Re: Definition please

From: William Benzon (
Date: Wed Dec 05 2001 - 19:22:21 GMT

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    on 12/4/01 8:18 PM, Ray Recchia at wrote:

    > Hi
    > Do you go by Bill or William, or Billy or Billie, or Willy or Willie or
    > Will or Mr. Benzon?



    >>> From *Beethoven's Anvil* (pp. 71-72):
    >> Thus far we have considered the states of the brain, intentionality,
    >> coupling and timing, all while examining the nervous system as a physical
    >> system. We can no longer avoid the mind/body problem. I want to approach to
    >> this problem in the manner of Gilbert Ryleıs The Concept of Mind. Rather
    >> than wonder how the mysterious and ineffable mind can connect with the
    >> mysterious but concrete brain, I propose a definition:
    >> Mind: The dynamics of the entire brain, perhaps even the entire nervous
    >> system, including the peripheral nervous system, constitutes the mind.
    >> The thrust of this definition is to locate mind, not in any particular
    >> neural structure or set of structures, but in the joint product of all
    >> current neural activity. As such the mind is, as Ryle argued, a bodily
    >> process; in the words of Stephen Kosslyn and Olivier Koenig, ³the mind is
    >> what the brain does.²[ ] Whether a neuron is firing at its maximum rate or
    >> idling along and generating only an occasional spike, it is participating in
    >> the mind. In asserting this I do not mean, of course, to imply that there is
    >> no localization of function in the brain. There surely is. But the mind and
    >> the brain are not the same thing, though they certainly are intimately
    >> related, as are the dancer and the dance. The fact that the dancer is
    >> segmented into head, neck, trunk, and limbs does not mean that the dance can
    >> be segmented in the same way. Similarly, we should not think of the
    >> functional specialization of brain regions as implying a similar
    >> specialization of the mind. It is not at all clear that the mind has ³parts²
    >> in any meaningful sense.
    > I was thinking that when I described something like anxiety being stored in
    > different locations for different people I should have mentioned the
    > holistic theory of memory. The holistic theory proposes that a memory of a
    > particular thing is not stored in one place but is spread out across the
    > brain. I do believe there has been some localization of function, the most
    > famous of which is Broca's region and certain aspects of language use, but
    > the current theory of memory is a holistic one.

    It's tricky. Folks talk about "the binding problem," for example. What is
    that? Well, the visual cortex has some 10s of different regions, variously
    specialized for form, color, movement, location, and so forth. All are
    simultaneously active and receiving input and generating output. So, there
    you are looking at your dog chasing a cat. The image of your dog is
    distributed over a bunch of these visual areas. How are these various
    components of the neural dog integrated? That's the binding problem.

    The point of my dancer/dance metaphor is that the dancer (brain) clearly has
    specialized components. But there's no way to map those specialized
    components onto similar components. All neurofunctional areas have
    extensive input and output connections with other areas, with each fiber
    bundle having 1000s to 1,000,000s of parallel connections. We have
    excitation going in all directions all the time. These neurofunctional
    areas do not act independently of one another. There's always something
    going on everywhere.

    > I do not believe that you
    > are asserting that the possibly holistic nature of memory renders it
    > something other than a physical phenomena though.

    That is correct.


    > memory. This would not require that a memory be stored entirely in one
    > neuron or set of neurons but could be spread out over a range of neurons
    > and be reflected in their changed receptor thresholds. My recollection is
    > that potentially one neuron could also have receptor threshold changes
    > which reflected partial storage of different memories.


    > Although we have a proposed mechanism, we do not yet know how the differing
    > receptor potentials form patterns that account for memory. The brain is
    > certainly physically complex enough for a lot to be stored. There are some
    > 100 billion neurons in the brain and each neuron connects to about a
    > thousand other neurons in the brain. Dendrites are long so neurons can
    > connect to other neurons at reasonably long distance away.

