Hitting head, seeing stars

kenneth paul collins KPCollins at postoffice.worldnet.att.net
Thu Oct 17 01:01:27 EST 1996

PJ Skerrett wrote:
> I write for Popular Science magazine, and for a column called FYI, I'm
> trying to answer a reader's question:
>       When you hit your head and see "stars," what are you really seeing?
> Can anyone point me to an answer for that? I've tried a couple
> neurologists/head injury experts, but haven't come up with much of an
> explanation.

...I'll tell you what I know with respect to this phenomenon, but my 
work is not yet accepted by others, and since I've not been granted any 
"credentials", you should not repeat any of this without either getting 
other opinions on it, or stating plainly that it is by a researcher 
whose work is not yet published...

...the examples of brains that folks sees in "jars", and which are 
photographed for articles, etc, are "fixed"... that is they are 
chemically-treated in a way that "solidifies" them... in vivo, the brain 
is a semi-fluid "blob"... if a fresh brain is removed from the skull and 
set on a table, it slumps a bit... like just-cooked bread pudding... 
this semi-fluidity is not "accidental"... it enables elements within the 
neural mass to have a degree of physical mobility... glial cells exhibit 
contractile responses with respect to neural activation states... this 
structural variability constitutes a "mechanism" that enters into the 
tuning dynamics that occur within the brain... this's why it is that, if 
one wishes to really hammer on a problem, it's best for one to set aside 
some complete-devotion time during which to work on the problem... as 
one works on the problem, the neural activation that occurs within one's 
brain actually "molds" the physical structure of the brain to a slight, 
but functional degree... this structural "molding" temporarily 
alters synaptic efficacies... the contractile activities of the glia are 
important in this regard... all of this helps tune the "state" of the 
brain with respect to the problem... all in a way that is 
extraordinarily-more-rapid than would be any dynamic that dependended 
upon physical growth within neurons... this constitutes an 
extremely-powerful information-processing mechanism that has a number of 
important advantages (and a few disadvantages)... in this way, the brain 
can flexibly generate hypotheses without having to be constantly 
rewiring itself... it also allows "memories" to be stored in a 
minimally-represented way (in terms of the microscopic trophic 
modifications that are required)... it also helps make memory robust 
(the life & death of individual cortical neurons is less important than 
it would, otherwise, be, because the neural mass can "move" to 
compensate for the loss of individual neurons)... the two most-important 
functionalities are the minimal-storage quality and the 
hypothesis-generating capability... one continually witnesses 
correlates of these structural "molding" dynamics... they are why one 
has the experience of something being "on the tip of one's tongue"... a 
memory that's just out of reach... and why one has the experience of 
"warming up to" old acquaintences after periods of long separation (in 
terms of the recall of correlated data)... it takes a bit of neural 
activation to "pump" the "molding" of the semi-fluid "state" so that it 
becomes tuned with respect to the memories pertaining to the long-lost 
acquaintance... if one is vigilant with respect to this stuff, one can 
flat-out "see" it happening...

...some of the disadvantages include the retrograde memory deficits that 
occur following contra coup injuries... because our brains are 
semi-fluid, when one bangs one's head forcefully against a solid object, 
one's brain matter "flows" like a molded jello... and crashes into the 
other side of the skull... when this occurs, the physical structur of 
the brain becomes disrupted to a degree... the memory deficits result 
from this structural damage... normal functionality can return if the 
structural damage is within the "elastic limit" of the brain's 
semi-fluid "state"... however, memory for the traumatizing event will 
not return because the injury will have disrupted the normal memory 
consolidation period...

...another disadvantage of this semi-fluid tuning strategy is that it 
renders the brain vulnerable to "abnormal" plaque-formation processes, 
as occurs in Alzheimers... the plaques gradually eliminate the 
fluid-structural tuning...

...another disadvantage is the occurrence of the "stars" in your 
question... the "stars" occur when the semi-fluidity is stressed in a 
way that approaches, or just exceeds the elastic limit, and are the 
result of neural processes "dumping" their ongoing activation in a 
relatively disordered fashion which allows "abnormal" combinations... 
when this occurs in visual areas... the result is "flashes"...

...all-in-all, the disadvantages are trivial in comparison to the 
advantages of our status as "puddin' heads" :-) ken collins
People hate because they fear, and they fear because
they do not understand, and they do not understand 
because hating is less work than understanding.

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