Modelling the human brain by modelling its evolutionary emergence

Frans van der Walle fw.novoware at
Thu Feb 21 10:20:56 EST 2002

Reply via bionet.neuroscience:
I received two replies to my request for comment:
Mat wrote:

   'I'm sorry, but however sincere you may be about these intentions they
   are ludicrously over-ambitious. Several hundred scientists have spent
   whole lifetimes trying to delineate mechanisms of brain function that
   are several orders of magnitude less complex than what you are setting
   out to do. Forget it.'

   John Seney wrote:
   'Hi Frans:
   Sounds interesting - link is down this morning here to your WWW site.
   I'm interested in how thoughts come together to form beliefs and
   how most of them don't seem to be such that the "holder" of the
   beliefs truly knows what they are.
   To resolve these conditions, holders seem to project their beliefs
   onto their surroundings. Thus there is transmission and reception
   going on that most holders aren't aware of. Yet it might be some
   of the most important communications going on.
   Know what I mean?

   Best regards,'
   John Seney

My reply to Mat is as follows:

If you base estimates for succes on present beliefs and present approaches
to the
understanding of the brain's functionality, than it is a fair guess that
chances for succes are
indeed very low; I personally estimate it at close to 0%. I would not dare
to initiate a modelling
effort of this scope, when it is based only on our knowledge of present
functionality in Homo
sapiens sapiens.
We agree therefore on this point; however my approach has been a different
In the initial years of our research effort, it became clear that a
completely different approach is
necessary to solve the above mentioned modelling problems. I may illustrate
this by the
following statements of respected authors:
Patricia Churchland (1988)stated in her book 'Neurophilosophy':
   ' our present day knowledge of the functioning of the human brain and
mind demonstrates
   clearly the lack of some unifying theory for the information handling
processes in the
   human brain and mind.'

A similar statement, be it within another context, was made already in the
1930's by Vygotsky
   'The atomistic and functional modes of analyses prevalent during the past
decade (1934)
   treated psychic processes in isolation. Methods of research were
developed and perfected
   with a view to studying separate functions, while their interdependence
and their
   organization in the structure of consciousness as a whole remained
outside the field of
   'There are so many psychologies precisely because there is no one
These very early remarks are still valid according to me.
Such a theory for 'neuro informatics' has to complement the already
extensive knowledge that
has been built up in the fields of:
   the topographical structure of the brain according to the distribution of
functional centres;
   the detailed communication processes on neuron level and
   the psychological aspects of human behaviour.
Somewhat exaggerated, one could state that nearly all research effort has
been spent sofar on
trying to understand the information handling processes in the human
brain/mind by studying
on a very detailed level the physical carrier (the brain) of these processes
and by studying
outside human behaviour. The equivalent in computer science would be by
trying to
understand the functionality of an application program by studying the
bitstreams through the
communication channels of a computer system and by inspecting the printed
output. It is
evident that in both cases a higher/ more global (information) viewpoint of
an abstract nature is
primarily required in order to really understand the overall concept of such
a system.
We may further state that evolution is a tinkerer, not an engineer;
phylogenesis acts on what is
there, not on what the optimal design of a new life form should be. We may
(justly) admire the
brain's functionality but from an 'information handling design' point of
view, one can raise
many question marks on its logical structure. Freud identified this 'design
error' by an 'internal
conflict' in the human brain. Two other indications of this troublesome
'information system
design' are to be found in the following literature references:
   Lawrence (1992; page 38), in which the detailed genetic development
procedure in the
   creation of a fruitfly from a fertilized egg is presented. The shaping
information is derived
   from concentration gradients in the egg and larva of certain proteins
that are being
   produced at the instruction of certain genes. At specific concentration
levels other genes
   are activated etc., leading to different developments in the various body
parts. At some
   development stage a previously activated gene is being blocked by the
later activation of
   another gene that directs the further development in another direction.
The following
   statement in that publication is worth noting in the present context:
     'It seems perverse that the fly should have a specific genetic system
to clear up the
     unwanted expression of another gene. Would it not be simpler to switch
of hunchback[i.e. the troublesome gene!] in the mother? This result
illustrates a general principle and
     delivers a chastening lesson; the principle is that evolution works on
what is there[emphasis by author], it tinkers, it does not look at the whole
system and devise a
     logical or economical solution.'
   A similar statement is to be found in Litman (1996), in which the
evolutionary development
   of the immune system is traced over a period of hundreds of millions of
years. It appears
   that there also the development has not been 'aimed' at some specific
goal but appears to
   wander. Litman states:
     'The idiosyncratic nature of this ancient immune system illustrates
well the twists and
     turns that occurred during the evolution of immunity. This sinuous
course, moreover,
     suggests that evolution, at least where the immune system is concerned,
may not have
     always proceeded in the inexorable, successive way in which it is often

