they seek.
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The limbic system, the frontal lobe, and the sensory cortices have all been touched on in the preceding sections. From this, it would seem that all our perceptions of the world and our behavior towards it can be traced to one or another set of MODs in the brain. But all we can say with certainty is that this correspondence is a correlation - that is, we are not justified, based solely on these neurological findings, in equating our perceptions and experiences with this brain activity. All we know is that when we see something red or feel something warm or get angry, this correlates with activity in the MODs for seeing red, sensing warmth, or feeling anger, respectively. It does not mean that these MODs or their activity are the experiences of seeing red, sensing warmth, or feeling anger. Nevertheless, this correlation seems to hold in all cases that is, we have never observed specific brain activity without the reported perceptions, experiences, and behavior that one would expect. Ideally, one might want to say, without having seen evidence to the contrary, that this correlation is perfect. Of course, we cannot prove that it is perfect, but the evidence does point in that direction. We also see that several of our perceptions are quite automatic. We considered this in the above sidenote (duplicated here ) when we looked at spatial frequency analyzer neurons, suggesting that their function may be to detect parallel lines. Another example is the perception of motion. There are cases of motion blindness in which patients cannot tell when objects are in motion. They may pour a glass of water, and unable to see the steady rise in liquid, they accidentally overflow the glass. Crossing the street without a guide is too dangerous for these people since they cannot tell the difference between a moving car and a parked one. Now, one might assume that we can detect when something is in motion by examining its position at one point in time and comparing it to its position a short time later - that is, by coming to the logical conclusion that the object must be moving. But those with motion blindness struggle with this task day after day, trying their best to discern motion among what appear to be stationary objects, and for all their skill at logical reasoning, they still require the aid of others just to get them through the day. It isn't that the visual world never changes for them, but they see these changes more like a rapid slide show rather than a continuous stream. If we indeed relied on our rational judgments, we would have just as much trouble detecting motion as those with motion blindness. Because we have no trouble at all, the detection of motion must be an automatic process and an experience unto itself, one for which there are specialized MODs for that sole purpose. Another example of an automatic perceptual process is three dimensional vision. As stated above, the most important depth cue is binocular disparity - the synthesis of images from two eyes to form one three dimensional image. If we simply used rational deduction to estimate the locations of objects in three dimensional space, we would need to see their positions in each visual field separately - only then assessing the difference and calculating how far away the object must therefore be. But when we look at objects in three dimensional space, we don't see pairings of identical instances - we see only one. We automatically perceive how close or far away the object is. There are indeed calculations that go on to estimate the distance of the object, but not in any conscious way - instead, these calculations are carried out by the corresponding MODs, and it is only the unique sense of depth perception which correlates with these neurological calculations that gives us the acute awareness of how close or far away objects are. If this is true - that our perceptions and experiences of the world come quite automatically - then it would appear that the function of the brain's MODs is to create what would appear to be unique and elementary experiences that, when considered all together, give us a qualitative picture of the world. From color to motion perception, from vision to hearing, from sensation to thought, each experience seems rooted in and defined by some unique quality, and each quality seems irreducible. The experience of seeing red, for example, is like no other experience produced by the human brain, and we are hard pressed to describe it in term more fundamental than "red". This is not to say that all MODs produce such experiences - for there are many such as the medulla or the pons for which no experience we are conscious of is associated. Yet for all the quality and automaticity of our experiences, we still interpret them, without a hint of question, as the properties of the outer world. Even when we do question this interpretation, we find it exceedingly difficult to doubt. Somehow, they carry this dual character - at once feeling like unique, irriducible, and qualitative products of the brain, and like properties of a real world standing independently of the brain. This line of reasoning brings us closer to a more philosophical perspective. Indeed, we will be discussing more of the philosophical implications of the neurological facts covered above in the proceeding section. Let's now turn our focus onto some of these puzzling - and very interesting - implications.
Seeing Parallel Lines
The above covers what the reader needs to know in regards to brain anatomy and function. It is a very brief rundown and hardly does the discipline of neuroscience justice - there are volumes left to be said about it - but insofar as it serves as a prerequisite to MM-Theory, it will suffice. There is another bridge to be built, however, that will fully allow the reader to cross over from this neuroscience background to said theory. This bridge is the philosophical principles that can be drawn from this neuroscience background. Therefore, the remainder of this paper will be devoted to these principles. There are four to be precise. First, we shall focus on the Binding Problem, a conundrum most neuroscientists are familiar with. It is usually phrased as a question: How does the brain "bind" all the information it receives into a unitary whole we experience as consciousness? For example, when we perceive an apple, we perceive its redness, its roundness, and, if it were rolling across the table, its movement. How is it that we perceive all these qualities as belonging to the same object - the apple - when each of these qualities are, as we have seen above, processed by different parts of the brain? How do these disparate MODs bind this information together? The second principle we shall focus on is the analogy drawn by functionalists that compares the brain to a computer. It purports that the brain is a biological computer and the mind is the software that runs on it. To understand this, a background in circuit design will be necessary, and we shall take a moment to go over some basics.
The Binding Problem
After having looked at functionalism, and now being familiar with neurology, the brain is going to look very deterministic. Therefore, a portion of this section will be devoted to the question of determinism versus free-will. We will not resolve this conflict, but we will look at what the neuroscientific facts have to say about the issue. Finally, we will examine the relationship between perception, the brain, and reality. This section will undoubtedly raise more questions than we will start out with, but these questions will be the perfect lead-in to the rest of this website. The topic of reality and perception is a significant one for MM-Theory.
The Binding Problem
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Again, the binding problem is the problem of understanding how the brain binds all perceptual qualities into a whole - whether that's a whole object or the whole world. How do different MODs, separated physically in the brain, know to attribute the variety of different perceptions to the same object or world? There have been different theories put forward to resolve this problem. Two in particular are of interest. They are the theory of neural synchrony and the theory of the intralaminar thalamic nucleus as the "central hub" of the brain. We will look at each of these theories in turn, followed by a theory of our own. The theory of neural synchrony states that binding comes about by the synchronous firing of neurons. That is, so long as neurons are firing at the same time, the perceptions that correspond to them will be experienced as bound to the same object or world. One obvious problem with this is that there are ample examples of synchronized neurons whose corresponding perceptions are not bound together. One example is that of watching a fly on the wall while listening to music on the radio. The sight of the fly corresponds to neurons firing in the visual cortex while the sound of the music corresponds to neurons firing in the auditory cortex. Both cortices contain neurons firing at the same time and therefore, according to neural synchrony theory, the sight of the fly and the sound of the music should be bound together - that is, coming from the same source. But is this how we experience it? Do we perceive a singing fly? To get a better handle on the idea of neural synchrony, let's visit another theory - that of "cell assemblies" proposed by Donald Hebb. Donald Hebb was a pioneer in the study of synaptic connections and how they form. His theory of cell assemblies states that when neuron A fires and causes neuron B to fire (an excitatory synaptic connection), the tendency of neuron A to stimulate neuron B in the future increases. That is, the more one neuron stimulates another, the stronger that connection will be. As multitudes of such connections form, what we get are "cell assemblies" - networks of neurons with strong synaptic connections to each other - equivalent to our definition of MODs. As it turns out, these cell assemblies are excellent for carrying out specific functions such as visual processing, or memory formation, or abstract thinking, etc. What this has to do with neural synchrony is that neurons belonging to one particular cell assembly will fire together - that is, because they are characterized by their strong synaptic connections, and thus have mutual tendencies to stimulate each other, when one fires, they all fire. This kind of synchrony is driven by causal relations that is, the reason why the neurons in a particular cell assembly are synchronized is because one or more neurons cause the others to fire. This is clearly different from the example of the fly and the music. In that example, the synchrony between the activity of the visual cortex and that of the auditory cortex was merely coincidental, not causal. Therefore, to truly grasp the essence of the neural synchrony theory, one must understand the sense in which the word "synchrony" is used. It is meant to convey causal synchrony. After all, Hebb's theory of cell assemblies is the background from which the theory of neural synchrony grew, and therefore it is meant to be taken in that sense. An alternative theory is the "intralaminar thalamic nucleus" theory proposed by Rodolfo Llinas. This theory is based on observations of the intralaminar nucleus of the thalamus. It has been observed that this nucleus has axonal branches that reach all cortical areas of the brain. It has also been observed that these connections enable the intralaminar nucleus to "scan" the cerebral cortex in periodic cycles. That is, starting at one end of the cortex, the intralaminar nucleus "queries" the cortex for the particular information being processed at that site. After receiving this information, it does the same for adjacent areas of the cortex. It does this for every spot on the cortex until it reaches the other end, and then repeats the process over again. This process has been clocked at 12.5 milliseconds followed by a rest period of another 12.5 milliseconds. This makes for 40 scans per second. In essence, the intralaminar nucleus is like a radar that scans the cerebral cortex for an up-to-date report on all the information being processed. How is this a solution to the binding problem? It has been suggested that the intralaminar nucleus is just the binding mechanism needed to integrate the sporadic centers of divergent information into a whole. That is, while disparate information is being processed by different areas of the cortex, the intralaminar nucleus brings all this information into one center. In other words, the intralaminar nucleus knows what things belong together and what things don't because it "sees it all" at the same time. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the intralaminar nucleus is the seat of consciousness. That is, not only does it perform the function of integrating dispersed information, but it also makes us consciously aware. As reasonable as this sounds, it is not quite warranted. It might seem as though, without integrating the various pieces of cortical information, one could not possibly be aware of anything - one would only have seemingly unrelated fragments of experience. Although this is sound reasoning, one ought not to separate the functions of integrating perceptions with that of bringing about consciousness overall. To see the difference, we might think about the different parts of the cerebral cortex (the different MODs) as constituting different "conscious selves" in the same brain. For example, we would have one self for seeing color, one self for feeling touch, one self for language comprehension, and so on. Take the self for seeing color. This self is indeed conscious of the world, but he/she is only aware of one very particular aspect of the world - namely color. That is, the only thing he/she is ever aware of is that something is red or blue or whatever color he/she is built to perceive. We would have specialized selves like the one for color all over the brain - one for every perception and experience our brains are capable of producing - and each one would correspond to a particular MOD. This is actually the view taken by functionalists as we shall see in the next section. Thinking about multiple selves in this manner, we could easily argue a case for the preservation of consciousness without the intralaminar nucleus performing its integrative function. What we would say is that without the intralaminar nucleus, consciousness in the cerebral cortex would continue, but it would be disintegrated into the distinct selves of each MOD. That is, the color MOD would still be conscious of color, the touch MOD would still be conscious of how things feel, the language comprehension MOD would still be conscious of what others are saying, and so on. They would all be conscious in virtue of maintaining the capacity to process information. Therefore, the most certain of things we could say about the role the intralaminar nucleus plays is that it binds all these perceptions together, but not that conscious awareness depends on this binding. We shall be exploring concepts related to this in other parts of this website, at which time this will become more clear. The theory that we propose is that so long as different parts of the brain can communicate with each other, there will be binding. This theory is actually a combination of both the neural synchrony and intralaminar nucleus theories. The intralaminar nucleus theory is a special case of different parts of the brain communicating with each other. It is a case in which the cerebral cortex communicates with the intralaminar nucleus. This may be a case of one-way communication as all information from the cerebral cortex converges in the intralaminar nucleus, but it nevertheless suffices for binding to occur. The neural synchrony theory is also a special case of communication between brain parts. All neurons in a cell assembly communicate with each other by way of their strong synaptic connections. That is, when neuron A stimulates neuron B, this counts as neuron A communicating with neuron B. Again, this is a one-way communication system. It is also a communication system that allows all neurons to stay in synchrony with each other. When neuron A stimulates neuron B, we might think of this as neuron A telling neuron B "I'm firing, so you must fire too."
