Chapter 1

AN OUTLINE OF THE PROBLEMS

This communication presents a theory of brain function which addresses three very important problems faced by neuroscience today. The problems are:-

1. How does the brain unscramble all the signals it receives?

We require an explanation as to how the brain actually works. A single neuron can communicate with thousands of others and signals immediately become mixed up. It is difficult to see how these can ever be sorted out again. No satisfactory explanation of how the brain does this has been presented so far. Most major texts on neurobiology deal very well with the locations in the brain where different modalities are processed but they omit any real attempt to confront the problem as to how the information becomes unscrambled and restored to "Topographic" form. By "Topographic Form" we mean the kind of point to point correspondence which you get with a single element of information in a system such as photography, where a single point on the photograph relates to a single point on the object photographed.

Information has to be restored to this form whenever motor action has to be taken. The neurons governing muscular action are arranged in topographic form. (Vide Richard Restak - "The Brain" page 77 - For the picture of a homunculus bestriding the motor cortex.)

2. How do different areas of the brain communicate with each other?

We also have the "Binding Problem". Modern neurobiology has come a long way in that we can understand fairly well how neurons work and we know a great deal about what any particular part of the brain can process. Our most detailed knowledge concerns the visual system. We know fairly well where the attributes of FORM, MOVEMENT, COLOR etc. are processed but these are all in separate locations. We used to be looking for a hierarchical structure with various levels of analysis, bringing these together at the top, but no "Master" center is to be found anywhere in any brain structure. (See Semir Zeki - A Vision of the Brain and Richard Restak - Modular Brain.) Even if we could find a higher "Master Center", this would not solve the problem because we do not know what would be looking at it the picture there. All that we can find is "Synapses" which are equivalent to "Gremlins" with little more intelligence than a switch. The fallacy of the "Homunculus" curled up in the brain, looking at the picture is well known (Figure #1). We would need another homunculus looking at what the first one sees, leading to an infinite regress. We need to know how the separate parts of visual synthesis are brought together and this is known as the "Binding Problem". Where is the "Cartesian Theater" (After Descartes) where everything is played out? All we know is that it is all played out for us individually in the conscious mind and we don't know what that is. This is in topographic form but we cannot find it in the brain. There may still be a system of geographically scattered cells holding the information in topographic form. These cells would not have to be geographically adjacent. The important thing is the point to point representation, or "Topographic Form". There is no evidence that we have scattered cells at higher cortical levels in topographic form any where at all. Certainly we have not found them and even if we had, we would still have the homunculus problem. Penfield did not find them when he stimulated tiny areas of brain with a fine needle. What he got was a much more general response, calling out a complete train of thought. We would have to get to the conscious mind itself to achieve this degree of integration.

3. What is the nature of consciousness?

The problem of consciousness. We all know that we have it and by extension, others have it too, but it is difficult to find an explanation within the known laws of physics. For many centuries dating at least from the time of Aristotle, theologians and philosophers have taken the view that mind or spirit are a quite separate phenomenon from those of material matter. This view has become strongly associated with the philosopher and scientist Descartes who located the seat of the soul in the pineal gland. We know that this is incorrect but that is unimportant. What is at stake is the question is whether or not mind has an existence which is separate from material matter.

The Descartian view has become unacceptable to scientists. There is only one Universe. The Universe is, by definition, the totality of everything. It is a matter of observation that the universe is a place of regularity and order and the more we learn, the more we are able to fit everything together. It is now necessary to bring the phenomena of "Mind" into the realm of physics and chemistry and to explain mental phenomena within the terms of physical law.

Modern neurobiology supports the view that the mind is a manifestation of brain activity and is inseparable from it. This view is underpinned by extensive new knowledge which has been obtained from MRI and CAT scanning. We know the specific areas where various kinds of mental activity are processed. Whenever we have a damaged brain, thoughts or recognition which are normally found associated with the damaged area, cease to exist. There is no hard evidence anywhere of the existence of conscious mental activity except in relation to the living brain.

Our objective is to answer the problem of the nature of consciousness without any essential modification of the laws of physics as we know them present and without having to postulate any new laws. A complete answer is not yet in sight but we can at least narrow down the possibilities as to where within the realm of physics this has to be fitted in and this is what we have tried to do.