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gib65

What do scientists not yet understand about the brain?

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I've taken a brain anatomy course in university and it sounds to me like neurologists have pretty much figured out how the brain works. Electrical signals enter the brain from the senses, travel along the axons of neurons, communicate with neighbouring neurons by releasing neurotransmitters across the synaptic gap which then get converted back to electric signals, and so on, until the brain transfers this signal to other bodily organs. It seems like a pretty deterministic and self-contained system that doesn't really leave any mysteries unresolved. I've also taken a few computer science courses (got my B.Sc in it) and the similarities between computer circuits and neurological circuits are uncanny to the point that if you can understand how a computer works, that understanding can be applied to the brain with little misrepresentation (more-or-less).

 

So I was just wondering: is this all there is to it? I mean, I'd expect that the exact nature of a neuron is a little bit more complicated than being a conductor, and there might be mysteries to them that to date stump the neuroscientific community, but from what I understand these mysteries (if they exist) shouldn't change how we currently understand the brain to work (i.e. as an organic computer). Or are there greater mysteries to the effect that, until we solve them, we actually CANNOT say that we understand how the brain works (that is, there is NO theory to date that satisfactorily explains everything about the brain).

 

Gib

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I've taken a brain anatomy course in university and it sounds to me like neurologists have pretty much figured out how the brain works. Electrical signals enter the brain from the senses, travel along the axons of neurons, communicate with neighbouring neurons by releasing neurotransmitters across the synaptic gap which then get converted back to electric signals, and so on, until the brain transfers this signal to other bodily organs. It seems like a pretty deterministic and self-contained system that doesn't really leave any mysteries unresolved. I've also taken a few computer science courses (got my B.Sc in it) and the similarities between computer circuits and neurological circuits are uncanny to the point that if you can understand how a computer works, that understanding can be applied to the brain with little misrepresentation (more-or-less).

 

So I was just wondering: is this all there is to it? I mean, I'd expect that the exact nature of a neuron is a little bit more complicated than being a conductor, and there might be mysteries to them that to date stump the neuroscientific community, but from what I understand these mysteries (if they exist) shouldn't change how we currently understand the brain to work (i.e. as an organic computer). Or are there greater mysteries to the effect that, until we solve them, we actually CANNOT say that we understand how the brain works (that is, there is NO theory to date that satisfactorily explains everything about the brain).

 

Gib

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We still do not fully understand how the brain works, because if we did we could easily create AI. If we fully understood how the brain works, there would no longer be any brain diseases.

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We still do not fully understand how the brain works, because if we did we could easily create AI. If we fully understood how the brain works, there would no longer be any brain diseases.

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Ah, but, this gets at the the first interpretation I mentioned above. That is, we may not know how to build AI or cure all known brain diseases, but we can still say that the brain is basically an organic computer and and it works by transmitting electric signals along axons and chemical signals across synaptic gaps. What I'm asking is, can we say that we KNOW that this is how the brain works, or are there aspects/parts of the brain that this model simply does not work with.

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Ah, but, this gets at the the first interpretation I mentioned above. That is, we may not know how to build AI or cure all known brain diseases, but we can still say that the brain is basically an organic computer and and it works by transmitting electric signals along axons and chemical signals across synaptic gaps. What I'm asking is, can we say that we KNOW that this is how the brain works, or are there aspects/parts of the brain that this model simply does not work with.

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Pardon if this sounds uneducated (for I have not studied ANY neuroscience at ALL), but have we figured out exactly how (and does the system you mentioned explain), on a physical level, memory or knowledge is stored? Have we deciphered the signals that are being sent? Could we read them? Perhaps we don't know how to build AI, but can we even guess (or make a theoretical model) of AI? Does this signal system explain consciousness? Identity?

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Pardon if this sounds uneducated (for I have not studied ANY neuroscience at ALL), but have we figured out exactly how (and does the system you mentioned explain), on a physical level, memory or knowledge is stored? Have we deciphered the signals that are being sent? Could we read them? Perhaps we don't know how to build AI, but can we even guess (or make a theoretical model) of AI? Does this signal system explain consciousness? Identity?

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No it doesn't. And that's part of the reason I'm asking. See, I've always had a nagging suspision that our quest to find the foundations of consciousness has been leading us down the wrong road so long as we've been assuming that the brain is responsible for "producing" consciousness. What if, instead, the brain only ALLOWED for consciousness? (the old "correlation-not-causation" argument). But who knows, I could be wrong (hence the questioning).

