Tag Archives: evolution

The 90% of our Brains we didn’t know we used

We’ve all heard how we supposedly use only 10% of our brains.  I’ve always thought that meant there was some latent higher structure in our brains we just needed to figure out how to tap into.  I really never questioned that assumption until now, and it doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective why the brain would be hyper-developed relative to our present use of it; the reality is even more fascinating.

The excerpts below from an article in this month’s Discover Magazine Entitled “The Dark Matter of the Human Brain” by Carl Zimmer raises the question: If there are in the brain cells which outnumber neurons 10:1 and which code and transmit information via biochemical transmission rather than by electric transmission as in neurons, can it be said that the brain has in reality two information systems at work?  Zimmer uses the analogy of the Astrocytes as an analog network and the Neurons as a digital network.  We know from our experience with the evolution of computers that both analog and digital networks have their own pros and cons.  The question in terms of the Brain is why are there both?  Does one pre-date the other in the evolutionary timeline? Do their functions overlap or are they distinct?

One interesting suggestion mentioned below is that the analog network of Astrocytes may be responsible for “our creative and imaginative existence as human beings.”  As with technology, while the digital experience conveys more information more quickly with far less physical structure, there will always be a quality inherent in analog transmission which digital lacks.  The nature of the digital transition via discrete packets of distinct quanta, however complex, can never match the continuity and depth of analog waves in their richness and tone.  Of course, the drawback to analog as we know from the example of television is that the picture on your analog TV is merely an imperfect representation or approximation of the original source, while a digital picture is an exact replica of the original.

If we take this metaphor one step further can we suppose that the brain utilizes its Astrocytes analog network in such activities such as memory and emotion, where the natures of those activities are by definition representations? Can we then suppose that the digital network of neurons could be responsible for activities in the brain which are more exact and rapid such as computation and reasoning?

Granted this is a blatant oversimplification of an area of brain science which is not yet fully understood, however the presence of these two systems in the brain could go along way in our understanding of the supposed duality of human experience.

The Dark Matter of the Human Brain

Meet the forgotten 90 percent of your brain: glial cells, which outnumber your neurons ten to one. And no one really knows what they do.

By Carl Zimmer

“Astrocytes—named for their star like rays, which reach out in all directions—are the most abundant of all Glial Cells and therefore the most abundant of all the cells in the brain. They are also the most mysterious. A single astrocyte can wrap its rays around more than a million synapses. Astrocytes also fuse to each other, building channels through which molecules can shuttle from cell to cell.   …Astrocytes, like neurons, can react to neurotransmitters—but instead of electricity, the cells produce waves of charged calcium atoms.

…(Astrocytes) have at least some of the requirements for processing information the way neurons do. Alfonso Araque, a neuroscientist at the Cajal Institute in Spain (found) that two different stimulus signals can produce two different patterns of calcium waves (that is, two different responses) in an astrocyte. When they gave astrocytes both signals at once, the waves they produced in the cells was not just the sum of the two patterns. Instead, the astrocytes produced an entirely new pattern in response. That’s what neurons—and computers, for that matter—do.

If astrocytes really do process information, that would be a major addition to the brain’s computing power. After all, there are many more astrocytes in the brain than there are neurons. Perhaps, some scientists have speculated, astrocytes carry out their own computing. Instead of the digital code of voltage spikes that neurons use, astrocytes may act more like an analog network, encoding information in slowly rising and falling waves of calcium. In his new book, The Root of Thought, neuroscientist Andrew Koob suggests that conversations among astrocytes may be responsible for “our creative and imaginative existence as human beings.”

There is something marvelous in the fact that we barely understand what most of the cells in our brains are doing. Beginning in the 1930s, astronomers realized that all the things they could see through their telescopes—the stars, the galaxies, the nebulas—make up just a small fraction of the total mass of the universe. The rest, known as dark matter, still defies their best attempts at explanation. Between our ears, it turns out, each of us carries a personal supply of dark matter as well.”