The Intralaminar Nucleus and The Binding Problem
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So the idea that binding occurs when different brain parts communicate with each other combines aspects of both the theory of neural synchrony and that of the intralaminar nucleus. Different brain parts communicating allow them to keep each other in synchrony and it accounts for the function of the intralaminar nucleus. It might also be thought of as a generalization of the intralaminar nucleus theory in the sense that the intralaminar nucleus is a specific instance of information converging into one brain center. There might be other brain centers in which information converges, and at these centers, it is plausible that binding might occur. One possible candidate is the orbital frontal cortex (OFC) where taste and smell information converge. It is only due to this convergence that we are able to enjoy the plethora of tastes that foods offer. As we have seen above, without smell information, we would only be able to taste the four basic taste categories. But when smell information is present, the array of tastes we can discern multiplies manifold - not as a pairing of taste and smell but as one taste unique unto itself. Therefore, it would seem that one function the OFC performs is to bind taste and smell information into one experience.
Split Brain Experiments
Another example, not necessarily of converging information, is the left and right hemispheres of the cerebral cortex. These hemispheres are more commonly known as the left and right brains, and they communicate through the corpus callosum, a bridge of fibers that connects them together. One measure neurosurgeons used to take in order to cure epilepsy was to severe the corpus callosum, making communication between the left and right brains impossible. One striking effect that was noticed in patients after going through this operation was that they behaved as though they were two separate selves in the same body - one for each hemisphere. One self acquired all the skills of the left brain while the other acquired all the skills of the right brain. For example, only the self of the left brain could speak since that is a function of broca's area, a region near the front of the left brain. Also, only the self of the right brain could identify things by touch with the left hand since the left side of the body is controlled by the right brain. How could they tell that these two selves were indeed separated and had acquired these specific skills? Well, there have been some very interest experiments done with "split brain patients" as they are called - experiments that highlight the distinction between the two selves and convincingly show how they are indeed separate. A link to examples of these experiments is provided in the left-hand margin.
Split brain patients are an excellent example of how different brain parts communicating with each other bind their respective information into an integrated whole. In non-split brain people, this integrated whole is the one self we are familiar with. Without the corpus callosum, the right and left brains cannot bind their information, and we get two distinct selves as a result, reinforcing the idea we outlined above - that the cerebral cortex could be thought of as consisting of many simple selves. Furthermore, the intralaminar nucleus is still intact in split-brain patients. This puts its function as a binding mechanism for consciousness into question. If the intralaminar nucleus indeed bound consciousness into one self, severing the corpus callosum would have no effect, at least none that divided consciousness into two selves. But there is another system in the brain where all information converges, and this system might be a competing candidate for the seat of the self. That system is the prefrontal cortex - and there is one for each hemisphere. Although not as direct as the connections from the cerebral cortex to the intralaminar nucleus, there must nevertheless be connections from every other MOD for which there is a conscious perception or experience of something (external or internal) to the prefrontal cortex. The reason this must be so is because for every internal or external experience and perception we have, we can think about it. The prefrontal cortex is the MOD responsible for planning and rationalizing. It is here where abstract thinking occurs. Since we are able to think abstractly about all experiences and perceptions we have, information from the MODs where these experiences and perceptions occur must find their way to the prefrontal cortex. Therefore, the prefrontal cortex marks a region in the brain where information converges. It is also a region where signals can be communicated from one point to another while still inside, thereby preserving the binding. It could be argued, then, that the prefrontal cortex might be a seat for the self - it would be here that we are "consciously aware" of all other perceptions and experiences in the brain in the sense that we can think about them. We will return to this point in another paper in which we will, more formally, define this type of thinking as "acknowledgements". That is, we consciously acknowledge our other experiences and perceptions - we say "Ah, I am smelling something sweet" - and thereafter, we can think abstractly about it. This activity may correspond to the point of transition between non-prefrontal regions and the prefrontal cortex.
The Superior Frontal Gyrus - A "Higher" Self?
Principle: Communication Hypothesis of Binding One condition under which binding may occur is when different brain centers communicate with each other. One-way communication, whereby signals converge into one brain center, the prefrontal cortex being a key example, may also satisfy this condition.
Brains and Computers
The view that the brain is a naturally evolved biological computer is most commonly attributed to functionalism. Functionalism, in its broadest sense, is the view that things ought to be understood in terms of the functions they perform. In its more narrow sense, specifically when it comes to the mind, it promotes the idea that the mind ought to be defined as the function of the brain. In other words, the mind is not something metaphysical that resides in or around the brain, like an extra component of the system, but it is something that the brain does in order to keep the system functional (i.e. to help us survive). What does the brain do to keep the system functional? It computes the outside world. That is, it takes in sensations as input, and computes the overall state of the environment and what needs to be done in response to it as output. In other words, the brain is a computer, and the mind is like the software that runs on it.
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This website does not take the functionalist view, but we will be using the computer model as an excellent metaphor for the brain. That is, we will not say that the brain is a computer, but it does share a lot of common features with computers. Therefore, we will often use computers as a model of the brain. To understand just how similar they are, we should look into the practice of circuit design. We will see exactly how computer circuits are designed, and it will be noted how closely these designs mimic the way neurons connect to form the many MODs of the brain. This will also show how signal processing can be thought of as information processing, and how logical thinking can be understood in terms of physical wiring. Computer engineers begin the process of circuit design by delving into Boolean algebra or Boolean logic. Boolean algebra is a variant of classic algebra that uses logical proposition instead of numbers and variables. That is, whereas one might see a classic algebraic equation of the form
y = x + z,
in Boolean algebra, one more likely sees expressions of the form
(A AND B) OR (C AND D).
A, B, C, and D are variables just like the variables x, y, and z in the classic algebraic equation above. The only difference is that, whereas x, y, and z might stand in for unknown quantities like 1, 3, and 2 (respectively), A, B, C, and D stand in for propositions - statements that might be true or false. For example, we might attribute the following meanings to these variables:
A = "Albert likes pasta." B = "Betty plays soccer." C = "Connor is a police officer." D = "Dian is writing a book."
What's unknown about A, B, C, and D is whether they are true or false. Therefore, their "truth values", as they are called, is akin to the numeric values of the variables x, y, and z. One obvious consequence of this is that propositions can only have two values - true or false unlike numerical variables, which can have an infinitude of values. What we want to solve for in Boolean algebra is whether one proposition (say C) is true or false given the truth value of the other propositions. Another objective is to figure out the truth value of the entire expression given the truth value of the individual propositions. The latter is what we will focus on here as it is what computer engineers are most interested in finding. You might have also noticed the words "AND" and "OR" in the above Boolean expression. These are analogous to the operators +, -, ×, and ÷ of classic algebra. In classic algebra, given the numeric value of the variables, one can plug those values into the variables, and using the operators, simplify the expression to one number. Likewise, given the truth values of the propositions, one can plug those truth values into the propositions, and using the Boolean operators, figure out what the overall truth value is for the entire expression. In both classic and Boolean algebra, these operators determine the rules to be followed in doing these computations. For example, given the classic algebraic expression a × b, the × operator informs us that we need to add a to itself b times. The Boolean operators AND and OR also inform us about the rules that must be followed in order to yield the truth value of the overall expression. What are these rules? They are simply the rules of logic. We can understand this by noting that AND and OR perform the same functions as they do in ordinary language. That is, if we take the propositions A and B to mean
A = "Albert likes pasta." B = "Betty plays soccer."
and we conjoin them with "and" to get
"Albert likes pasta and Betty plays soccer."
we can derive the truth value of this conjoined statement by taking the truth values of A and B and asking what the truth value of the conjoined statement would logically be given that we conjoined them with "and". There are four possibilities. Either A is true and B is false, A is false and B is true, they are both true, or they are both false. Obviously, if they are both false, the conjoined statement must also be false. Just as obviously, if they are both true, the conjoined statement must also be true. If only one of them is false (it doesn't matter which), this makes the entire conjoined statement false. If I tell you that my name is Gibran Shah and I am a Marsian, you will immediately denounce that statement as false even though the first part of it - that my name is Gibran Shah is true. If A and B were conjoined by the OR operator, we would use the statement
"Albert likes pasta or Betty plays soccer."
Again, there are four possibilities - the same ones as above. If they are both false, the conjoined statement must also be false. If only one of them is true, then the conjoined statement is true. This is what makes the rules of the OR operator different from those of the AND operator. With the AND operator, if one of the propositions was false, the conjoined statement would be false. Finally, if they were both true, the conjoined statement would be true. For example, if I told you that eating right or exercising keep you fit and healthy, I would hardly be wrong just because they both keep you fit and healthy. In using Boolean algebra to design circuits, computer engineers will use what are called "truth tables". These are tables in which the leftmost columns are headed by the individual propositions and the rightmost columns are headed by the expression(s) that are to be solved for. Down the columns, we enter the truth values of the propositions or expressions. For the propositions, we enter all possible combinations of truth values, and for the expressions, we enter the necessary truth value that would result from the truth values assigned to the propositions. We can write out the truth tables for the conjoined statements above, and as you can see in tables 1a and 1b, these turn out to be the four possibilities for each operator mentioned. We also give a table for the NOT operator. As you can guess, the NOT operator simply inverses the truth value of a proposition. So if A is true, then NOT A is false (and visa-versa). Tables like these are used for much more complicated expressions
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with many other operators. Rather than rack our brains over the logic yielded by conjoining statements in English, it's much easier to simply look up truth values in tables like these that have been prepared beforehand.
A B A AND B TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE FALSE FALSE FALSE TRUE FALSE FALSE FALSE FALSE
Table 1a: Truth table for A AND B.
A B A OR B TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE FALSE TRUE FALSE TRUE TRUE FALSE FALSE FALSE
Table 1b: Truth table for A OR B.
TRUE FALSE FALSE TRUE
Table 1c: Truth table for NOT A.
What does Boolean algebra have to do with circuit design? To answer this question, let's look at a few very simple circuit designs. We will then show how these designs can be mapped onto the truth tables given above.