 

but have we figured out exactly how (and does the system you mentioned explain), on a physical level, memory or knowledge is stored?

 

There is research supporting the existence of engrams, a type of neurological circuit predicted by Karl Lashley which can be thought of as a neural pathway that forms a feedback loop with itself. When stimulated, this loop keeps exciting itself thereby "keeping a thought in consciousness". This is very much like the flip-flop, the basic hardware piece in almost all computers responsible for memory (it stores exactly 1 bit). As for knowledge, most things that we feel we know correspond to fixed neural pathways that have been established over time such that it is unlikely for a signal to deviate from it. Come to think of it, when you talk about memory and knowledge, aren't they the same thing. I mean, if you remember something, you know it, and if you know it, you remember it. So whatever physical explanation you have to explain the one, it could be adequate to explain the other.

 

But all this is only insofar as I know, and I'm no expert.

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No it doesn't. And that's part of the reason I'm asking. See, I've always had a nagging suspision that our quest to find the foundations of consciousness has been leading us down the wrong road so long as we've been assuming that the brain is responsible for "producing" consciousness. What if, instead, the brain only ALLOWED for consciousness? (the old "correlation-not-causation" argument). But who knows, I could be wrong (hence the questioning).

 

but have we figured out exactly how (and does the system you mentioned explain), on a physical level, memory or knowledge is stored?

 

There is research supporting the existence of engrams, a type of neurological circuit predicted by Karl Lashley which can be thought of as a neural pathway that forms a feedback loop with itself. When stimulated, this loop keeps exciting itself thereby "keeping a thought in consciousness". This is very much like the flip-flop, the basic hardware piece in almost all computers responsible for memory (it stores exactly 1 bit). As for knowledge, most things that we feel we know correspond to fixed neural pathways that have been established over time such that it is unlikely for a signal to deviate from it. Come to think of it, when you talk about memory and knowledge, aren't they the same thing. I mean, if you remember something, you know it, and if you know it, you remember it. So whatever physical explanation you have to explain the one, it could be adequate to explain the other.

 

But all this is only insofar as I know, and I'm no expert.

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Come to think of it, when you talk about memory and knowledge, aren't they the same thing.

 

Sorry about that! I meant to imply that they are basically the same. The 'or' is part of my idiocyncratic semantics. :rolleyes:

 

Anyway...I also wonder: have we figure out how is it that we can remember/know something, but not have to consciously think about it all the time? I think that's what I was really getting at with the whole "storage" idea. Which gets back at consciousness itself, I suppose...Do some scientists assume/believe that simply the complexity of the system (brain) creates consciousness?

 

And I always wondered why the "correlation, not causation" argument wasn't automatically assumed until causation was actually "proven"...that idea makes much more sense to me than the reverse...

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Come to think of it, when you talk about memory and knowledge, aren't they the same thing.

 

Sorry about that! I meant to imply that they are basically the same. The 'or' is part of my idiocyncratic semantics. :rolleyes:

 

Anyway...I also wonder: have we figure out how is it that we can remember/know something, but not have to consciously think about it all the time? I think that's what I was really getting at with the whole "storage" idea. Which gets back at consciousness itself, I suppose...Do some scientists assume/believe that simply the complexity of the system (brain) creates consciousness?

 

And I always wondered why the "correlation, not causation" argument wasn't automatically assumed until causation was actually "proven"...that idea makes much more sense to me than the reverse...

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have we figure out how is it that we can remember/know something, but not have to consciously think about it all the time?

 

I think that something like that would correspond to a neurological circuit which is not being stimulated (i.e. has no electric signal running through it and/or no chemical transmissions), but can be at any time. So, when it's active, we're thinking about it, and when it's not, it's "stored".

 

Do some scientists assume/believe that simply the complexity of the system (brain) creates consciousness?

 

I think there is a school of thought along those lines. There's also a school of thought (perhaps the same one) that proposes that it's not so much what the brain is that gives rise to consciousness, but what the brain is doing. In other words, it doesn't matter that the brain is made of neurons, chemicals, metal, plastic, or even bubble-gum, so long as the function that it carries out meets certain criteria. And I would presume those criteria amount to "behaving as if with consciousness".