Astrocytes Change During Postnatal Brain Development

Astrocytes Change During Postnatal Brain Development

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Homo antecessor

MSNBC.com reports “A small piece of jawbone unearthed in a cave in Spain is the oldest known fossil of a human ancestor in Europe and suggests that people lived on the continent up to 1.3 million years ago.

 The very unoriginal name of “Homo antecessor” is given to the species of early humanoid this fosil belongs to.

Eudald Carbonell, reported his team’s findings in Thursday’s issue of Nature.

“Carbonell says that with the finding of human fossils 1.3 million years old in Europe, researchers can now expect to find older ones, even up to 1.8 million years old, in other parts of the continent.”

Much earlier than the 800,000 years ago previously thought to be about the time humanoids migrated out of Africa. 

Humanoid Family Tree

Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit (Originaly posted 7/10/07)

From nothing, nothing comes.  This expression is an ancient form of what today we call the laws of conservation of mass and energy.  These laws express that neither mass not energy can be neither created nor destroyed.  We may dismiss these statements as mere artifacts of science, removed from our lives here on earth.  The expression of literal truth in these statements does not affect only physics or even the study of science in general.  The transfer of mass or matter into energy and visa versa underlies the very existence of the planets, the evolution of life on earth, and the life of the human species.

When our father Parmenides first taught of the nature of change in what we now call the universe, humans had already understood the logic of the stars in the sky.  We forget today that humans have evolved with the book of life literally written in the night sky above.  As Plato envisioned in the allegory of the cave found in The Republic, humans would someday find themselves experiencing life by looking at shadows projected on a wall.  Unaccustomed to the light of the day above, we spend our lives interacting with the products of other human’s creation. 

In humanity’s short time in the cave we have used our tools to dissect reality to almost incomprehensible scales of size and of speed.  We have learned that there are more stars in the universe than individual grains of sand throughout the entire Earth.  We have learned that there are more molecules in a drop of water than there are drops of water in all the world’s oceans.  We have spread over the face of the globe, affecting every biological and environmental system. 

Yet, for all that we have gained by entering Plato’s cave, we have by eating the apple of the tree of knowledge blinded ourselves to the world beyond our own perceptions.   What is it exactly you may ask that we have given up?  What was this secret that humans living as mammals under the stars had that we have lost? 

When Einstein stated in his equation E=Mc2  in a literal sense, he expressed a universal truth, not just for physical objects, but of our very everyday lives. The transformation of matter for energy and energy for matter may seem remote; however, it is the very logic of life.  When we eat we transform the matter we eat into energy.  When we breathe, sleep, think, fight… we transfer energy into matter. 

What is death then other than a transfer from matter to energy?  What is birth other than the transfer of energy into matter?  Is there something lost in death?  What is gained in birth?  In a very real sense, nothing is lost and nothing gained.  In the entire universe.. the vast sum of all that exists, has existed, or will ever exist.. nothing is created and nothing destroyed.

What of the Big Bang you may ask?  Did not the universe at one time not exist and then come into being and continues to expand?  Did not God create the world in seven days?  Do not Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva dance? 

All I ask is please think of what you believe when you think of the above paragraph.  If the universe came into being from nothing, if God created existence from nothing, truly in what sense does the universe of God exist?

There can only be two possible solutions.. Either in a very real sense God, the universe and everything in it do not exist; or the way we understand the question is a matter of our perspective and perception.  The members of the cave are blinded by the light when the look at reality.  

How can we then take even humanity’s greatest understanding of the physical and spiritual world and think that we have grasped reality?  The understanding of existence as a transfer of matter and energy where nothing is lost and nothing gained points at our highest potential as humans as well as our inescapable limitations.  There is cosmic irony in this; yet, it is the very dissatisfaction with this explanation that has driven humanity forward.  It is yet to be seen whether we as humans will choose to fulfill its destiny, or whether we sink back into the trillions and trillions of years and light-years of dark, lifeless space.  It is a choice for each of us to make each moment.  It is this very choice which we know as existence.

Map of the Universe from Cobe infra-red satilite