Figure 10a: AND gate
Figure 10b: OR gate
Figures 10a and 10b show two different circuit diagrams. The difference is subtle - in figure 10a, the bell shaped symbol is perfectly rounded on the left side whereas it is pointed in figure 10b. These funny shapes are called "logic gates". They control the flow of electric signals that travel through them. Electric signals travel down the lines connected to the ends of these shapes. They enter the gates from the right side (the flat end) and exit through the left side (the rounded end). We call the lines connected to the right end "input lines" and the lines connected to the left end "output lines". The one in figure 10a will only allow the signal to pass through if it receives signals from both input lines - that is, if only one input line is sending signals in or neither input line is, then no signal will be sent on the output line. The one in figure 10b will only allow the signal to pass through if it receives signals from at least one input line - that is, only if both input lines are not sending signals will it fail to send signals on the output line. Notice how the conditions for allowing signals to pass through are identical to the conditions for the truth values of expressions featuring the AND and OR operators. For example, the main rule for the AND operator is that only when both propositions are true will the whole expression be true. Replace the AND operator with a gate, the propositions by the input lines, their truth values by the signals traveling down the lines (signal=true, no signal=false), and you have the circuit design of figure 10a. Similarly, if you do the same with the OR operator, you have the circuit design of figure 10b. In each case, the output line represents the truth value of the overall expression. For this reason, we call the gate of figure 10a "AND gates" and the one of figure 10b "OR gates". Now we see how Boolean algebra maps onto the art of circuit design. Of course, most computer engineers would find the designs of figures 10a and 10b trivially simple. Most of the time, they deal with designs that are much more complex, the expressions of which are equally complicated. There is an elaborate procedure they follow, starting with a desired truth table and ending with the physical circuit. For instance, suppose you were a computer engineer and you wanted a circuit that looked like the one in figure 11 where A, B, C, and D represent input lines, and O represents the output line.
Figure 11: A possible circuit. You are not sure what the internal structure should look like - that is, what lines will interconnect with what kinds of gates - but you know that the procedure for designing circuits will tell you. What you do know is which combinations of inputs will result in which outputs. Suppose that you could send signals down the input line by flicking a switch at that line. So A, B, C, and D also represent switches. Also, suppose the output line was connected to a red light (what we call an LED) such that when the output line was emitting a signal, the red light turned on. So suppose what you wanted was for the light to turn on only under these three conditions: 1) when A and B are switched on, 2) when C and D are switched on, or 3) when all of A, B, C, and D are switched on. In other words, conditions like only B being on, or A and C being on but B and D being off, should result in the light being off. How would you guarantee that the internal design meets these criteria? If you were a true computer engineer, you would begin by outlining a truth table. You would assign A, B, C, and D to the leftmost columns, and O to the rightmost column. Then you would write out all the possible combinations of truth values for A, B, C, and D. In this case, their "truth value" actually refers to the state of the switches being either on or off. Then you would write out what you want the truth value, or state of the output light, to be under each condition of each row. Your table would look like table 2.
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1 TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE 2 TRUE TRUE TRUE FALSE TRUE 3 TRUE TRUE FALSE TRUE TRUE 4 TRUE TRUE FALSE FALSE TRUE 5 TRUE FALSE TRUE TRUE TRUE 6 TRUE FALSE TRUE FALSE FALSE 7 TRUE FALSE FALSE TRUE FALSE 8 TRUE FALSE FALSE FALSE FALSE 9 FALSE TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE 10 FALSE TRUE TRUE FALSE FALSE 11 FALSE TRUE FALSE TRUE FALSE 12 FALSE TRUE FALSE FALSE FALSE 13 FALSE FALSE TRUE TRUE TRUE 14 FALSE FALSE TRUE FALSE FALSE 15 FALSE FALSE FALSE TRUE FALSE 16 FALSE FALSE FALSE FALSE FALSE
Table 2: Truth Table for figure 11 circuit.
As you can see, rows 1 through 5 along with 9 and 13 have values of "TRUE" for O. These are the rows satisfying the conditions we wanted namely that either A and B are true, C and D are true, or all of A, B, C, and D are true. The next step requires coming up with a Boolean expression for O. What this means is that we want an expression conjoining the propositions A, B, C, and D with AND and OR operators such that its overall truth values are the same as those given for O in table 2. We need this because it is this expression that is going to be our guide in designing the circuit. To derive this expression, computer engineers take the values in the truth table and manipulate them through a complex series of steps. We will not get into this procedure here as it is beyond the scope of the current discussion (but see link ), but we will say that it would yield the expression
(A AND B) OR (C AND D).
Now we work this expression out like we do in classic algebra - that is, starting from inside the brackets and working our way out. The expression in the leftmost bracket is A AND B. We already know what the circuit design for this expression is - we've seen it above. It is that shown in figure 10a - an AND gate with A and B as the two input lines. Therefore, this is the first part of our circuit.
The second part of our circuit is derived from the expression inside the rightmost bracket, which is C AND D. This yields exactly the same design except with C and D as the input lines.
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Finally, we work outside the brackets. We can derive the truth value of the overall expression by treating the contents of each pair of brackets as single propositions. That is, we can treat A AND B as a single proposition (say X) and we can treat C AND D as a single proposition as well (say Y). We can do this because we can derive single truth values for them, allowing us to use the simple rules of the OR operator on the expression X OR Y. And we have seen what the circuit design for the OR operator looks like in figure 10b. Now, since the value of X equals the value on the output line of the AND gate for the expression A AND B, and since the value of Y equals the value on the output line of the AND gate for the expression C AND D, we can use these output lines as the input lines for the OR gate. Thus, in the end, our circuit looks like figure 12.
Figure 12: Circuit design for the expression (A AND B) OR (C AND D). This circuit will turn the red light on under the condition that switches A and B are turned on, switches C and D are turned on, or all switches are turned on - just as we wanted. Now, to bring the point home, we need to tie all the above into neurology. What does circuit design have to do with the brain? For one thing, circuits are a collection of wires and gates - the brain is a collection of neurons and synaptic connections. The synaptic connections control the flow of signals traveling down the neurons' axons just like gates control the flow of signals traveling down the wires. Gates are built to allow some signals to pass through while not others. Synaptic connections are configured to allow some signals to be passed on to the next neuron (excitatory connections) while not others (inhibitory connections). One very simple example of this commonality concerns a gate we have discussed only briefly - the NOT gate. It looks like figure 13.
Figure 13: The NOT gate. The NOT gate simply inverses the input signal. That is, if there is an input signal, there will be no output signal, and if there is no input signal, an output signal will be emitted. This is just like a neuron that inhibits a connected neuron. If the inhibiting neuron is dormant (not firing) then the inhibited neuron can fire without restraint - just like the input signal being off resulting in an output signal being emitted. If the inhibiting neuron is firing then the inhibited neuron will not fire - just like the input signal being on resulting in no output signal. If one sees this resemblance, one might also recognize an uncanny similarity between circuits like the one in figure 12 and the idea of a MOD. Recall the hypothetical scenario in which we imagined building a MOD with neurons from a tool kit. Computer engineers, working in a laboratory, actually do this sort of thing - not with neurons of course, but with circuit parts like gates and wires. Although this doesn't make the neuron tool kit any less hypothetical, it does anchor it onto a real life analogy. The idea that circuit engineers can creatively invent a circuit design to suit whatever purpose they can imagine, so too should we imagine this degree of creativity in inventing designs for MODs. As we said above, the benefits of stretching our imagination this far will pay off later in this website. A second commonality is that both circuits and the brain process logic. That is, circuits are a physical manifestation, so to speak, of Boolean expressions. When circuits process signals, this is equivalent, as we have seen, to processing the logic of complex propositions. We humans think logically, and a very similar relationship exists between those thoughts and the brain. In the brain, our thoughts manifest, so to speak, as signals being processed by a network of neurons. A third commonality is that the signals being processed ultimately result in observable behavior. Of course, in regards to computers, we mean this in the context of robotics - that is, robots behave due to signals being processed in a computer embedded somewhere within them. These signals are, at first, processed as information, but once the desired computations are met, they are deployed to limbs, appendages, and other physical parts capable of motion. When this happens, these signals instigate mechanical processes that manifest in behavior. A fourth commonality is that both circuits and brains process information as Boolean values. That is, the signals in circuits are either on or off. The neurons in the brain are either firing or not firing. In case you were wondering, this dichotomous form of information (on/off, true/false, firing/not-firing, etc.) is where we get the 1's and 0's that computers are known for processing. To the radical functionalist, the brain too, at its most fundamental level, thinks in 1's and 0's.
Principle: Computer Analogy of The Brain The brain is like a computer and its MODs like circuits in that: 1) Logic gates permit some signals to pass through while inhibiting others. Synapses permit some signals to pass through while inhibiting others. 2) Computer circuits are the physical counterpart of logical expressions. MODs are the physical counterparts of logical thinking.
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3) Computers control the behavior of robots. Brains control the behavior of humans. 4) Computers process information as Boolean values (1's and 0's). Brains process information as Boolean values (neurons firing and not firing).
Of course, we are not radical functionalists in this website, and despite the striking similarities between circuits and brains, there are some differences. For example, the internal structure of neurons is far more complex than that of wires. While a metallic wire needs only an electric current flowing through it to serve as a medium for signals, structures inside neurons must undergo complex mechanical, chemical, and even quantum mechanical processes before the neuron can fire. Neuroscientists are still arduously studying the intricate mysteries of the mechanics of neurons, and we do not yet fully understand their nature. Another difference is that, although the brain does allow for logical thinking, logic is not the only kind of processing it does. We also have emotions, sensations like sight and touch, desires, dreams, fantasies, and even some illogical thinking. Nevertheless, these still correspond to neurological activity. Also, as computer technology advances, we are beginning to see computers taking on some not-so-logical tasks such as facial recognition, emotional reactions, voice recognition, rendering artwork, and other things that are making them seem all the more human. However, as convincingly as we might build these machines to behave, the question of whether or not they actually feel the kinds of experiences that go along with these behaviors will not as easily be answered. Thirdly, even though we said that neurons either fire or don't fire, this is actually an oversimplification. We also need to take into consideration the fact that neurons fire at varying frequencies. For example, a neuron may fire 100 times per second, 1000 times per second, or at any other rate within its physical limits. This actually does make a difference to how signals are processed and how neurons affect each other, unlike circuits. There are other issues, of course, that many would be eager to highlight as blatant differences between brains and computers. Two in particular are consciousness and free-will. That is, brains come along with consciousness and somehow they give rise to free-will. The existence of free-will, and in a sense consciousness too, are not a fact by any scientific standard, of course, and I feel compelled to explicitly disclaim any presentation of them as such. But it is a philosophical truth for many, and we should not discount them just in case, in the end, they do turn out to be genuine differences, and thus should be counted with the ones mentioned above. Consciousness is the central topic of this website, and I will leave it for other papers to delve into it. The topic of free-will, on the other hand, is more marginal, though still relevant, and so we will take a moment now to touch on this (and determinism) in the context of neurology.