 

And I always wondered why the "correlation, not causation" argument wasn't automatically assumed until causation was actually "proven"

 

I don't know, but I think it probably had something to do with the fact that consciousness seemed immediately to cease upon cutting off one's head. You chop off one's arm, leg, or mutilate one viscerally (word?), and he/she is still conscious (at least, for a short while), but chop off one's head and they immediately die. Of course, this still doesn't imply causation, but in times of old, when people weren't savy logicians as we are today, it's eas to see how they would come to that conclusion.

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have we figure out how is it that we can remember/know something, but not have to consciously think about it all the time?

 

I think that something like that would correspond to a neurological circuit which is not being stimulated (i.e. has no electric signal running through it and/or no chemical transmissions), but can be at any time. So, when it's active, we're thinking about it, and when it's not, it's "stored".

 

Do some scientists assume/believe that simply the complexity of the system (brain) creates consciousness?

 

I think there is a school of thought along those lines. There's also a school of thought (perhaps the same one) that proposes that it's not so much what the brain is that gives rise to consciousness, but what the brain is doing. In other words, it doesn't matter that the brain is made of neurons, chemicals, metal, plastic, or even bubble-gum, so long as the function that it carries out meets certain criteria. And I would presume those criteria amount to "behaving as if with consciousness".

 

And I always wondered why the "correlation, not causation" argument wasn't automatically assumed until causation was actually "proven"

 

I don't know, but I think it probably had something to do with the fact that consciousness seemed immediately to cease upon cutting off one's head. You chop off one's arm, leg, or mutilate one viscerally (word?), and he/she is still conscious (at least, for a short while), but chop off one's head and they immediately die. Of course, this still doesn't imply causation, but in times of old, when people weren't savy logicians as we are today, it's eas to see how they would come to that conclusion.

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Why would you imediately die when your head is chopped off? Unless the shock of losing much of the nervous system kills the brain, I don't think there is any reason to suggest the brain ceases to function until all the oxygen in the blood is completely gone and the brain no longer has the tools it needs to function.

 

And knowing how the brain works has nothing to do with knowing how to create AI, besides the fact that simmillar methods are used for processing data in a computer chip as the human brain, Kylonicus. Artificial intelligence is just that - intelligence that is artificial, not computer that is squishy.

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Why would you imediately die when your head is chopped off? Unless the shock of losing much of the nervous system kills the brain, I don't think there is any reason to suggest the brain ceases to function until all the oxygen in the blood is completely gone and the brain no longer has the tools it needs to function.

 

And knowing how the brain works has nothing to do with knowing how to create AI, besides the fact that simmillar methods are used for processing data in a computer chip as the human brain, Kylonicus. Artificial intelligence is just that - intelligence that is artificial, not computer that is squishy.

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Why would you imediately die when your head is chopped off? Unless the shock of losing much of the nervous system kills the brain, I don't think there is any reason to suggest the brain ceases to function until all the oxygen in the blood is completely gone and the brain no longer has the tools it needs to function.

Hypothalamus functions?

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Why would you imediately die when your head is chopped off? Unless the shock of losing much of the nervous system kills the brain, I don't think there is any reason to suggest the brain ceases to function until all the oxygen in the blood is completely gone and the brain no longer has the tools it needs to function.

Hypothalamus functions?

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There is research supporting the existence of engrams, a type of neurological circuit predicted by Karl Lashley which can be thought of as a neural pathway that forms a feedback loop with itself.

 

Might also want to look into the theory proposed by Karl Pribham in which he suggested that the Brain is like a holographic processor. We know that with a hologram when you cut away a section of it, we dont loose much of the original. In fact the whole original "picture" can be reconstructed from just a tiny section, which appears to make parallels with what is known in modern neuroscience, when some neurons die we dont suffer catastrophic failure...try doing that with a digital processor.

 

Also i think it was Mead that said something to the effect " the neurons that are used for processing information are the same ones used for storing that information "....intreguing.

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There is research supporting the existence of engrams, a type of neurological circuit predicted by Karl Lashley which can be thought of as a neural pathway that forms a feedback loop with itself.

