Revisionist speculations about nerve impulse propagation

grokelly at delphi.com grokelly at delphi.com
Wed Jan 11 22:42:36 EST 1995


	I wrote some postings last year about this time presenting a 
paper ("Biology, Bioelectricity and the Nervous System") which, 
in placing the seam between chemistry and biology in historical 
context,  argued that tradition-bound concepts about that seam 
prevented biochemistry from fully apprehending the subtlety of the 
seam between chemistry and particle physics, between chemistry 
and electrochemistry.  It was the point of the paper that tradition-
bound concepts were tied to a world in which the only forces of 
physics affecting biological considerations were those involving the 
first fundamental force of nature, the world of Newtonian 
gravitational mechanics.  It was in this tradition, which had been 
left behind by the theoretial physicists with their optics and 
electromagnetism, that an explanation was sought for the readings 
gained by people like Cole, Eccles, Hodgkin, and Huxley in their study 
of cell membranes and nervous functioning.  This was during the 
time of what Hille calls the 'Heroic age of biophysics'.
	It was another point of this paper that the explanation 
developed by these earlier experimenters for detected voltages and 
electrical activity found within the body and the cell depended upon 
the late nineteenth work of Walter Nernst which concerned itself 
with thermodynamics and differences in stored order between two 
separate concentrations of a particular ion.  As such Nernst's work 
dealt with a definition of entropy, and did not, as even Hille admits, 
presume a movement of electrical charge that might be susceptible 
to Ohm's law.  At the time of Nernst's own work Clerk Maxwell was 
refining mathematically the speculations of Faraday with regard to 
lines of force.  This work was to lay the foundations for the 
subsequent understanding of light as a form of electromagnetism, 
and in the next century to the understanding of the organization of 
the periodic table of the elements.  More importantly it articulated a 
new view of the world, one which included the classical Newtonian 
world, but which extended it to the second fundamental force of 
nature, electromagnetism.
	It was a further point of the paper that the schemes of the 
early, heroic biophysicists tried to explain bioelectricity in terms 
of ion currents, using Nernst and Goldman's diffusion theory as a 
base.  And as a result the Nobel prize was awarded in 1963 to a 
model of nerve impulse propagation that was thoroughly 
contaminated with inappropriate, pseudo-scientific metaphors of 
proton electricity and ion currents, and that spoke of nerve impulses 
as battery discharges precipitated by the movement of ions.  The 
paper makes the point that since that time clinical neurology has 
become a backwater of ineptitude and impotence with the 
neurologist doing even less than a priest might for the patient in 
most cases.
	I had many requests for this paper, but criticism came from 
those who read the postings only.  Those requesting the paper were 
disappointingly silent.  I had to post some embarrassingly inept 
work with the equations of electricity to elicit any response, and 
this response was usually from the old garde, those who, upon 
reaching retirement or near-retirement, had witnessed and taken 
part in the perpetuation of a neuroscience largely without clinical 
consequence.  These senescent guardians of orthodoxy (or 
sycophantic, gullible graduate students in several cases) usually 
passed judgement upon the proffered hypothesis on the basis of the 
posting, i.e., without reading the paper.  The paper is not anywhere 
near as openly contemptuous of modern neurology as this posting is, 
and should be read as a scientific/historical/philosophical paper. 
	I pointed out in the paper how Ernst Mayr, in his 1982 THE 
GROWTH OF BIOLOGICAL THOUGHT, stated that a model of the 
functional organization of the nervous system was a bottleneck in 
biological thought.   Similar statements appeared in Lewis Thomas's 
1991 THE FRAGILE SPECIES ["The phenomenon of embryological 
development and differentiation is generally regarded as one of the 
two most profound unsolved problems in human biology - the other 
being the operation of the brain."];  and in Francis Crick's 1994 THE 
ASTONISHING HYPOTHESIS ["Unfortunately, there is a difficulty in 
locating the activity that produces these so-called event-related 
potentials (potential = voltage) {action potentials}" , and "When 
these signals arrive at the brain stem they have to be transformed 
into a different set of signals to control the muscles of the eye.  
Exactly how this is done has yet to be discovered."]
	The paper dealt with the history of thinking going back to the 
17th century with regard to the nature of nervous functioning and 
how this thinking was perpetuated in the instrumentalist schemes 
of the researchers in the 1940's.  This thinking congealed with the 
institutionalization of the ionic channel school of Eccles, Hodgkin 
and Huxley.  It is now accepted so routinely that even Oxford's Roger 
Penrose, in his 1994 SHADOWS OF THE MIND, says that the 
functioning of neurons can be well understood in terms of classical, 
Netonian mechanics;  and that quantum considerations only rear 
their ugly heads at the cytoskeletal, microtubule level.  He avers 
this despite having insisted earlier in his book that where chemistry 
is involved quantum mechanics is involved.
	It is the point of the paper that the functioning of neurons can 
only be understood in quantum mechanical terms, and that what is 
involved is electrochemistry.  Only with the understanding of 
electrochemistry and the effect of charge polarity upon 
neurotransmitters is a functional model of the nervous system 
possible, especially in the sense that the nervous system involves 
the processing of information.  Traditional, classical explanations of 
neuronal functioning are extremely weak with regard to the 
definition of, flow of, and processing of biological information.  
That these Nobel prize winning explanations are 
without much clinical consequence is not just a coincidence, 
but an indication of flaws in traditional thinking.  The paper is 
written in such a way as to present the significance of this 
electrochemical explanation not only for clinical treatment, but for 
understanding the nature of vertebrate speciation and nervous 
system complexity.  And in this the paper advances an objection to 
the evolutionary, genetic gradualism championed by Mayr.
	In any case, the paper presents one version of what Hille calls 
the 'epiphenomenalist' view of neuronal functioning, the view 
displaced by that of the ionic channel school, with the unwitting 
endorsement of the Nobel Prize committee.  This view does not at all 
conflict with the readings gained by the meticulous recorder of the 
ionic channel school with his measuring instruments.  This view just 
interprets their significance according to a different model, an 
electrochemical one.
	I floated this paper about a year ago, and I noticed that the one 
sticking point characteristic of all defenders of the ionic school 
was the insistence on the definition of electricity, and how this 
definition justified the belief that there was such a thing as proton 
electricity.  I have taken pains to address this belief in the more 
recent version of the paper, and have appealed to the notion of 
'meaning invariance' as discussed by Dr. Paul Feyerabend.  I welcome 
criticism and comment from all those who trouble to read the paper.  
What I hope to do is present an explanation for nervous system 
functioning that is both novel and with consequence for the 
understanding and treatment of chronic and degenerative systemic 
disorders, and for the treatment of nervous afflictions, especially 
those following CNS trauma.  Please send requests for and critcism 
of the paper by E-mail (it's 55 pages).  The paper is available in 
binhex and standard  form like that found in E-mail messages.  
Please respond to grokelly at Delphi.com.
	Criticisms of others who have only read this posting and 
merely appended to it, however humorous they might be, will be 
considered gratuitous and ignored.  Only personal E-mail messages 
will be responded to.
						Dr. Galvano



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