Determinism and Free-Will
Determinism is probably one of the hardest concepts to explicate to those who have not grasped its main gist. Yet, in a world exposed for the ever-abiding physical laws that govern it, and the unyielding patterns of nature that mathematical formuli of all kinds match up with to the most infinitesimal decimal places, determinism imposes itself in our lives like a relentless telemarketer. How does one articulate the central tenets of determinism, anyway? And do these tenets leave any room at all for free-will? After all, having compared the brain to a computer, it seems that if any room is left, it would be a pitifully small amount. Some may recoil at this thought while others may welcome it with enthusiasm. Whatever the reader's position, we will now touch on what the neurological facts covered above have to say about this highly debated subject.
Determinism, generally understood, is the view that everything in the universe, even living, breathing human beings like you and I, are completely without freedom - that is, everything is controlled - and what we take to be our freedom is just an illusion. The word "determinism" comes from the term "to determine", which means to be able to predict. Therefore, a more formal understanding of what determinism means is that the universe is a system such that if we are given its state at any time, this state could be used to predict, with no margin of error whatsoever, the state of the system at any later point in time. With no margin of error, it follows that such predictions cannot be wrong, and therefore the system is destined - on an unwavering path - to realize the future state thus predicted. There is no avoiding it, and so we are trapped by it, controlled by it, unfree to change it. To make these predictions, we rely on a set of causal rules that we assume are eternally and universally holding. These rules ultimately lead to the conclusion that the initial state causes the predicted state. A simple example of this is if we threw a rock at a window. On its way to the window, we can predict that the window will soon shatter. The rock on a trajectory path, and the window that stands in its way, constitute the initial state. We rely on the rule that objects with enough momentum, when hurled at a thin pane of glass, will shatter the glass. Therefore, we accept the conclusion that the glass will indeed break.
Of course, the initial state in this case is hardly the state of the entire universe, but we assume that all else is equal - that is, everything else in the universe besides the rock and the window do not factor in, and therefore we need not take them into account in our prediction. Furthermore, the rule we rely on is more of a heuristic - sometimes it may fail us - but we assume that those odd cases in which the prediction doesn't come true are not the rule failing, but an indication that we ought to have used a different rule, or more rules than just that one. That is, we assume we misinterpreted the initial state, and if we had examined it more carefully, we would have realized other rules should have been employed. For example, suppose the reason the window doesn't break is because the rock is veered off course by harsh winds. Then, it would be a mistake to define the initial state as the rock on a trajectory path towards the window. Instead, we would have to define it as a rock on a trajectory path towards the window plus the wind blowing perpendicular to it. This essential factor would have cued us to use the rule that a powerful enough wind force will alter the course of objects in motion. Then our prediction would be that the window would be fine. Notice how, in the end, we are still dealing with a deterministic system. Failure to accurately predict is handled by assuming responsibility for poor judgment on our part, not about our views concerning determinism, but about the data we started out with and the rules we used.
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The above example is a very simple one. But the reality of the physical world is that it is monstrously complex. Determinism runs into trouble when it comes to complex phenomena, especially when the complexity spans beyond the grasp of the human intellect. When this happens, the resulting states of complex systems are quite unpredictable. For some, this is enough to label such results as "random". For example, a leaf that gets picked up by the winds of a hurricane could land anywhere. In casual conversation, we might say that its final destination is random. Strictly speaking, however, what we mean by this is that we don't know, nor is there any way we can know, where it will end up. Other apparently random events commonly include the rolling of dice, what lottery ticket is the winning one, what card we get from a face-down deck, and so on. What the committed determinist would say about these is that there are indeed factors that determine the exact outcome of these events, but they are too complex for, or beyond the access of, our intellect. So the results will always seem random, but make no mistake - the determinist says - they are not! The determinist likens complexity to a mathematical equation. We can take mathematical equations and make them as complex as we want we can add variables and constants, put them through superfluously elaborate operations, using hundreds of pages if necessary, and it will remain just as determined as a single variable. Take the following equation for instance:
The NavierStokes Equations
This is the formula for the conservation of energy in fluids, one of the Navier-Stokes equations. Now, although it hardly takes hundreds of pages to write, it is one of the more complex formuli of science. If we take just one variable and alter its value by just a fraction - say by adding 0.001 to - this will have an effect on the value of the left-hand side of the equation that we can calculate with as much precision as it needs. That is, we can determine the precise change in value, and so it is perfectly deterministic. This is true for any variable, and for the slightest changes in value. It is also true no matter how much we expand the equation to make it more complex. For example, we might expand the variable by substituting it with:
This is the formula for the viscous dissipation of the fluid. When we plug this equation for into the original equation, it becomes almost twice as complex. It's deterministic nature remains just as tenacious - any of the new variables changing by any amount will have just as determined an effect on the overall equation as had on the original equation. In fact, the reason why mathematical equations work so well as analogies to physical determinism is because math is the language of nature. That is, math is a way of describing nature, and after centuries of experimentation that verifies this, we know that it does this so well, that, assuming we get the math right, not an iota of error can be discerned by the most scrutinizing eye. Math is what's used in all branches of science to make the myriad of predictions we come up with. The expansion of equations, like the substitution of we considered above, is analogous to the reduction of physical phenomena to its underlying, or more fundamental, components - like reducing a glass of water to H2O molecules or brains to neurons. When we do this, the phenomenon in question may seem more complex, but the more fundamental components we've reduced it to, as numerous and tiny as they are, have just as much effect, each on its own accord, on the overall phenomenon as the elementary variables have on the overall equation. The bright reader may object to the claim that this kind of mathematical precision is unyielding in its descriptive power of the physical world. He/she might be aware of the anomalies seen at the level of quantum physics. This level is somewhere on the order of 0.1 nm, the size of a typical atom's diameter. Particles at this level have been observed to undergo strange and bizarre behavior that seems to defy any lawfulness nature could muster. We will not get into the intricacies (and confusions) of quantum physics, but we will say that the overall consensus among physicists is that phenomena at this level seem to behave non-deterministically. In other words, one cannot predict, with absolute accuracy, what particles at this level will do - it is probabilistic, not deterministic. Nevertheless, this level is at such a small scale, that any effect it may have at the macroscopic level - the level that humans observe every day - or even the microscopic world of neurons, is so unlikely to be a non-deterministic effect, that it would take millions, even billions, of years to make just one such observation. Needless to say, we can rest assured that, in general, all physical phenomena, including neurological phenomena, will act in a virtually deterministic manner. But there is one last reply from the quantum realm. It concerns the discovery of microtubules inside various cells of the body, including neurons. Microtubules are filaments that run along the length of neurons and determine when the neuron will fire. The key ingredient in microtubules is a molecule called tubulin, thousands of which coat the surface of microtubules. Tubulin exhibit what might be called "quantum effects" - non-deterministic behavior that is to be expected from anything at the quantum level. We will not get into the details of how this plays out with tubulin, but we will say that the quantum effects determine whether or not the neuron will fire. What this means is that, because the results of these quantum effects are non-deterministic, the firing of the neuron will also be non-deterministic. It will seem random. Of course, neurons fire in response to stimulation by other neurons, but this stimulation has its effects on the strands of tubulin first, and from there, quantum non-determinacy takes over. This quantum non-determinacy makes it highly likely that the neuron will fire in response to excitatory chemicals, and highly unlikely in response to inhibitory chemicals or to no chemicals at all - or so it is said. Some have argued that this may account for free-will, and there is indeed something to this argument, but this theory has yet to be proven. This idea is hotly debated and scientific evidence for and against it has come in from all factions. We will get more into this in the paper Determinism and Free-Will. So far, we have been dealing with examples of what I call "physical determinism" - the view that the universe is determined by physical laws. There are other kinds of determinism. One alternative to physical determinism is what I call "theological determinism" - the view that everything is controlled by God (or a god). Different forms of determinism need not conflict. For example, there is the distinction between what I call "ontological determinism" vs. "epistemic determinism", or "physical determinism" vs. "logical determinism". Ontological determinism is the view that the actual world really is deterministic whether we know it or not, or can know it or not, while epistemic determinism is the view that the universe can be determined by a conscious being - that is, there is no state the universe can be in that can't be
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captured by knowledge (humans may not be intelligent enough for this, but there is, at least in principle, the possibility for this kind of knowledge). These two kinds of determinism are obviously not incompatible - in fact, if one was an epistemic determinist, he/she would have to be an ontological determinist. We have already defined physical determinism, but not logical determinism. Logical determinism is the kind of determinism we get with pure logic and mathematics. For example, the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 is logically determined. So are arguments of the form "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal." Nothing can possibly make these false, and so they are determined. But they are not physical, so they contrast with physical determinism. Yet they are not incompatible - these are obvious and indispensable descriptions of how our world works. There are other distinctions we can make. There is the distinction between "fatalistic determinism" vs. "causal determinism". Fatalistic determinism refers to something's or someone's fate. It refers to an outcome that something or someone is destined for because it is "written in the stars" so to speak. Causal determinism, on the other hand, refers to something or someone's being made or forced to do something by a preceding or concurrent cause. The technical difference is in what happens once the future outcome is known. For fatalistic determinism, this knowledge can have no effect whereas for causal determinism it can. For example, suppose it was your fate to die in a car crash. To avoid this, you vow never to set foot inside another vehicle for the rest of your life. The next day, while crossing the street, you get hit by a car. The idea of fatalistic determinism is that, if you try to avoid it, the outcome will find another way to actualize. Causal determinism, on the other hand, allows one to avoid outcomes predicted by a set of causal rules. In the car crash scenario, one would have to somehow predict the car crash with these rules (not plausible), and then he/she could set him/herself on a different path. Of course, for this to be legitimate determinism, we would have to concede that, if he/she successfully avoids the car crash, the car crash was never really determined in the first place, but his/her predicting it (erroneously) and taking action to avoid it were determined instead. There is also the distinction between "natural determinism" and "political determinism". Natural determinism is, more or less, synonymous with physical determinism with an emphasis on non-deliberate or non-conscious forces. Political determinism, on the other hand, is what I call political and social systems governed by a totalitarian regime such as the Third Reich or the Soviet Union. They are deterministic in the sense that no one has political freedom - the laws of the state determine everything they do and say. Of course, this kind of determinism isn't universal, nor is it even a genuine form of determinism. True determinism should be so all-pervasive that it governs when Joe Smith blinks or sneezes, something no regime could ever do (or care to do). But I do make this distinction because it came to my attention, on one occasion, that there are many