Tuning Into the Universe
The essential, feature of a brain is the ability to tune into what is ongoing
on out there using a variety of input devices. Confusion is avoided by
understanding that the brain is the organ of the mind. All body functions,
awareness, events and emotions are created in the the brain. Molecular
influences that alter the function of brain are manifest as mental influences.
Brains are delicate devices that need special care to work well. When brains do
not function well, disorders of sensing, deciding, acting and remembering occur.
Food is the major source of molecular influences on the brain and, therefore, on
mind states. Finding and consuming food and water is the main business of all animal
brains and remains the priority in the organization of human behavior.
Humans, like other animals, continuously interact with their environment
to bring their existing or anticipated state into congruence with a desired
state. Humans and other animals are engaged in a continuous tracking
operation to locate sources of food and water and to avoid danger. The basic
idea behind animal brains is to bring information about the outside world
together with information from inside the body.
Images of the outside
tend to be detailed and explicit in consciousness. Vision, hearing and smell
are distance senses that inform about events far away. Sensors on the
surface of the body inform about close contacts. Sensors in muscles and
joints inform about our movement in space-time and provide information about
contact with the ground. Sense receptors inside the body are of various
kinds and are not clearly represented in consciousness. Inner sensors
provide information to the brain about conditions in the body and provide
feedback that informs the brain about the consequences of actions taken in
the world outside.
Perceiving the Universe
There is a range of electromagnetic frequencies broadcast in the universe.
Vision tunes into a small range of highly selected frequencies of light and
extracts data from this continuous and prolific stream. Tuning is not a feature
of digital computers but is found in radios. An old radio set with a tuning knob
is a good place to start when you want to understand brain function.
Science has advanced by inventing devices, optical and electronic, that
extend our ability to sense this wave information. We have invented devices that
can tune into every known electromagnetic frequency and we detect photons as
particles that expose film and activate photon-energy-sensitive electronic
detectors. Our ability to magnify and amplify events in an otherwise unseen
microcosm is the foundation of science and technological advances. All our
marvelous devices are extensions of our native ability to sense what is going on
Tuning in the brain involves clusters of processors for every sensory system.
Careful studies of the visual cortex, for example, have revealed clusters of
highly specialized cells that detect single features. Discrete columns of
specialized neurons respond as if they were programmed to deliver specific
information such as <column 1 - detect all edges moving to the left>. The
combination of tuning circuits extracting specific information (focal awareness)
with a scanning, broadband information seeker (global awareness) appear to be
the basic plan of interaction with the outside world.
Magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) reveals assemblies of cortical processors
that are specialized to the recognition of visual objects, for example and are
assigned to different domains for different classes of objects. Ishai and
colleagues described brain maps for the recognition of pictures of faces, houses
and chairs. They stated: Recently, we identified, using fMRI, three bilateral
regions in the ventral temporal cortex that responded preferentially to faces,
houses, and chairs. We report differential patterns of activation,
similar to those seen in the ventral temporal cortex, in the bilateral regions
of the ventral occipital cortex. We also found category-related responses in the
dorsal occipital cortex and in the superior temporal sulcus. Rather than
activating discrete, segregated areas, each category was associated with its own
differential pattern of response across a broad expanse of cortex. The
distributed patterns of response were similar across tasks (passive viewing,
delayed matching) and presentation formats (photographs, line drawings). We
propose that the representation of objects in the ventral visual pathway,
including both occipital and temporal regions, is not restricted to small,
highly selective patches of cortex but, instead, is a distributed representation
of information about object form. Within this distributed system, the
representation of faces appears to be less extensive as compared to the
representations of nonface objects."
(Ishai A, Ungerleider LG, Martin A, Haxby JV. The Representation of Objects
in the Human Occipital and Temporal Cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
2000 Nov;12(suppl. 2):35-51)
- You are viewing the Brain Mind Center at Alpha Online.
Understanding the human brain is essential to become a well-informed, modern
Stephen Gislason MD is the author of
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