What the Neocortex Does

Gary Forbis GaryForbis at email.msn.com
Wed Aug 9 21:24:59 EST 2000

"Ray Scanlon" <rscanlon at wsg.net> wrote in message news:39904caf.0 at ns2.wsg.net...
> Gary Forbis wrote:
> > Ray Scanlon wrote:
> > > That we can embroider their [the neurons'] activity with words and speak
> of symbolic and
> > > non-symbolic models means nothing to the neuron. If we keep our
> attention on
> > > the brain, it should also mean nothing to us.
> >
> > I fully agree with this... (where "the brain" is read "the system of
> neurons.")
> Of course. One is forced to use a little shorthand to get over the ground.
> Do we speak of brains, nuclei, neurons, molecules, atoms, sub-atomic
> particles, quarks? For us, I think that the neuron is the object of choice.
> For "amygdala", read "the neurons that comprise the amygdala".
> >
> > > Those who speak of the soul (mind) can rightfully use words like
> "symbolic"
> > > to describe activities that take place in the soul (mind). But this
> belongs
> > > to religion, not science.
> >
> > but this sets me back.  The account of symbolic processing and the
> > scaffolding supporting it seems to me like it is open to scientific
> investigation.
> > Sure, there will always be the gap between what could be and what is;
> > should the gap bother us?
> When observing the brain, the neuroscientist sees neurons in varying degrees
> of excitation. When looking at a brain in abstract thought, he wonders
> whether this abstract thought is a consequence of the activation of the
> reticular nucleus of the thalamus (the neurons that comprise the ...). This
> activation of the RNT halts sensory input on its way to the neocortex and
> allows the neurons of the cortex to activate free of  sensory input. He
> wonders which neurons activate the RNT and which others deactivate the RNT.
> And is deactivation of the RNT  what we mean when we speak of "coming to a
> decision"?

That's pretty cool.  I doubt the deactivation of the RNT is what we mean
when we speak of "coming to a decision" because I interspersed rereading
of the prior paragraph with thinking without coming to a decision.  I guess
I came to a decision in the sense of deciding to reread the paragraph (if
that was a decision and not just a behavior, no conscious decision was
reached but the behavior was observed.)

> It takes at least a minute by the clock for me to start contemplating
> symbolic logic after sensory input is halted. At five milliseconds to a
> synaptic event, that would be about 12,000 events. That is a long way from
> the exterior universe. (Please, don't invoke Wundt.)

I agree.  It's a good thing computers are getting more powerful.
Still, that's a lot of data to sort through.

> Possibly we could set up an arbitrary division at say, 1000 events, or five
> seconds from the exterior universe. Anything below the line shades toward
> science and anything above it toward religion (philosophy).

The line should move with technology.  I wonder if current technology
can handle anywhere near that division.

> My point is that we can make a useful distinction between science and
> religion. Useful in the sense that religious dialogues tend to much heat and
> little light. For starters, we could try to say soul (mind) whenever the
> first person is involved. I am a soul (mind) and I believe that other souls
> (minds) exist. When I talk of symbolic logic, it is as one soul (mind) to
> another.

I'd put philosophy somewhere between the two camps.  One needs to
test and identify the limits somehow.

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