who understand determinism in just this sense (see sidenote ). Then there is the distinction between "cyclical determinism" vs. "hierarchical determinism". Cyclical determinism refers to a system whose components share equally in the control of each other, whereas hierarchical determinism refers to a system in which there is at least one component that controls all the others, and is itself independent of them. Finally - and this brings us back to the relevant subject matter - there is the distinction between "neurological determinism" and "psychological determinism". Neurological determinism is probably best exemplified by the preceding section of this paper - namely, the anatomy and functions of the brain. Neurological determinism falls under the umbrella of physical determinism, emphasizing how the laws of physics play out in the brain. It depicts the brain as a system of interconnected neurons bathed in neurotransmitters and other fluids, conducting electric and chemical signals fed to it by the senses and dispatching them throughout the body in order to give rise to human behavior. In a nutshell, it says that our behavior is controlled, in accordance with the laws of physics, by the brain. Any aspect of the brain we study can be reduced to natural laws. Three classes of laws in particular can be seen at work here - 1) laws of biology (the brain is an organ and the neuron is a living cell), 2) laws of chemistry (neurotransmitters are chemicals), and 3) laws of electrodynamics (the signals processed by the brain are but electric charges traveling down the axons of neurons). There really isn't anything to be found in the brain that won't fit into one of these classes, and so we can remove any doubt as to whether or not the brain, or anything therein, is exempt from the laws of nature. When we compare the brain to a computer, this view becomes that much more difficult to dismiss. We end up with a model of the human organism as a robot, its entire repertoire of behavior determined by a computer sitting inside the head. With real robots, the inner computer can be programmed in any way we like such that it drives any kind of behavior we like. This is because we build computers to behave in precisely the way we want, and with our carefully thought out circuit designs, we expect them not to deviate from this. Of course, we can verify this prediction with computers because we have a full understanding of their physical makeup and how they process signals. This is not as true with the brain. We do not know how each and every neuron has been placed in the brain, nor what specific interconnections they have, nor what the exact levels of certain neurotransmitters are, and so predicting human behavior is not as easy. This, however, says more about the epistemic determinism of the brain - that is, the brain is far from being deterministic in the sense that we can acquire precise knowledge of what it's going to do in the next minute, hour, year, etc. In fact, if one were to acquire any degree of knowledge about the state of his/her own brain, this knowledge would invoke a change in his/her brain (it somehow needs to store such knowledge physically) such that its state will immediately change from how the acquired knowledge would depict it. We nevertheless trust in the general principles unraveled by the neurosciences that give us a clear picture of how the brain works on the whole. So although this falls short of allowing us to predict what Jones's or Betty's brain will do in the next instant, it gives us the right to assume that whatever it will do, it will do it because natural laws compel it to. Psychological determinism, on the other hand, makes no mention of natural laws or physical entities - instead, it appeals to mental laws and entities. That is, it explains behavior as the product of mental forces such as emotions, desires, beliefs, sensations, aversions, perceptions, thoughts, and the like. The classic example is the subject who is forced into doing something at gunpoint. With a gun pointed to his/her head, the fear of death (a mental force) is nearly enough to make him/her do anything. To the radical psychological determinist, one's behavior is governed by mental factors, not just in extreme conditions like the gun-to-the-head one, but in every condition. Even in an emotionally void and tranquil state of mind, one's decisions and actions can be determined by ever so mild thoughts, beliefs, memories, inclinations, and so on. Suppose we were faced with a choice - what socks to wear on this lazy Sunday morning. No one pair is any more comfortable, colorful, or stylish than any other, and we have no prior engagement to tend to - in other words, it really doesn't matter which socks we choose. Yet we will choose one. What psychological factors determine the socks chosen? Well, there are plenty of things we could offer in support of psychological determinism. We could say that the first pair of socks we lay eyes on will be our choice. We might say it depends on whether we are left handed or right handed. If we were left handed, we might choose the socks closest to the left - or to the right if we were right handed. We might say it depends on which socks are folded most neatly - no one wants to wear ratty looking socks. The determinants are only limited by our imagination. The central idea is that we do what we do for exactly the reasons we think we do - namely, because we want to, need to, think we should, are supposed to, etc. - but without the freedom of the will. That is, these psychological variables play out on a predestined path, and this path remains predestined until is has its full effect on our behavior. And if the psychological determinist feels challenged to explain the cumbersome details and complexities of human behavior in general, then he/she can always appeal to the same defense as that mentioned above - namely, that what might appear to be random and chaotic behavior is really just as determined as anything else, except that it's too complex for the human intellect to grasp. In other words, there are just too many psychological factors. Of course, there's always the objection about the trump power of choices - that is, one can always argue that whatever the psychological causes involved in determining one's behavior, one can always proactively decide to thwart these causes in favor of a different course of action. For example, suppose our choice of which socks to put on in the morning was determined by the first suitable pair we found in our sock drawer. One can always stop one's self and say "You know, on this morning, I'm going to pick the second pair of socks I lay eyes on."
Ambiguity of Determinism
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Well, absolutely one can do this. But the devoted psychological determinist would be prepared with a well-rehearsed reply. He/she would say that such a decision would inevitably be motivated by factors no less deterministic than those which would otherwise cause one to choose the first pair of socks one laid eyes on. Albeit, these factors would be unconscious - on a conscious level, one would be deceived by the illusion that one's choice was free of any predetermining factors. For example, you might have recently been to a seminar on making wise choices, and one of the lessons taught was not to be hasty by choosing the first item that you laid eyes upon. Having this lesson fresh in your mind, but on an unconscious level, it just might be the determining factor that motivates you to hold off on choosing the first socks you saw. Another possible factor that comes to mind might be the desire to prove that your will is indeed free - that is, one might be motivated by the desire to demonstrate how he/she is indeed free to choose as he/she pleases. But make no mistake, the determinist says, this desire is the very factor the person wishes to deny. Now, before the twentieth century, when the neurosciences made their momentous strides, it might have been reasonable to assume that the function of the brain was to produce consciousness. We would assume that the brain begins this task by physical means, but in the end it brings this non-physical entity we call "consciousness" into existence. Once there, consciousness assumes the function of being aware of the world and driving our behavior in response to it - that is, consciousness would be responsible for our behavior, and if we favored a deterministic model, psychological determinism would be the flavor of choice. But the twentieth century told us a different story. The more we read this story, the more it seemed the function of producing consciousness was being bypassed by the brain. Instead, it seemed to be assuming the function of driving our behavior directly - by mechanical means. Consciousness did not seem to factor into the equation at all, and so neurological and psychological determinism clashed. Neurological and psychological determinism are not beyond reconciliation, but they do butt heads. The most salient problem is that they each purport their own set of causal factors to account for behavior. Are these sets compatible or mutually exclusive? For example, suppose after hearing the punch line of a good joke, you laughed out loud. If I wanted to explain what made you laugh, I could appeal to neurological determinism and say the neural and chemical activity in your brain made you do it. But I could also appeal to psychological determinism and say that it was because you found the joke so darn funny! Now, I don't think it's fair to say that only one of these explanations is correct because common sense tells us they are both true. We laugh because we find things funny, and at the same time there has to be neural and chemical activity eliciting the laugh reaction. So neurological and psychological determinism are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they still leave us with some perplexing questions. One in particular is how do they - the mind and the brain - always remain synchronized? We always seem to have the option of explaining our behavior in terms of psychological or neurological factors, each of which is a sufficient cause by itself. Can there even be two causes if each is sufficient in and of itself? Two philosophies that offer an answer to this question are materialism and epiphenomenalism. We have already pointed out how psychological and neurological causes are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but this is only true in the context of these two philosophies. Materialism (or identity theory) is the view that psychological factors are just a different way of thinking about neurological factors - that is, when we talk about things like thoughts, emotions, sensations, memories, desires, etc., we are really talking about neural and chemical activity. Materialists explain this in terms of reductionism - that is, they say that psychological factors are reducible to neurological ones. Some claim to have no trouble conceptualizing how this reduction works while others admit difficulty. Of the latter, some claim that this difficulty will clear up as we gain an ever deeper understanding of the nature of the mind/brain relation, while others claim that such understanding will always elude us. Either way, the materialist brokers the psychological and neurological factors by saying they are the same things - there are not two things but one. Epiphenomenalism is the view that psychological and neurological factors are indeed different but it is only the neurological factors that are the truly effective force behind our behavior. The psychological factors, on the other hand, are by-products with no power to influence anything. They are brought into existence by neural and chemical activity, stay for however long we experience them, and then fade away. We feel as though our urges, plans, intentions, values, wants, and so on are the reasons we do what we do, but this is an illusion - in fact, the feeling that we are in control of our behavior is just another one of the experiences given to us by the neurological factors, and it too is completely impotent as a driving force. Epiphenomenalism solves the problem by explaining the driving force we feel the psychological factors to have as an illusion. Therefore, there is only one driving force - the neurological factors - that accounts for our behavior. Epiphenomenalism is a form of dualism. Dualism is the view that the psychological factors are indeed something distinct from the neurological factors. Contrast this with monism, which states they are two different forms of one thing. Materialism, as we have seen, is the most common example (there are brands of materialism that state, not that psychological factors are reducible to neurological factors, but there are no such things as psychological factors - that there are only neurological factors - but this subtlety makes no difference to its standing as a form of monism). Other than epiphenomenalism, dualism runs into problems over the question of the compatibility of psychological and neurological factors. The question of whether or not they are mutually exclusive as causes of our behavior is a lot more troublesome to answer. It more often than not seems they should be mutually exclusive. One could assume that there is some means by which they stay in sync with each other - that is, for any neurological cause of our behavior, there is an equally effective psychological cause - but explaining this synchrony would prove difficult. Nonetheless, this approach is taken by some and it is known as "parallelism". Parallelism is by no means a debate stopper as it leaves many questions lingering.
Quantum Mechanics Notwithstanding
Principle: Determinism of The Brain The brain, in accordance with the laws of physics, is completely determined.
These are the difficulties we will be starting out with in the Basic Theory of Mind and Matter. We will begin by acknowledging that the brain is a deterministic system, governing our behavior, while at the same time it feels like the mind is playing the very same role. We will recognize this as a paradox, and set out to resolve it - the solution being MM-Theory. Furthermore, the solution offered will open the door for free-will to enter in once again. The theory maintains a greater degree of parsimony by sticking with a deterministic paradigm, but it takes a perspective that is flexible on this issue. In another paper, we will return to the idea of free-will and show how a comfortable place can be found for it after "tweaking" our theory just a little.
