Neural Musings

I was languishing in my bed at the tail end of an afternoon nap, winamp streaming out the chillout channel of an internet radio station. I was in a half-dreamlike state, letting the pulse of the music flow over me in my bed like aural silk. I was also thinking over the requirements of a group projects – flash games for medical education. Teetering on the edge between consciousness and sleep, it was if I was a half-step behind my own thoughts. My control of them seemed assured, but it was if I had climbed up out of the boiling cauldron of my thinking mind.

Slowly I was exploring the architecture of our web games, flying through needed structures and functionality. “We’ll need a pathway in the flash code to communicate with the backend database, realized in php code.” “We’ll need to dynamically load animated gifs based on opcodes embedded in the relational data for each game mode.” “We’ll align the user interface into panels and information flow will be unified.”

Each precept wasn’t vocalized, more like visualized as an orb of wisdom and truth matching needs. I wasn’t totally conscious, and perhaps not even correct in my musings.

And then I closed up the box, wrapped up my maintenance and construction of the internals. It was time to view the final product, and do a demo. A female voice spoke, and I had been anticipating it.

“We’re going to play a game.”

It took me a tic to parse the reality of the situation, and another handful of seconds to pull my mind together and crawl out of the haze. I was transfixed in the marvel of my own mind. The voice had come from the mp3 stream, a haunting female recording probably from some 50s TV show. Yet from the first syllable of “We’re”, the entire meaning of the sentence had been incorporated into my dreamy mind. I could almost see the speaker past the corner of the desk where the manifestation of our webgame lay.

Of course these are mere metaphors in text to describe the ethereal process of thinking. But a variable easy enough to ascertain while thinking is whether a chuck of info “fits” with the rest, or is complete random and wrong. In this case, that female voice fit fine.

This brings me to two points:

“The Incorporation of Stimuli”
The wonder of the brain is that it incorporates the vast multitude of stimula into relationships. Unlike a rational database, which stores the absolute representation of discrete data, perhaps the brain stores a thought pattern that can be used to derive a piece of data, using other relationships as parameters.

Often, when I’m attempting to think of a word to describe something, I know the feeling and meaning of the word. I also know strange, completely arbitrary words or concepts that “link” me to the word I want. Sometimes I’m at a complete loss for the word I want, but often after a minute or two, it suddenly pops into my head. This illustrates the theory: the meaning of the word is the formula; the other random data act as parameters or relations to construct the word.

I really have no clue whether the actual word was stored somewhere in my brain, with its own pronunciation and dictionary definition. Perhaps groups of neurons act as a diverse filter for audio input, returning true or false based on if I recognize the word – have heard it before. Other filters of neurons act in the same way – filtering a feeling or meaning construct into a word or group of words.

The point is: the brain uses elaborate schematics to incorporate every possible stimulus into the set of meaning and memory. Of course we don’t remember every instant of our lives, and we don’t have to rationally filter out the fluff. All that occurs automatically and naturally.

“The Illusion of Meaning”
This is brings me to my opening story. My dream had been manipulated instantly in my mind to incorporate the outside stimulus of the woman’s voice. Meaning had existed before rational parsing of it had occurred. In fact, dreams stand as a reminder that meaning is outside of conscious control whatsoever, given the oftentimes insane logic of dreams. Perhaps intuition is merely one of the filters I spoke of above.

Many times I’ll be dreaming when the alarm begins to blare, and yet I don’t wake up. I can hear it in my sleep, and it takes on a face in the dream. Perhaps I am trapped in a maze or nightmarish complex attempting to find an alarm to cut off the retched noise. Sometimes I know that I’m sleeping, yet in my dream I stand up and turn off the alarm – only to find out its impossible to cut off.

Much like Freudian psychology – often the filter of meaning incorporates precepts of reason or social standards. But I’m not interested in psychology – I find the computation of neurology far more interesting.

Where do we go from the standards above? For me, one conclusion is that the mind is most certainly computationally possible. There is no magic amongst the gray matter.

Yet the old way of linear scientific thinking – solving problems with math – probably wont work to model the brain. Even modern computers work in a linear fashion – a single chunk of computation is done at a time. Neural networks attempt to models the supposed physical structure of the brain – yet they treat all neurons as blank slates.

Personally I believe the human brain comes hardwired with a number of computational tools – which contribute to the above principles.

And I think the driving force of consciousness is important. Selectively weighting sets and chunks of neural data is vitally important. Such a forced imbalance prevents equilibrium, and maintains the internal illusion of “thinking” rather than just reacting like a state machine.

Is consciousness quantized? If consciousness is merely what’s contained on a set of neurons, the question is raised – they can only do so much over a certain amount of time. The rest of the brain is thinking away, and consciousness can’t keep up. It must selectively choose what to hold onto for each quanta of thought.

In closing, perhaps these filters of the brain are like the elaborate patterns created by artificial life simulation, the original rule being the initial protein synthesis by DNA. Do the rules themselves have any meaning at all, or are they simply the rules that led to intelligence in humans? Personally, I don’t believe brain size has anything to do with intelligence, nor density of neural connections. The filters have to be there for thinking to work – and thus we got lucky as a species, evolutionarily stumbling across those DNA “rules” for a thinking mind.

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