    It's the axons that make the long-distance connections. Some axons may only
    be a fraction of a mm long while other may be 10s of centimeters long (e.g.
    motor neurons projecting to the spinal cord).

    On anxiety, from *Beethoven's Anvil* (pp. 86-88):

    Pleasure, of course, has its opposite in pain. As we have already seen, the
    nervous system doesnıt have neural centers specifically for pleasure, nor
    does it have anything that can be called a pleasure system. By contrast, the
    nervous system certainly does have pain receptors, a pain system, and pain
    centers, though the exact workings of this system are mysterious. The basic
    purpose of the pain system is to warn the organism about (possible) physical
    damage, which is detected by receptors in the skin.[ ] The neurology of
    pain is thus quite different from that of pleasure, its nominal opposite.

    I believe that, in fact, the functional opposite of pleasure is not pain but
    anxiety. Just as pleasure is the subjective experience of neural weather
    that functions coherently, so anxiety is the subjective experience of
    incoherent neural weather. In Csikszentmihalyiıs formulation of flow,
    anxiety is the neural weather that occurs when you try to perform a task
    that is far too difficult. You simply have not mastered the necessary mental
    or physical routines. You fumble and fidget, lose track of where you are,
    and canıt think of what to do next. This is all quite uncomfortable; you
    feel anxious.

    The literature on the neurobiology of anxiety is quite extensive and varied...
    While I certainly havenıt examined it in full, the materials I have read are
    not about some center or centers which detect or create anxiety. That
    literature is about fear, traumatic experience, conflict, the anticipation
    of harm or danger, the centers involved in such anticipation, and the
    biochemical and physical consequences of anxiety.[ ] I have no particular
    reason to doubt or reject any of this, at least in principle. It is all
    relevant. What I am saying, however, is that the net result of these various
    causal forces and factors is badly-timed and incoherent neural flow. Thus,
    Michael Posner and Marcus Raichle assert that ³Adults who report themselves
    as able to focus and shift attention also say they are less prone to
    depression and anxiety than those who report themselves as less able to
    control their attention.²[ ] When I read that I see problems with
    neurodynamics; a conflicted brain will not be able to shift smoothly from
    one state to another [ ] Then we have Jeffrey Grayıs theory of anxiety which
    links it to mismatches between expectations and actuality as detected in
    limbic structures.[ ]

    Thus, in parallel to our concept of musical pleasure, we have:

    Anxiety as Incoherence: Anxiety is the subjective awareness of overall
    neural flow where that flow is poorly timed and incoherent.

    What, does this really mean? Let me offer an analogy that Norbert Wiener
    used in some speculations on psychopathology in Cybernetics: traffic jams.
    Wiener wasnıt so much interested in the flow of cars over roads as he was in
    the flow of electrical signals through complex communications networks. But
    in both cases, an overload of traffic leads to breakdowns.[ ]

    One thing that both anxiety and traffic jams have in common is that they are
    symptoms. Traffic jams can have various causes‹construction, an accident, a
    sobriety check point, outflow from a sporting event, and so on. Similarly,
    anxiety has many causes. Some anxieties may reflect inner conflict of the
    sort best worked out in psychotherapy; others may reflect phobias that can
    be handled through some kind of behavioral therapy. Csikzenmihalyi talks of
    task difficulty as a cause of anxiety. And some anxiety results from
    rational assements of genuinely threatening situations.

    To anticipate Chaper 8, I ask you to imagine a band of proto-humans
    somewhere on the African steppe. Things in this particular group are
    getting pretty edgy, for whatever reasons‹independently of any other causal
    forces, social life certainly produces stress. Somehow, the group members
    start stomping their feet in the same rhythm and start vocalizing wildly,
    each singing her own line yet all of them somehow managing to blend together
    in a fine raucous mix. They do this for an hour or so and the anxiety
    starts dissipating as the rhythmic actions recruit more and more neural
    circuits into the flow, dissolving the neural traffic jams. Whatever the
    root causes, the symptom has been alleviated.

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