From the reader’s perspective the articles posted in this series may appear to suffer from over-reaching, perhaps even irrelevant connections. From my perspective, as author, this is not the case. Well, mostly not, but then I am a simple, uneducated peasant. As I continue to explore, now reaching for novel connections as well as topics of exploration, I am beginning to catch fleeting glimpses of a unity. Not a Grand Unified Theory, nor the Theory of everything sought by theoretical physicists, but a more modest unity of the handful of ideas explored in these pages, to date.
The current exploration has become a particularly messy and wide sprawl of ideas, for this I feel I must apologize, though taken together, the lot appears to hold significant importance. I fear that the breadth of what follows may have resulted in a more difficult reading than past entries. Never the less, as always, I shall attempt to convey my findings and thoughts as clearly and concisely as I am able. Further, I suggest perusal of, or at least a cursory scratching around, the subjects presented here, in order to gain a clearer vision of the unity that I now see.
All for one, one for all, and everyone for themselves.
The meaning of the sentence above is not contradictory because we are social animals. Basally, we are selfish, doing what we must to survive. However, we never live in isolation, or at least it is not our nature to do so, so we moderate our fundamentally selfish behavior in order to receive assistance from other fundamentally selfish individuals living in our social group, thus increasing our overall survival capacity.
My fleeting glimpses seem to fundamentally connect six deep fields of study:
1) political theory
3) evolutionary theory
4) complex systems theory
I am fairly sure that several other concepts and fields take part in the functional unity I have glimpsed, though I am not sure exactly how. Even so, I shall take liberty to mention the few that seem more obvious:
Intuition, insight, creativity, genius, logic, chaos, intelligence, self-organization, and self-regulation.
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau (pictured left to right), were key thinkers to tackle questions regarding pre-political human society (i.e. how did humans live before the emergence of government). They wrote on the subject by use of a thought experiment, namely the State of Nature. The interested reader is directed to an article titled The State of Nature and Other Political Thought Experiments, published by K. Ross in Friesian, a web-based journal and archive of articles.
In context of the current exploration, I wish to reflect upon the state of nature, as being conceptually identical to the “onset of chaos” or “edge of chaos” described by Batten etal, in a review of literature describing the evolutionary selection and self-organization of complex systems, which was referenced earlier in this series (number 10 in the bibliography of Governance). Since evolutionary selection and self-organization of complex systems comprises a functional medium of the natural state, and in its capacity as a medium is different from politics, I propose a metaphorical refraction of the fundamental concept. In their review, Batten etal describe a phase space – “selection maintains systems in precisely the region of phase space that affords them the greatest opportunity to evolve further [and] complex systems may have convergent rather than divergent flow.”
I would also propose that the political state of nature, and the evolutionary phase space are conceptually identical to the idea space identified by Rex Jung(1) as a key aspect of insight, intuition, and creativity.
I am proposing that the political process, the evolutionary process, and the conceptual process, are each refractions of a universal state of nature.
We have already become acquainted with the former two, let us now explore the latter, idea space, formed by the central nervous system.
Another three musketeers
R. Jung etal(2), have described divergent thinking as “the process by which one extrapolates many possible answers to an initial stimulus or target data set”. They continue, saying “[creativity is recognized as] an important individual difference variable, critically linked with, but distinguishable from, intelligence in the manifestation of “genius”. […] Although complex, the neuroscientific inquiry of creativity is amenable to the tools of cognitive psychology and the cognitive neurosciences, linking creative behavior to activity within and between brain networks.”
A discontinuous stream of network on Mars – imaged by Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft(3).
Discontinuous networks represent “many possible answers”. In case the reader is struggling to understand the relevance of this image in context of the current discussion, the connections are:
disconnection, self-organization, and self-regulation – all of which are physical processes.
Along with divergent thinking, three other key mental “constructs” have been identified:
Fluid intelligence – “the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge”.
Insight – “the flash of recognition that a problem is solved [or how the problem could be solved]”.
Flow – “[complete immersion in what one] is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”.
“In all likelihood, some combination of these and other cognitive processes underlies the creative process, which involves a focused attention to the exclusion of other competing stimuli (i.e. flow); divergence of ideas to numerous possible novel solutions to a given problem (i.e. divergent reasoning); if one is lucky a flash of insight, if not then convergence on the best solution (i.e. utility); and perseverance in the face of social acceptance or resistance (i.e. personality variables).”
Studies of creativity using electroencephalography (EEG – recordings of electrical activity along the scalp), have shown lower levels of cortical arousal during creative problem solving. Similar studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI – measurement of brain activity by detection of associated blood flow) have concluded that “highly creative [individuals are] characterized by bilateral frontal activation during [divergent thinking] compared to predominantly left hemisphere activation in [less creative individuals]. Interestingly, better performance on the [divergent thinking] task was negatively correlated with higher activity within superior frontal regions. Such inverse correlations are suggestive of neural or network efficiency and have also been reported in neuroimaging studies of intelligence.”
This last point is quite fascinating, as it implies that creative and intelligent cognition may not be simply reduced to complex neuronal activity.
The central nervous system comprises two fundamentally different forms of signal transmission – wiring transmission and volume transmission.