It's All In The Head
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MM-Theory - Preliminary Concepts
So it is not the brain's function to "produce consciousness" as it was once believed. It might be one and the same as consciousness, as the materialists believe, or it might only be synchronized with consciousness, as the dualists believe. It might even produce consciousness, but only as a by-product rather than a primary function, as the epiphenomenalists believe. If its function was to produce consciousness, what might we say about how it acquires awareness of the immediate world around us? The most intuitive thing we could say is that it relies on the senses. We might assume that signals are sent from the senses to the brain, whereupon they create, by some mystical means, the experience of sensation. Consciousness takes it from there - all it must do is focus attention upon it and then automatically becomes aware of it. According to this model, our senses merely inform us of the outer world. The signals they instigate are just triggers - that is, they merely trigger our awareness of those things in the world that they originate from. What would this model say about the multitude of different qualities we see in the world? What would it say about the hotness or coldness of an object we hold, or the shape of a stone we see, or its shininess or texture? What would it say about the unique taste of a nectarine or a grape? What would it say about the fact that we find the gentle wrestling of leaves on a mildly breezy night so soothing? If the signals provided by our senses only inform us about the world, then these qualities must be properties of the world itself. That is, it would say that the hotness or coldness we feel when holding an object is just the hotness or coldness of the object itself. It would say the shininess and texture of a stone is a mirror reflection of the stone's own properties. It would say that wrestling leaves on a breezy night sound soothing because they are soothing. If our senses only inform us, they could not be creating these qualities - these qualities must be present in the world beforehand, and all our senses would do is pass on the message, so to speak. Well, this is the most intuitive view - commonly known as "naive realism". But the neurosciences of the twentieth century have given us a different model that does not play well with this. What we now know about the brain is that not much can be gleaned from the raw data our senses afford us. The great majority of information processing is done after these signals have entered the cortex - and even then, only piece by piece.
Consider the ventral pathway of the visual system (the "what" pathway). If one's inferotemporal cortex was damaged, he/she would have trouble recognizing certain shapes, but he/she would still be able to recognize simple shapes, their colors, and the orientations of the lines that make up their contours. This would be possible because all other areas on the ventral pathway would still be intact. Suppose it wasn't the inferotemporal cortex, but areas V2 and V3, that were damaged. Then the individual would not see color that well or at all, and he/she could not tell what certain shapes were - even simple ones. Yet he/she would still be able to discern the orientation of the contour lines. Also note that he/she would not be able to recognize the complex shapes for what they were, even though his/her inferotemporal cortex remains intact - this is because with areas V2 and V3 damaged, signals cannot propagate through to the inferotemporal cortex. Suppose area V1 was damaged. The individual could not even recognize lines, let alone color and shapes. He/she might still be able to see spots or points, as there might still be some spot detector cells intact. In other words, he/she would still have some experience of vision, but all he/she could say about it was "I see something, but I can't make out what." Now, if these spot detector cells were also damaged, only then would sight be extinguished completely. What does all this mean? It means that sensations only begin in the brain, and then go through much development thereafter. Naive realism, as described above, would have us believe sensations end at the brain, and full awareness immediately thereafter begins - that is, sensations are the function of the sense organs and awareness that of the brain. If one brushes his/her hand across a fine texture, that feelings resides on the epidermis. A signal will be sent to the brain, of course, but all that happens once it reaches the brain is that we become aware of it. The complexity and detail of the sensation comes pre-packaged, so to speak, gathered from the real world at the very start of the process, thereby leaving little work for the brain to do except to be conscious of it. In other words, naive realism (at least this rendition of it) pictures it as a zero-sum game - the senses either give us the information or they don't; the brain either enables our awareness of the information or it doesn't. Discussing damages to the various sections along the ventral pathway reminds us that once this information enters the brain, it goes through much more development before we actually become aware of what we are in fact experiencing. We can damage any part of the visual system from the eye to the ends of the optic nerves and incur full blindness - but cause damage after the ends of the optic nerve, and the degree of blindness depends on how far into the brain we've gone. There is much continuity, and the distinctions are blurred, between the sense organs and the brain - between sensation and consciousness. In fact, if we go deep enough - say to the fusiform face area (passed the inferotemporal cortex) - we wouldn't be causing blindness at all. Damage to the fusiform face area would result in an inability to recognize faces. You might not know your father from your brother, or your mother from your sister. With extensive damage, you might not even recognize you were looking at a human being. This would be classified more as a form of dementia instead of blindness. What this shows is that not only does the development of vision (or any sensation) become more complex as we probe deeper into the brain, but the manner in which it develops becomes more and more abstract. The function of recognizing complex shapes, which belongs to the inferotemporal cortex, can hardly be equated with merely seeing these shapes. We could see them regardless of whether or not we recognized what they were. This difference is even more conspicuous for recognizing who people are - the function of the fusiform face area. We begin to gain some insight, therefore, about how information from the senses becomes knowledge - that is, if the signals are allowed to be processed far enough, piercing deeper and deeper into the brain, they might take on forms completely unlike sensations and more like cognitions or emotions. We begin to see a multi-staged continuity between pure sensation and abstract thought - a metamorphosis of mental entities.
So from the first stirrings of sensation to the amalgamation of the entire perceptual world, it is all in the head. This takes us quite a ways away from naive realism. We don't have to discard the notion that the brain produces consciousness, or at least that it comes along with consciousness - as the parallelists would want us to say - but it does seem that all the things in and properties of the world we are conscious of are also produced by, or come along with, the brain. That is, all those things we take for granted as being "out there" are really "in here". Not only that, but it seems as though the very quality of these properties - the coolness of water, the hardness of wood, the color of the sky, etc. - depends on how the brain is setup to process the information that represents them. If it were wired differently, we might have experienced the sky as red or cold as hot. Of course, we don't need to subscribe to anti-realism - to say that the perceptual world is in the head does not entail that there is no real world outside the head. But it does mean that we are forever blinded to that reality, a thick wall of perception dividing us from it.
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One excellent example of this is the phantom limb phenomenon. A phantom limb is something patients who have had a limb amputated sometimes report. They say that they can still feel the limb! Often the sensations they feel are excruciatingly painful, and doctors toil to find remedies for this bizarre occurrence. The phantom limb phenomenon is a result of the portion of the somatosensory cortex associated with the amputated limb becoming overly active after being separated from its corresponding touch receptors. Because it becomes active, patients report the kinds of sensations one would expect from such activity in the somatosensory cortex under normal conditions. But obviously, there is no physical possibility that these sensations could be caused in the regular way - that is, by some mechanical stimulation of the touch receptors. There are no touch receptors because there is no limb. So how could the patient still feel it? Because touch sensation is experienced, not in the limb, but in the brain. The brain is still fully functional and so such experiences are still possible.
A really peculiar aspect of this phenomenon is not so much that the patient can still feel the limb, but that he/she can feel the exact location on the limb where the sensation is emanating from. That is, he/she can feel it on the kneecap, or the calve, or the elbow if it was the arm. What this tells us is that the location in space of the sensation is also in the head. We have seen that there are centers in the brain for processing information about spatial locations - this applies to vision, hearing, and touch. In the case of phantom limbs, this allows the brain to experience touch sensations in locations where nothing exists. There is nothing physically there in the phantom limb region that could support the existence of a sensation. So unless we want to subscribe to some kind of telepathic view of the brain, whereby it "reaches out" into space and detects the presence of sensations (or creates them as the case would be), we are faced with the only other plausible conclusion - that space itself is a perceptual phenomenon, sustained and molded by the brain. Again, we do not need to be anti-realists, but we do need to concede that space, as it exists beyond our perception, takes a form that we have no knowledge of. Another example of qualities that are in the head despite what it seems are those qualities that are subject to habituation. Habituation is a neurological effect that one can experience by "exhausting" a specific MOD or set of MODs. That is, by over-stimulating the MOD(s) in question, and then abruptly removing the stimulus, one can experience habituation. What happens is that, because the MODs are exhausted, they are temporarily under-sensitive (it's difficult to stimulate them), and any MODs that they would otherwise inhibit become supersensitive. When MODs become super-sensitive, they have a tendency to fire more readily, and they will even fire when the stimulus that they usually fire in response to is not there. This results in a mild illusion of sorts. The subject experiences a faint image of the stimulus as though it were actually there, and this is what we call "habituation". A common example is staring at a red square against a green background. If you stare at this square for a good minute, and then look at a white wall, you will see a faintly green square against a pink background. This is called an afterimage. What's happening to give off this illusion is that by staring at the square, you've habituated the red neurons in the center of your visual cortex and the green neurons on the periphery of your visual cortex. When you remove the stimulus by looking at the wall, these neurons become under-sensitive and the opposite neurons (green at the center of your visual cortex and red at the periphery) become super-sensitive. This super-sensitivity is what causes them to fire slightly more readily when you look at the wall, and you end up seeing a green square against a pink background.
