question: job of a neuron

Matt Jones jonesmat at physiology.wisc.edu
Thu Sep 6 12:14:39 EST 2001

In article <3B977C7D.3021BAAA at spamcop.net> Michael Edelman,
mje at spamcop.net writes:
>There are parallels. How does one person's behavior explain
>It doesn't. It is how many people interact, trading goods,
>and so forth that creates economies. How does the behavior of a
>hydrogen atom explain cosmology? Same story. And so it is with

Oh, I don't know. 

In the study of cellular automata (sometimes called artificial life)
there are a lot of interesting so-called "emergent" behaviors that
populations exhibit, such as flocking of birds, ants following
coherent trails, stuff like that.

Turns out these behaviors, that are only visible at the level of the
whole population, actually arise from very very simple rules followed
by each individual. For example, "Head toward the center of mass of
the flock, but if another bird gets too close then change direction
randomly." In these systems, the entire population behavior can be
understood -completely- by knowing what rules the individuals follow.

What reason do we have to think that brains don't operate in similar
ways, using very simple rules at the level of each neuron to determine
the extremely complex behavior at the top?

Further, what reason do we have for thinking that the same thing
doesn't apply to economics? Indeed, that's what Adam Smith thought.



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