This design problem contributes also to the above mentioned 'modelling
nightmare' if you
concentrate only on the 'status quo'. We came therefore to the conclusion
that we have to
model primarily the evolutionary procedure, starting from initial multi-cell
life forms, some 700
million years ago, with, initially, only some broad, global, information
handling concept.
In order to judge whether such a more global modelling definition could be
possible, at least in
principle, via some 'packaging' of an extensive set of highly interlinked,
often very detailed,
information handling data, it will be necessary first to:
   determine whether this complex system is indeed structured in some
hierarchical way,
   linking detailed characteristics, as some subsets, to more global
characteristics, and if yes:
   understand how this hierarchical structure has been 'designed' by
Our evolutionary analyses reveal sufficient justifications for the first
question to be answered in
an affirmitive way. One might even conclude that evolution had to be a
'top-down' procedure
as it could not have resulted otherwise in effective life forms of gradually
Summarizing the various observations from the evolutionary analyses, we
could state in this
respect that:
   there exists at least some justification for our postulate that the DNA
'life form design
   repository' is built up gradually during evolution in phylogenesis and is
   gradually and top-down during ontogenesis.
   ontogenesis and phylogenesis are therefore indeed both determined by the
(same) DNA
   design classification but still may differ because of the following
     in phylogenesis the DNA classification is being built up in time; new
additions to the
     design classification may block or modify certain characteristics of
the 'older' design
     in ontogenesis all evolutionary developments are in principle active.
However, their
     activation during ontogenesis need not take place in the same order, or
not completely,
     as was the case during phylogenesis, as the execution activation is a
network procedure
     within the design classification, that may connect a 'distant-', and
therefore/possibly an
     evolutionarily more 'recent', design classification as the next follow
up instruction,
     'forgetting' or 'blocking' some of the older design instructions.
The modelling leads therefore to the conclusion that Haeckel's, famous but
generally rejected,
'recapitulation law' is:
   indeed at fault, if applied to the complete physical ontogenesis
procedure, but is:
   in principle correct as far as the DNA design classification is
concerned. However the
   execution of that design during ontogenesis 'hides' that recapitulation
Points of view and results of analyses in literature on this recapitulation
issue, as expressed e.g.
in Ridley (1996), are in agreement, or at least not in contradiction, with
the above
This research strategy has resulted in a 1000+ page handbook for the
modelling environment,
entitled 'Biography of Man' (Walle 2000-1), that integrates all studies into
a model for the
brain, both functionally and implementationally, including its evolutionary
In cooperation with the University of Nijmegen (dept of
psycho-neuro-pharmacology) we plan
now a three year effort to further expand and refine this modelling
environment. We would
welcome any critical comments from other scientists, for which purpose we
sent our request
for comments to the bionet.neuroscience newsgroup.
I thank you for your comment and look forward to more.
My reply to John Seney is as follows:

In our modelling environment the functionality, you refer to, is taken care
of by several aspects
of that modelling, such as:
1  The conclusion that the brain's network can be discriminated into:
   a a consciously operating, maze structured, feed forward / backward
network, that
     operates more or less as an ethernet type LAN (local area network) with
probably some
     simpler equivalent of ethernet's csma-cd transfer protocol,
   b an unconsciously operating network of highly interlinked, Hopfield
type, memory
     storage units, that lead to extensive
abstracting-(bird>wing>feather>etc) and
     prototyping (dove + eagle > bird etc) relationships.
2  The cooperation between these two, interconnected, network structures
models (we think
   correctly) the two learning environments, as defined by McClelland
(1987/1994/1995) as:
   a 'focussed learning', a fast but simple storage procedure,
   b 'interleaved learning' a 10 times slower but much more advanced
learning procedure,
     that creates the above mentioned information network of abstracting-
and prototyping
3  An important role is stated to be fulfilled by the hippocampal region.
Our modelling
   presents a possible implementation for Edelman's 'phasic re-entry'-
procedure in the
   cortex, that creates the recursive abstracting- and prototyping
procedures. The
   hippocampal region controls this proces in both awake and asleep states;
it leads to two
   types of memory storages:
   a one representing the storage of life experiences. It models the
phenomenon of
     remembering; one not only knows the facts but also when, where, how and
why this
     knowledge was acquired. The storage location is probably in the lower
temporal lobe;
     Wilder Penfield demonstrated this in many experiments in the 1940's
(Penfield, 1959),
   b one representing the storage of know-how. It models the phenomenon of
knowing; one
     knows the fact but not when, where, why and how it was acquired.
     The storage location is probably in the prefrontal cortex.

This part of the modelling environment is described in some detail in
chapter 6 of 'Biography
of Man' (Walle 2000-1).
Thanks for your comment; I look forward to receiving more.
Frans van der Walle

Churchland, 1988 ; Patricia Smith Churchland; Neurophilosophy; toward a
unified science of
the mind-brain; 1988, A Bradford Book, MIT Press; Cambridge Massachusetts;
England; ISBN-0-262-03116-7
Edelman, 1975; Gerald M Edelman; The remembered present; Basic books Inc.
New York; ISBN 0-465-06910-X
Edelman,1989; Gerald M Edelman; Neural darwinism; the theory of neuronal
group selection;
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989; ISBN 0-19-286089-5
Edelman et al, 1979; Gerald M Edelman and Vernon B Mountcastle; 'The mindful
brain'; MIT
Mass., 1979; ISBN 0-262-05020-X
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Schriften aus
dem Nachlasz; S Fischer Verlag; Frankfurt am Main; 1983. ISBN-3-10-022718-2;
pages 67
through 138.
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perspective'; pages 570 through 579 in: Rev. Neurol. (Paris), 150, 8-9, 1994
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'Why there are complex learning systems in the hippocampus and neocortex:
Insights from the
successes and failures of connectionist models of learning and memory';
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1995, vol. 102, no 3, pages 419 through 457.
Penfield et al., 1959; Wilder Penfield and Lamar Roberts; 'Speech and
Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Yersey, 1959
Ridley, 1996; Mark Ridley; 'Evolution'; Blackwell Science Inc. 1996; ISBN
Vygotsky, 1934/1986; Lev Vygotsky, 'Thought and language'; revised and
edited by Alex
Kozulin; MIT Press, 1986; ISBN 0-262-22029-6
Walle, 2000-1; Frans van der Walle; 'Biography of 'Man', a modelling of
human evolution,
ISBN 90-804142-2-0, Novoware publishing company, Oss, the Netherlands, 2000;
fw.novoware at; or:

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