But the best example of habituation - one that brings home the point at hand - is when it is applied to motion. This is called the "motion aftereffect". It is also called the "waterfall effect" because it works so well when staring at a waterfall. If one was to stair at a waterfall for a couple minutes - like with the red square - and then look at something fixed like a rock or the ground, one will see the rock or ground "moving" upward. Of course, the rock or ground is not moving in reality, but the viewer nevertheless gets a slight sense of motion. This is because the neurons for downward motion have been habituated by the waterfall, and the neurons for upward motion (which the downwards neurons inhibit) become over-sensitive. Therefore, anything you look at will more readily stimulate the upward neurons, giving off the impression that what you are looking at is indeed moving up. This is a great example of the world being in the head because, out of all things, the motion of objects would, like space, be the last thing one would guess was an illusion. It seems so counter-intuitive to think that, in the real world, things don't move. Well, we don't quite have to put it this way, but we should say that whatever it is that things in the real world do, our brains perceive it as motion. What's actually going on with these objects is obviously some kind of change - this we can say more certainly - but this change only affects our senses and our brains in such a way that we end up perceiving motion. This is not the only peculiarity about this example. When we see motion where there is none, this must feel like a paradoxical experience. That is, we see motion because of habituation, yet at the same time, the image of the object is fixed on the retina. It should also be fixed on the simple cells of area V1. What we get, therefore, is the perception of motion at the same time as the perception of no motion. How can this be? Personally, when I experience this effect, I notice a very brief period during which I'm actually fooled by the illusion and I think the object is actually moving, but then a half-second later, I notice the object has not changed from its initial position based on its location relative to other things around it. I then think to myself "Oh, wait, the object is staying still." As I focus my attention back and forth between the apparent motion and the actual position of the object, this impression also switches back and forth - a dizzying sensation! What we might conclude from this is that it depends on what parts of your overall experience your attention is focused on - that is, if you're focused on an object's location relative to its background, you will not perceive motion, but if you focus on the raw impression of the object itself, you will perceive motion. However, in these experiences I've had, the sense of motion was much more distracting and it was hard to pull my focus away from it. More to the point, what this shows is that all the different properties and objects of the world - like color, brightness, softness, loudness, and motion - can, in principle, be isolated and experienced apart from whatever ordinarily stimulates them. In the example above, we see that the perception of motion can be isolated and experienced apart from things actually moving. This might strike some as odd if we took for granted that we perceive the many properties and objects of the world only after some well trained rationalization - as if we only conclude that an object is moving after carefully analyzing its positions on successive occasions. The truth is, however, perceiving motion is done quite automatically and without volition - and potentially by other means besides looking at moving objects. That is, one can induce the sensation of motion while simultaneously seeing that no object is moving. Finally, there is one more example of a neurological anomaly that exemplifies this detachment of perceptions from stimuli in the real world and that is the man who mistook his wife for a hat. Neuroscientists know him simply as P. P, at the end of a visit to the neurologist, Dr. Sacks, attempted to grab his wife's head and put it on like a hat. This wasn't a joke - he really believed his wife's head was his hat! P had trouble recognizing objects for what they were. When asked what a rose was, he only described it as "a convoluted red form with a linear
The Man Who
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Mistook His Wife For A Hat
green attachment". When asked to guess what it was, he said it could be a flower (an example of rationalization). P suffered from a form of visual agnosia in the ventral region of the temporal lobe where object recognition occurs. We can rule out hallucinations, which would place the site of the lesion in the occipital lobe, because P was able to describe the shape and form of objects, such as the rose, quite accurately. So like the perception of motion, the perception of what things are - that is, their identities - can be separated from the objects themselves, and sometimes even swapped like Mrs. P's head for P's hat. So again, the question crops up: are these things actually in the outer world or in the head? Is the identity of an object - that which makes a fork a fork, a bed a bed, or a hat a hat - something that is to be found in the object, independently of how we perceive it, or is it something that depends on a perceiver to see it as such? Well, this is not a question that can be quickly answered either way. On the one hand, yes, it requires a perceiver for a chair to be a chair or a shoe to be a shoe - otherwise it's just an object whose parts so happen to be arranged in a particular configuration. On the other hand, no, an object is what it is, and our identifying it as a spoon, person, house, or whatnot, is just a name or a label we have learnt to use when referring to it. Using this name or label does not change anything inherent to the object - nor could such a name or label be wrong, as if there was some "natural" name or label we ought to discover and use instead. Overall, what we can say about the identity we recognize objects to have is that there is something real about the object, something independent of how we perceive it, that usually gives rise to these perceptions of identity. What this thing is will forever be obscured by the very perception that it gives rise to. We could go on and on giving examples of these kinds of dissociation for each and every feature of our perceptual world, but that would require more time and effort than needed. Let us just sum the point up as follows. If we take the empiricist's point of view - that everything we know, we know from our sensory experiences - then we could make a very strong case, given that we've thoroughly shown our senses to have an exclusively neurological basis, that our entire perceptual and experiential world is indeed a mental one. We've shown that when our sensory perceptions are broken down into their most elementary components, such as lines with orientation for vision, the different pitch levels for hearing, the variety of qualities for touch as well as their locations on our bodies, and so on for taste and smell, there is not one perceptual feature that remains unaccounted for by some neurological or chemical correlate. Even those features of our world which seem undeniably real, because of how amenable they are to scientific measurement and how consistently these measurements churn out the same quantities, have nevertheless been exposed for their exclusive dependence on neurological activity. For example, the perceived orientation or length of a line can be manipulated by habituation such that we perceive a line of an altered orientation or length. If we were to rewire the neural connections in the auditory system (hypothetically, of course ), we could induce perceptions of different pitches than what would be expected from an untampered brain. Also, taking the empiricist's view into consideration, if these most elementary features are so subject to manipulation, then all "higher" perception, such as our abstract interpretations of what we see, or our emotional reactions to the things we experience, having all their roots solely entrenched in these experiences, must be equally, though less directly, subject to manipulation through a neurological channel. And if we really wanted to push the point further, we need only consider the ease with which the cortical regions that these "higher" perceptions correspond to can be neurologically manipulated in the same way - in which case, we would be altering our knowledge, memories, thoughts, etc., as well as our more emotional states, in a much more direct manner. As it stands today, we are still deep in the thralls of the Lockean model of mind. John Locke was a prominent 17th century philosopher who wrote much on the subject of the mind, and many of his views survived through the last three centuries and still ring loudly in the vocabulary of mind we use today. A couple terms taken from this vocabulary are "objectivity" and "subjectivity", which find their roots in Locke's somewhat related terms "primary qualities" and "secondary qualities" respectively. Locke defined primary qualities as those qualities we perceive in the world that actually belong to the world or the objects therein. Secondary qualities, on the other hand, are those qualities that exist only in the perceptions we have of them, but are nevertheless caused by things in the outer world. A few examples might suffice. A primary quality might be the length of a rope, or the shape of a rock, or the weight of a sack of potatoes essentially, anything that can be scientifically measured. These things are perceived to be so many units long, of such a shape, so many pounds, etc., and they really are these things as well. A secondary quality might be the color of the rope, the coldness of the rock, the taste of the potatoes, and so on - essentially, anything that can only exist in virtue of experiencing it as such. In other words, the meanings of the words "objectivity" and "subjectivity" have not changed much from "primary qualities" and "secondary qualities". What was Locke's standard by which he classed perceptions as either primary or secondary? Locke's philosophy was borne by a new worldview being adopted by a civilization shedding itself from an old medieval outlook. The newly adopted worldview taking its place comes down to us as the "scientific revolution". Locke's philosophy of mind was crafted to serve this movement, and so he set out to distinguish between those perceptions that science seemed to have an interest in, and was making much use of, and those that it didn't. The things we perceive which science has a vested interest in are all those things that are empirically verifiable and measurable - namely, primary qualities. The scientific worldview regards these things as absolutely real and precisely what we perceive them to be. Therefore, primary qualities are absolutely real and are precisely what we perceive them to be. All that is left over - namely, anything too subjective to be empirically verified or measured - are secondary qualities. These secondary qualities take a back seat to primary qualities in a scientific context - they are relegated to the category of "mental" things since the only true thing we can say about them is that they are perceived. As such, they are usually considered illusory or "unreal". The Lockean view combines naive realism with the "in-the-head" view that neurology discloses. With respect to primary qualities, Locke understood consciousness to be pure awareness of a reality whose contents and qualities are exactly as they appear. With respect to secondary qualities, Locke understood consciousness to be a collection of perceptions and experiences rooted from within us and stimulated from outside via the senses. The former is taken from naive realism and the latter from the in-the-head view. Locke knew there was some mechanism within us that reacted to environmental stimuli such that it created apparitions in the mind - apparitions that seemed like qualities and objects in the outer world but actually weren't. Today, we can say, with mountains of scientific evidence behind us, that he was right neurological circuits that process information in the form of electric signals are the "mechanism within us" that Locke predicted. His secondary qualities correlate perfectly with these. As much as the neuroscientific findings of the late twentieth century support Locke's theory of secondary qualities, they serve him less well when it comes to primary qualities. But this was also predicted, albeit a century later, by Immanuel Kant. In Kant's view, all qualities and objects are of the secondary variety. The closest terms in Kant's vocabulary to "primary qualities" and "secondary qualities" are "noumena" and "phenomena". Noumena, like primary qualities, are those entities that really do exist in the outer world. However, unlike primary qualities, they are not perceived. The world of noumena is the true form of the world that we will never see or experience in any way. For Kant, the noumena were not only imperceptible, but inconceivable - that is, we have no way of even imagining the noumenal forms. This is consistent with empiricism - anything for which the senses have no access cannot be converted into knowledge or concepts. Phenomena are like secondary qualities in that they are merely perceptual. They have no bearing on the real world - rather, they merely correspond to noumena in such a way that the noumena bring them about by way of the senses. In short, Kant believed that everything we perceive is a secondary quality (phenomena) and anything that might pass as a primary quality would not be perceived at all (noumena) but would, unlike phenomena, really exist. This is more in line with what today's neurosciences tell us. Today's neurosciences say that whatever we perceive or experience corresponds to some kind of neurological activity in the brain, and if it weren't for this activity, we
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would not perceive or experience anything at all. We can draw a principle out of this that will be useful throughout the rest of this website. We shall call it the principle of "experiential monopoly". This wording means to convey that the brain holds a monopoly over all experiences and perceptions. Anything we can point to, refer to, talk about, think about, or consciously involve ourselves with in any way is "in the head". If we can refer to it, we must be experiencing or perceiving it in some way, and therefore an active MOD in the brain corresponds to it. Even the referral itself corresponds to a MOD as it constitutes a thought. If we go back and peruse over the first half of this paper, we will find that all possible properties and entities we could encounter in the world have been accounted for by one or another MOD. Furthermore, all possible mental states - emotional and cognitive - have also been accounted for by MODs. This warrants the formal enunciation of the principle of experiential monopoly.
Principle: Experiential Monopoly For any perception or experience we can refer to, whether in the outer physical world or inner mental world, there is a MOD that makes this perception or experience possible.
