Cerebral mysticism: the brain is the soul, the computer, or something more?


2018-05-17 12:00:17




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Cerebral mysticism: the brain is the soul, the computer, or something more?

More than 2000 years ago the semi-mythical father of medicine Hippocrates of KOs has puzzled thinkers of his time a bold statement about the nature of human consciousness. In response to a supernatural explanation of the manifestations of the psyche, Hippocrates insisted that "from nowhere else but from the brain come joy, fun, laughter and strife, of sadness, discouragement, sorrows, and lamentations". In the modern era of Hippocrates could Express their thoughts in a single message in the «on Twitter» "We are our brains". And this message resonates perfectly with the latest trends blaming the brain, to revise the mental disorders as diseases of the brain and, in the futuristic world, to imagine improving or preserving our lives by preserving the brain. From creativity to the drug of affection, one can hardly find at least one aspect of human behavior not associated with brain function. The brain can be called the modern replacement for the soul.

But somewhere in this romantic perception hides the most important and fundamental lesson that should teach neurology: our brain is a purely physical entity, the conceptual and the causal embedded in the natural world. Although the brain is necessary for almost everything we do, he never works alone. Its function is inextricably linked with the body and its environment. The interdependence of these factors is hiding under cultural phenomenon that Alan Jasanoff, Professor of bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, calls a "cerebral mystery", the all — pervading idealization of the brain and its exceptional importance, which protects traditional ideas about the differences between the brain and body, free will and the nature of the thought.

Mysticism is expressed in various forms, from the ubiquitous images of the supernatural and sophisticated brains in science fiction and popular culture to more balanced and scientifically justified concepts of cognitive functions that explain the inorganic quality or enter into thought processes in the neural structure. "All ideas are born in the brain". "Thought creates reality". "The moon does not exist unless you look". This idealization is very easy as mere mortals and scientists, fits perfectly into the view of the materialists and the clergy. Cerebral mysticism ignites interest in neuroscience — and that's good — but also limits our ability to analyze human behavior and to solve important problems of society.


the Brain is a computer?

We say that the brain is a computer, to some extent. Or computer is the brain. The widespread analogy between brain and computer is making a powerful contribution to cerebral mysticism, as if separating the brain from the rest of biology. A striking difference between mashinobudivny brain, and soft, chaotic mass ("meat"), which is available in the rest of our body, holds the dividing line between the brain and body, which said Rene Descartes. Proclaiming his eternal "I think, therefore I exist", Descartes placed the mind in its own universe, separate from the material world.

And while the brain is like a car we can easily imagine its separation from the head, save in eternity, cloning, or sending into space. Digital brain seems so natural phenomenon and separated by the Cartesian spirit. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the most influential inorganic analogy of the brain was presented by physicists, who in his old age, plunged into the problem of consciousness as well as older people leave the religion. This was John von Neumann; he wrote the book "Computer and brain" (1958) before his death (1957), open to the world this strong analogy at the dawn of the digital era.

The Brain is definitely something like a computer — after all, computers were created to perform the functions of the brain — but the brain — this is much more than a tangle of neurons and electrical impulses that spread them. The function of each neuro-electrical signal to throw a small amount of chemical substances that help to stimulate or suppress brain cells as well as chemical substances that activate and inhibit the functions like the production of glucose by liver cells or immune responses of white blood cells. Even the electrical signals of the brain are the products of chemicals, ions, which enter and leave the cells, causing a tiny ripple that travels through the neurons independently.

Also from neurons are easy to distinguish relatively inactive brain cells, called glia. Their number is approximately equal to the number of neurons, but they do not conduct electrical signals in the same way. Recent experiments on mice showed that manipulation of these boring cells can produce a major effect on behaviour. In one experiment, a group of scientists from Japan have shown that targeted stimulation of glia in the cerebellum can cause response similar to the changes that occur during the stimulation of neurons. Another remarkable study showed that transplantation of human glial cells in the mouse brain improved the learning ability of animals, in turn demonstrating the importance of glia in changing brain function. Chemicals and glia is inseparable from the functions of the brain, like wires and electricity. And when we realize the presence of these soft components, the brain becomes more like an organic part of the body, rather than on an idealized CPU that is stored under glass in our skull.

The Stereotypes about complexities of the brain also contribute to the mystique of the brain and its separation from the body. Known cliché calls the brain "the most complex thing in the known Universe", and if "our brain would be so simple that we could understand, we would not be able to understand it". This opinion is due primarily to the fact that the human brain contains about 100 000 000 000 neurons, each of which forms about 10,000 connections (synapses) with other neurons. The dizzying nature of these numbers makes people doubt that neuroscientists will be able to ever solve the riddle of consciousness, not to mention the nature of free will, which is hiding in one of those billions of neurons.

But the huge number of cells in the human brain is unlikely to explain his extraordinary ability. In the human liver about the same number of cells as in the brain, but the results it gives are quite different. The brain itself can be of various sizes, and the number of cells also varies, somewhere more, somewhere less. Remove half of the brain sometimes allows to cure epilepsy in children. Commenting on the cohort of 50 patients who have gone through this procedure, a group of doctors from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore wrote that they "were horrified by the apparent preservation of memory after removal of half the brain, as well as the preservation of a sense of personality and humor in children". Obviously, not all brain cells sacred.

If you look at the world of animals, a wide range of brain sizes absolutely nothing to do with cognitive abilities. Some of the most cunning of animals — crows, magpies and jackdaws — have a brain which in size is less than 1% human, but still demonstrate a much more advanced cognitive abilities in certain tasks, even compared with chimpanzees and gorillas. Behavioral studies have shown that these birds can make and use tools, to get to know people on the street — not even a Primate. And animals with similar characteristics also differ in the size of the brain. Among rodents, for example, you can find 80-gram brain of a capybara with 1.6 billion neurons and the brain of the pygmy mouse weighing 0.3 gram with less than 60 millions of neurons. Despite such differences in size of brain, these animals live in similar conditions, exhibit similar social habits, and do not demonstrate obvious differences in intelligence. Although neuroscientists are just beginning to find brain function, even in small animals, this clearly demonstrates the popular hoax of the brain because of the abundance of its components.

Talking about the engine qualities of the brain or its incredible complexity and remove it from the rest of the biological world in its composition. The separation of mind and body which exaggerates the distance of the brain from the body from the point of view of autonomy. Cerebral mysticism emphasizes the reputation of the brain as the control center, which is associated with the body, but still detached.

Of Course, it is not. Our brain is constantly bombarded with sensory inputs of the senses. The environment sends many megabytes of sensory data to the brain every second. The brain has no firewall against this onslaught. Imaging studies of the brain show that even the subtle sensory stimuli affect the brain from low-level sensory areas to the parts of the frontal lobe, the high-level region of the brain that is enlarged in humans compared to other primates.


the Brain dependent on nervous stimuli

Many of these stimuli directly manage us. For example, when we look at images, visual details often attract our attention and be forced to look at certain patterns. When we look at the face, our attention automatically switches to the eyes, nose and mouth, subconsciously highlighting them as the most important part. When we walk down the street, our attention is controlled by the stimuli of the environment — the sound of a car horn, flashing neon lights, the smell of pizza — each of which guides our thoughts and actions, even if we are not aware of this report.

Even lower under the radar of our perception are environmental factors that affect our mood slowly. Seasonal periods of low light levels associated with depression. For the first time this phenomenon is described by South African doctor Norman Rosenthal, shortly after moving from Sunny Johannesburg on gray the North-the smell of the United States in the 1970-ies. The colors of the environment also affect us. Despite the many hoaxes on this subject, it is proved that si...


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