Wiring transmission (WT) is executed by neurons, which account for about 10% (50% as of 2014 note 1) of the cells in our brains, either as wads of neuronal networks (gray matter), forming various regions of the central nervous system (CNS), or as networks of bundled neuronal fibers (white matter), forming ‘data’ transmission channels between regions of the CNS. Neurons conduct ion-gated electrical impulses(4) that cross the synaptic clefts between cells, sequentially, mediated by molecular neurotransmitters.
White matter – depicted in color
Volume transmission (VT) is executed by glia, which account for the other 50% of the cells in our brains. Glial cells were assumed to act simply, as a biological support system to the neurons, providing nutrients and removing wastes via their connections to the blood supply. Metaphorically, glia would be peasants, enablers, generalists (polyhistors), providing basic resources and services to the neurons, which in this metaphor, would be machine-like specialists, busily ‘crunching’, yet unable to feed or take care of themselves.
It has been found that a form of glial cell (astrocyte) also conducts signals, albeit for the most part non-electrically, which is partly why neurobiologists have missed their importance until recently. Astrocytes conduct molecular signals via membrane bound receptors and transmitters, gap junctions, nanotubes, and vescicles (examples of cellular communication, see Cellular signalling: a categorical analogy, in Governance). This means that signals are selectively transported, throughout and beyond the CNS, via active and passive transport.
Glia maintain and regulate neurons
Life could not exist without self-regulation, the twin of self-organization. The glia are now assumed to act not only as enablers of neuronal networks, but also as their regulators, via the extracellular matrix – essentially, a systemic brainwash.
Intelligence is correlated with rapid and efficient neuronal firing in gray matter. Creativity is correlated with round-about, wide-ranging routings in white matter. The glia might then comprise a third kind of (I hesitate to use the word) network, a near-chaotic regulator of itself, and gray matter, and white matter.
In a review of cellular communication in the CNS, L. Agnati et al(5) report that “the concept of VT introduced the extracellular space [in which the extracellular matrix resides] and the ventricular system as important channels for chemical transmission in the CNS complementary to WT with diffusion and flow of transmitters, ions, trophic factors, … in the extracellular fluid and cerebrospinal fluid. [VT signals] interconnect not only neurons in neuronal networks but rather cells of any type (neurons, glia, microglia, ependymal cells, macrophages, …) in what we have called the “complex cellular networks” (CCNs) of the brain. Thus, these signals migrating in the [extracellular fluid] of the CNS could affect multiple targets in the CCN. [VT signals could even lead to a new output from the same complex cellular network].
The intercellular space [in which the extracellular matrix is located] fulfills active tasks in the elaboration of the information since it may address the diffusion of electrochemical messages in an anisotropic fashion favoring or preventing the communication between two brain areas contributing to compartment formation. Furthermore, the [extracellular matrix] is not an amorphous filling between the different cell types of the CNS. On the contrary, it may affect the messages released by the CNS cells, for example, leading to the formation of different sets of fragments from the same parent [signal] peptide and thus of different chemical networks that can modulate various CCNs eliciting different types of integrated responses.
[Integrative] tasks of the CNS should be studied not by considering the neural networks, but whole compartments of brain tissue where different cell types and [extracellular matrix] work as an integrated computational unit.
It has also been proposed that beside the CCNs also the molecular networks formed by organized elements of the [extracellular matrix] should be considered and that these molecular networks mainly made by proteins and carbohydrates interact with the cell membrane molecular networks to form a “global molecular network”, which enmeshes the entire CNS. Thus, according to our hypothesis, the CNS is a computational system with two computing nets, the CCN and the [global molecular network], working sometimes as parallel circuits, sometimes as serial circuits and overlapping with each other at the cell membrane level.”
Intercellular communication via the extracellular matrix of the CNS is fantastically complex, involving neurotransmitters and ionic signals, as well as genetic information (RNA and mitochondrial DNA), even entire cell organelles (mitochondria) may be transported. Signal packets comprising RNA, proteins, and trophic factors (i.e. entire molecular networks, or parts thereof), can be transferred horizontally, between cells, thus creating new transient integrative complex molecular networks among cell populations.
The prospect of modeling this kind of near-chaotic complexity in a digital computer seems an insurmountable task, and is why I feel that strong AI (aka: artificial general intelligence) via the current architecture of digital computing is an impossible proposition (see The Laws of Thought, in The Laws of Thought).
To be continued…
Bibliography and Notes
Note 1) An expanded discussion of volume transmission is made in a later post in this series, titled Anatomy of Genius, in which it is reported that Bahney et al (2014) have measured the ratio of neurons to glia as about even (1:1).
J. Bahney et al,”Validation of the isotropic fractionator: Comparison with unbiased stereology and DNA extraction for quantification of glial cells”, (2014), Journal of Neuroscience Methods, Vol. 222, p. 165–174, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165027013003786
1) “The Creative Brain: How Insight Works”, (2013), BBC Horizon.
2) R. Jung, etal, “Neuroanatomy of Creativity”, (2010), NCBI, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826582/
3 ) “NASA STUDY SHOWS HOW WATER MAY HAVE FLOWED ON ANCIENT MARS”, (2003), NASA Ames Research Center, http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/20030212b.html
4) “Understanding the Transmission of Nerve Impulses” – For Dummies, http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/understanding-the-transmission-of-nerve-impulses.html
5) L. Agnati, etal, “Understanding wiring and volume transmission”, (2010), BRAIN RESEARCH REVIEWS, Vol.64, p.137–159, abstract only, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20347870