 

Might also want to look into the theory proposed by Karl Pribham in which he suggested that the Brain is like a holographic processor. We know that with a hologram when you cut away a section of it, we dont loose much of the original. In fact the whole original "picture" can be reconstructed from just a tiny section, which appears to make parallels with what is known in modern neuroscience, when some neurons die we dont suffer catastrophic failure...try doing that with a digital processor.

 

Also i think it was Mead that said something to the effect " the neurons that are used for processing information are the same ones used for storing that information "....intreguing.

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Maybe to understand the idea of AI will need a philosophical approach .

 

#2 ,

Maybe we don't need to create memories of knowledge for the computer to understand about brains

 

.

 

DR ( Digital Reality or better , not VR) is I think the key for computers to understanding brain patterns .

We should be able hook our ourselves into the computers and then give the computer some basic procedures / laws to follow to be able to reason/analyse from the current database of knowledge to a problem it identifies the brain with and if there are irregularities or anomalies it would just identify the are of irregularity .

 

And after over so many analyses been made ,the memory within the computer will eventually have knowledge of the many types of average brain pattern .

 

What do others think ?

as I do not know much about neuroscience at this time .

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Maybe to understand the idea of AI will need a philosophical approach .

 

#2 ,

Maybe we don't need to create memories of knowledge for the computer to understand about brains

 

.

 

DR ( Digital Reality or better , not VR) is I think the key for computers to understanding brain patterns .

We should be able hook our ourselves into the computers and then give the computer some basic procedures / laws to follow to be able to reason/analyse from the current database of knowledge to a problem it identifies the brain with and if there are irregularities or anomalies it would just identify the are of irregularity .

 

And after over so many analyses been made ,the memory within the computer will eventually have knowledge of the many types of average brain pattern .

 

What do others think ?

as I do not know much about neuroscience at this time .

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No it doesn't. And that's part of the reason I'm asking. See' date=' I've always had a nagging suspision that our quest to find the foundations of consciousness has been leading us down the wrong road so long as we've been assuming that the brain is responsible for "producing" consciousness. What if, instead, the brain only ALLOWED for consciousness? (the old "correlation-not-causation" argument). But who knows, I could be wrong (hence the questioning).

 

 

 

There is research supporting the existence of engrams, a type of neurological circuit predicted by Karl Lashley which can be thought of as a neural pathway that forms a feedback loop with itself. When stimulated, this loop keeps exciting itself thereby "keeping a thought in consciousness". This is very much like the flip-flop, the basic hardware piece in almost all computers responsible for memory (it stores exactly 1 bit). As for knowledge, most things that we feel we know correspond to fixed neural pathways that have been established over time such that it is unlikely for a signal to deviate from it. Come to think of it, when you talk about memory and knowledge, aren't they the same thing. I mean, if you remember something, you know it, and if you know it, you remember it. So whatever physical explanation you have to explain the one, it could be adequate to explain the other.

 

But all this is only insofar as I know, and I'm no expert.[/quote']

According to some authors, engrams make sense, others completely ignore them. I am derfinitely no author, nor a proffesional of the subject, but engrams to me, could only make sense in the context of working memory. The cmparison of computers with brain function has very much been discarded. An interesting new view has recently been given by Hawking (Not Stephen Hawkings).

You say that when you remember something you know it... . This statement does not correlate very well with the concepts of implicit and explicit memory.

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An interesting new view has recently been given by Hawking (Not Stephen Hawkings).

 

A reference to Hawking's work would be nice. I google searched for Hawking exhaustively and could only find computers for sale from Hawking Technology and a quote from Stephen Hawkings about AI taking over the world.

 

You say that when you remember something you know it... . This statement does not correlate very well with the concepts of implicit and explicit memory.

 

No it doesn't. I really don't think it's relavant though since 1) when someone brings up the concept of memory in a casual manner, without reference to implicit or explicit memory, it's fair to assume they mean explicit memory, and 2) even if they did mean to refer to implicit memory, the fact that it cannot be equated with knowledge sheds no light on the brain-computer analogy, which was the subject matter of the larger topic in this thread. Good for you for pointing it out though.

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A reference to Hawking's work would be nice. I google searched for Hawking exhaustively and could only find computers for sale from Hawking Technology and a quote from Stephen Hawkings about AI taking over the world.

 

 

.

 

Sorry about the omision:

http://www.plosbiology.org/plosonline/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0020394

 

Here is another address that tangentially touches the subject:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/11/1119_041119_brain_petri_dish.html

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