What should the reader take from all this? What is so important about the brain's anatomy and function, along with all its philosophical implications, that we could not do without before jumping into the rest of this website? As far as the neurological facts are concerned, we will be referring, on numerous occasions throughout this website, to specific brain parts and their functions. For instance, we will be discussing the difference between what it is to see a cup as a whole object versus seeing only its shape, color, contour lines, etc. In this discussion, we will refer to the line and color detector cells of areas V1 through V3, and comparing these MODs to those of the inferotemporal cortex where object recognition occurs. We will also discuss how we come to experience time. In this discussion, we will refer to motion detector cells in area V1 and the medial temporal cortex, proposing that our sense of time flowing by is partially based on our sense of motion. Another partial basis for our sense of time comes from our memories, for which we will need to refer to the hippocampus, a structure involved in the formation of long-term memories. So the reader has indeed done well to brush up on his/her neurology - it will prove valuable in the proceeding papers. The philosophy behind this neurology is important as well. The reader should step into the introductory paper to this website - The Basic Theory of Mind and Matter - with these philosophical principles under his/her belt. Grasping some of the concepts therein will be much easier for the reader if he/she understands what we mean when we say that sensations and perceptions are "mental" - namely, that sensations and perceptions only begin in the brain as opposed to the sense organs. When we get to the Advanced Theory, it will be easier to grasp the notion of how binding corresponds to a sense of selfhood only if the idea of signals converging in key brain centers has been understood. But most importantly, it will be expected that the reader understands the deterministic picture of the brain the neurosciences have painted. It is hoped that the analogy to computers was a helpful tool in solidifying this view. The reader need not subscribe to neurological determinism (or any brand of determinism), but he/she should at least concede that the neurosciences seem to point in that direction, and that this does pose a problem for mental life. We will be elaborating on the issue of determinism and free-will in another paper - even arguing some good points in support of free-will, points that are perfectly compatible with our theory. But insofar as the rest of this website is concerned, we take a more deterministic approach. The parallel between psychological determinism and neurological determinism can also be understood with the aid of the computer analogy that is, psychological factors are to neurological factors as software is to hardware. However, the software/hardware relation is not as problematic since software is just a mental construct we use to explain what's going on inside our computers - really, electric signals being processed through circuits is all there is. But when it comes to psychological and neurological factors, the dismissal of psychological factors by the same reasoning, although undertaken by some, is not supported by the same justifications. It is indeed a conundrum. It is precisely this conundrum that the Basic Theory tackles from the start, and so it is essential that the reader understands it thoroughly and eagerly anticipates a novel solution. The Basic Theory of Mind and Matter
Introduction The Frontal Lobe Neurons The Limbic System Brain Anatomy and Function Final Thoughts The Senses - Vision Philosophical Principles The Senses - Hearing The Binding Problem Conclusion TOP The Senses - Touch Brains and Computers The Senses - Taste and Smell Determinism And Free-Will
It's All In The Head
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A Different Kind of Electric Current When physicists talk about electric currents, they usually mean a stream of electrons traveling through a conductive medium like a metallic wire. The electric current that flows through the neurons in our brains, however, is not a stream of electrons. It is the propagation of electric charge. When the sodium channels open on the neuron's membrane, the interior of the neuron at that spot becomes positively charged (around +30mV). Other sodium channels follow suit successively down the length of the neuron, and are quickly returned to the usual negative charge of roughly -70mV. What we get as a result is the movement of this positive charge down the length of the neuron. Therefore, what we have is the flow of charge, not electrons. Nonetheless, this flow is treated as an electric current because, in its most broad sense, an electric current is simply the propagation of positive or negative charge. Electrons carry a negative charge of -1, and so when they move, the charge moves with them. Thus in both cases - electrons moving and charges propagating - it is fair to call them electric currents. Furthermore, one can be converted into the other. For example, neurosurgeons stimulate neurons by putting them in contact with electrodes. Electrodes emit electric currents which, when in contact with a neuron, give rise to an action potential. Likewise, neurons can stimulate voltage meters. Voltage meters, like electrodes, are put in contact with neurons and receive their action potentials. The action potentials are then converted to a flow of electrons in the voltage meter. Selective Rearing In 1970, Colin Blakemore and Graham Cooper conducted an experiment in which kittens were reared from birth to five months in an environment deprived of all line orientations except one - either vertical or horizontal. From birth to two weeks, the kittens were kept in complete darkness so they couldn't see anything. After that, they were kept in a vertical tube for five hours a day and in the dark room for the rest of the time. The tube consisted of either vertical or horizontal stripes lining the inner walls and a platform of Plexiglas for the kittens to stand on. The kittens wore neck ruffs so that they could not see too far above or below them - places where lines of other orientations existed. So for five hours a day, they saw vertical or horizontal lines, and for the remainder of the day, they saw nothing. After the five month period, the kittens were tested for the presence of neurons primed to orientations other than the ones they were reared with. Although the findings included a certain range of orientations that neurons responded to, there were relatively few orientations close to the one the kittens were deprived of, and none at those orientations. For kittens reared in a tube with vertical lines, there
were plenty of vertical neurons but no horizontal ones. For kittens reared in a tube with horizontal lines, there were plenty of horizontal neurons but no vertical ones. This experiment provided immense support for the theory of "selective rearing" - the theory that says one can control what kind of neurons develop most abundantly by selectively rearing the subject in an environment that is either rich or poor in the stimuli that those neurons respond to most. Seeing Parallel Lines
Among the above pairs of lines, we can tell quite easily which are parallel and which are not. One might assume that the ease with which we can do this depends on nothing more than our own rational analysis of what we see. That is, we examine the orientation of the lines, compare them to each other, and deduce that they are the same. Well, although this may be what the brain is doing on a neurological level, we don't rationalize anything - we perceive lines to be parallel quite automatically. To make this assertion convincing, try the following exercise: find a room with plenty of objects scattered about and at random angles, like a garage or a storage room. Stand in the middle of the room and look to your left. Find an object that's at an odd angle (like 20° or 75°). Then turn your head to the right and try to find an object at the same angle (this may be difficult considering you may not have access to a whole plethora of rooms with random objects scattered about and conveniently at matching angles to each other - but in the latter case, you can still participate in this exercise as a thought experiment ). Can you find one at exactly the same angle? It might be easy to find one at roughly the same angle, but there are also pairs of lines in the above diagram that are roughly at the same angle yet we clearly see that they are not parallel. To find an object to your left that's at exactly the same angle as one on your right proves difficult - we find ourselves having to switch our gaze back and forth from one object to the other, trying our best to be precise in our assessment. In the end, however, we must admit that we can't say for sure whether they are exactly parallel or not without taking a protractor to them. Why is this? Well, if we assume for the moment that our spatial frequency analyzer neurons aid in the detection of parallel lines, then they can't help us in this exercise. They need both lines to be in our visual field at the same time. If they are not, then we are left to rely on our rational analysis, and as we see, this is not as easy as one might think. Yes, we are capable of examining the angle of one line, turning our attention to the other line, and then attempting to assess their equality or lack thereof. This is what it is to use our rational analysis. If we ii
were simply using rational analysis in assessing which of the lines are parallel in the above diagram, it should be just as difficult as in the above exercise. Because it is not as difficult, there must be an extra MOD or set of MODs responsible for detecting parallel lines, and it is plausible that spatial frequency analyzers are such MODs. Blanket of Stars Ever wonder why they call the night sky a "blanket of stars"? Ever wonder why the stars look like pin points poked through a gigantic black dome even though we know that some of them are light years farther from us than others? The reason for this is that when objects are extremely far away, they lose their three dimensional appearance. It gets lost because the binocular disparity between what the right and left eyes see approaches zero as the distance approaches infinity. To understand this, imagine a triangle with a height less than its base (like the one to the left). Then imagine that its height grows. Watch what happens to the left and right sides as it does this. They become more and more vertical, and therefore they become more and more parallel. There is a critical height after which each side is so close to vertical that their angles become indistinguishable that is, we can't visually tell if one side is slanted any more or less than the other. This represents what is happening with our eyes when we look at the stars. That is, we can imagine that our eyes are at the two bottom corners of the triangle, the star we are looking at is at the tip of the triangle, and the left and right sides represent our line of site. So when we look at the stars, which are light years away, the angles of our line of site for each eye is virtually indistinguishable. Because our brain uses the difference between each eye's line of site to determine the depth of objects, it cannot tell how far away the stars are. Instead, the brain perceives the stars as being at a maximum distance, that being the same for all stars - and all objects - that are beyond this critical distance. Reading Kata Kana vs. Kanji A study was conducted in which subjects with damage to the PTO were asked to read some text in kata kana and other text in kanji. Kana is a Japanese form of writing that uses phonemes - symbols representing sounds - to build words and sentences. Kanji, on the other hand, is a Chinese form of writing that uses ideographs - symbols representing concepts or ideas - to build sentences. The study showed that these subjects could read kanji and understand it, but not kana. What does this mean? It means that the brain uses different systems to interpret the meaning of different visual symbols. It seems to interpret symbols representing concepts or ideas (kanji) using a system akin to that which recognizes regular images such as a "don't walk" sign or the male and female symbols on bathroom doors. Symbols that don't represent concepts or ideas, but maybe other things like sounds (kana), must go through another system, one
tailored to interpreting a meaning only when they come grouped with like symbols. This system seems to be the PTO, or at least depends on the PTO. Perhaps, once the word as a whole is recognized, it then gets processed by the other system, the one tailored for kanji, as the word does in fact symbolize a concept or idea.
The Superior Frontal Gyrus – A “Higher” Self? We described the main function of the superior frontal gyrus as bringing about self-awareness. This supports our claim that the prefrontal cortex is the seat of the self. The superior frontal gyrus sits above, and finds itself surrounded by, the prefrontal cortex. It is in the perfect position to monitor the activity of the prefrontal cortex, like a watch guard in a lookout tower. If the prefrontal cortex is really where our sense of selfhood is located, then it would make sense that the superior frontal gyrus is the area associated with a sense of self-awareness. That is, when the superior frontal gyrus is active, it might be the case that it is processing information from the prefrontal cortex for the purposes of assessing or monitoring the status of the self. It may be just a thought, but if the prefrontal cortex is the seat of the self, wouldn't that make the superior frontal gyrus the seat of a "higher" self? Ambiguity of Determinism Determinism is best understood by those who have a gift for philosophical thinking. For those whose cup of tea is anything but philosophy, determinism is not only a vague concept, but it is often misunderstood as political determinism. I learnt to be wary of this after a philosophical discussion with my wife (who is no philosopher by any stretch of the imagination). She believes in God so I wanted to ask her if she found the reconciliation between God's omnipotence and our free-will difficult to conceive. That is, if God is truly omnipotent, then He should have complete control over what we do, and so our free-will is moot if it exists at all. So I said "If you believe God has complete control over us and the rest of the universe, would you call yourself a determinist?" to which she replied "Well, I only think God decides whether you go to Heaven or Hell, but I think when you're alive you can ask Him for guidance." In that moment it donned on me - she's thinking of determinism in the political sense. God decides whether you go to Heaven or Hell - that is, He makes the executive call on where your soul is destined. In life, you can ask Him for guidance - in other words, He doesn't tell you what to do but He's there to answer your prayers. This is exactly the dynamics that go on between a government and
its people. A flood of insight came rushing in after that. I suddenly realized one of the major reasons so many people detest the idea of determinism (other than its implication that we are not free) is that most people, misunderstanding natural determinism, equate it with tyranny. So just a word of warning. The next time you decide to voice your belief in determinism, be careful that you are not misunderstood as supporting totalitarianism. Quantum Mechanics Notwithstanding This principle is not exactly 100% accurate. As we pointed out above, those well versed in the field of quantum mechanics know that nothing is perfectly determined. At subatomic scales, things don't play out quite as predictably as they do at macroscopic scales. This is not only true of our ability to predict outcomes at this scale, but it is inherent in the outcomes themselves. That is, they literally are non-deterministic - or so it is currently supposed by the scientific community. We will touch on this more in the paper Determinism and Free-Will where we will reconcile this fact with the principle currently being espoused. For now, we will understand this principle to be an approximation to the truth, an approximation that is so precise as to render all considerations of its shortcoming inconsequential. However, this principle is also contended with by Hameroff's theory of Quantum Conscious, which proposes that the quantum non-determinism of the subatomic world is amplified to higher scales in the brain, thereby bearing a more serious consequence for this principle, one that we cannot ignore. Indeed, Hameroff's theory of consciousness is a contending theory to the one presented in this website. It goes about resolving the central conflict this website addresses via a different route - essentially, by denouncing the rigid deterministic nature of the brain. However, Hameroff's theory is debated heavily and is far from seeing unanimous acceptance by the scientific community, or any community. It therefore stands to consider alternative possibilities, and so we are justified in upholding this principle insofar as the aim is to propose an alternate solution to the problem it poses. We will address the pros and cons of Hameroff's theory in the paper Determinism and Free-Will, and we will, in fact, settle on a synthesis between our theory and his.
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