The human brain, human mind and consciousness connectome: An unresolved enigma
Correspondence Address: Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.236985
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
In my 35 years of professional life in Neurology, some interesting observations were made while treating and managing chronically and critically ill patients. These occasional instances in neurological practice defied the premise and tenets of science. They inspired me to look above and beyond the dictates of science and medicine, exploring the fascinating mechanistic realms of human mind, culminating in a logical synthesis of philosophy and science in the process.,,
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of the century, who envisioned the gravitational waves a hundred years ago, that were documented for the first time in the history of mankind in September 2015, had said that “Science without religion is lame and religion without science is lame.” This tenet has been repeated time and again, underscoring the fact that the way of human life that was needed to follow the realms of science and philosophy evolved and was limited by the dimensions of space-time.
The human brain is an unique and exclusive organ that has been referred to as 'the universe within' that is representative of the myriad stars found in the Milky Way and is supposedly the greatest generator within the human body. The neurophysiology of the human brain is represented by the triune brain hypothesis or model, proposed by McLean in 1990, that cogitates three modules, as sketched and portrayed by the reptilian cortex, paleocortex and neocortex. The reptilian cortex is the ancient brain, the areas of which are involved in fight, flight and fright reflexes, reproductive and aggressive behavior. The paleocortex is also known as the emotional/societal brain that deals more with love, hate, fear, and pleasure, as well as with emotions like sexual feelings, jealousy and social attachment. The neocortex has been held as the recently developed part of the cerebral cortex that deals with cognitive skills, logical thinking and abstruse thinking related to spiritualism and philosophy. The amygdala of paleocortex seems to be the supposed flip-flop switch, shunting between the reptilian brain and the neocortex.
The mind of a man is the very recent product of billions of years of cosmic and biological evolution. This would suggest that mind is a more abstract concept, best defined as an electrical and chemical neurocircuitry connecting the three phylogenetic brains. The mind deals with the content of the self and reacts emotionally to external environment and the internal thought processes, in relation to either past experiences or future imagination.
There are 100 billion neurons, each forming dedicated circuits with trillions of synapses. The beauty of nature is immense, wherein it seeks and provides specialized neurons from its armamentarium of alfa, canonical and mirror neurons, committed to planning, data transfer, imitation and social intelligence.
Science has rejected the reductionist dualistic theory of Descartes, that there are two kinds of foundation: mental and body.
It is a Herculean task to define the mind. There have been umpteen descriptions in trying to describe it. According to me, mind, unlike the individualized biocomputer of MacLean's triune brain, is diffuse, breaking the barriers of compartmentalization and structurally imposed boundaries of the morphological brain with the capacity of cross-talking.
All the living beings are capable of performing 'mindful' activities right from the unicellular organisms to complex multicellular organisms like human beings, just like a paramecium who is capable of showing specific behavior in response to food, obstacles, predators, etc; and, on top of the hierarchy, humans demonstrating myriad behavior and phenomena uniquely attributable to the 'mind'.
Is it the brain that resides in a human mind or is the mind that resides in a human brain? Is it just the complexity of processing by the specific neural circuitry consisting of integrate and fire neurons; or, is the emergent phenomena like consciousness, free will, appreciation of beauty and humor dependent on something else?
However, some philosophers of science tend to disagree. To them, a computer can do a computational activity faster than a human being but it will never be possible for a computer to understand what it is actually doing. What is the thing that is limiting the development of this kind of 'self conscious' machine/robot/humanoid? The most obvious answer that is coming to my mind (again, I am not quite sure how to accurately define the qualifying features and the various functional components that it is made up of) is what we call as 'Consciousness'. Consciousness means the subjective, phenomenal experience of external and internal worlds, and the sense of awareness of the 'subjective self' among these.
We will all agree to a large extent that mind and consciousness are the culmination of functioning of the brain (the abnormal correlate). The functioning is, in turn, is dependent on the fine and intricate interplay of signaling and processing amongst its constituent functional building blocks, i.e., the neurons. At an even smaller level, the working of these basic signaling units can be appreciated in the form of generation of specific signaling mechanisms, involving the movement of atoms and charged ions. To explain and predict the behavior of these small particles, our best explanation is propounded in the form of principles of quantum mechanics.
Neither does anyone fully understand quantum mechanics nor does any understand consciousness and how it works. Is it just a coincidence or is there something more attributable to this? Quantum mechanics is the best theory we have to describe the behavior of atoms and other subatomic entities (I am deliberately refraining from calling these entities as 'particles', as mass and energy are inter-convertible). Perhaps the most renowned of the mysteries of quantum mechanics is the fact that the outcome of a quantum experiment can change depending on whether or not we choose to measure one or the other property of the particles involved.
It is highly likely that the tiny molecules and atoms inside our brain are also capable of altering their state in response to a single quantum event, and in doing so, these entities can adopt a superposition state. These quantum superpositions then show up in the way neurons are triggered and communicate via electrical signals that employ various circuits to form stochastic neuronal pools finally subserving the conscious experiences.
One of the limitations of the proposed hypothesis is that the speculated superposition states of the quantum particles are actually very short lived and that they decohere (lose their superposition states) very quickly in response to various environmental influences.
These events (superpositions and decoherences) are extremely rapid, so much so that the smallest event in our understanding of the neuronal functioning explainable with quantum mechanics is still many billion times widely spaced in time. However, the newly proposed 'Posner molecules' can serve as a link between these ever so tiny quantum states and the observable quantum phenomena.
The human brain and the human mind are two inseparable, internal and intertwined aspects of the central nervous system. The human brain has been described as being made up of varied cortices and subconical structures. It had been hypothesized that the central nervous system in humans works on the 'modular' concept adhering to arbitrary boundaries of morphology. Thus, functions are allocated to defined structures of the cortices namely, the frontal and pre-frontal cortices (involved with association of experiences), the somatosensory and motor cortices, the auditory and visual cortices, the synesthetic and the insular cortices. The central nervous system has been segregated into two discrete entities of sensory and motor mechanisms, wherein the sensory system has actively sought information from its environs (internal or external or both). The information has then been actively processed and transmitted along dedicated afferent pathways onto the primary somatosensory cortical areas, that is further relayed to sensory association areas for evaluation and comparison from past experiences and learning phenomena (part of the memory schemata). The information so processed in the sensory mechanisms is then transmitted and handed-over to motor mechanisms for final disposition of response commensurate with the stimulus.
The above model of the working of the human mind has given an appreciable, modular and one-to-one concept of the phenomenon of stimulus–response algorithim. The model, however, has been observed to leave a sundry of issues that have remained unattended and ignored, namely the mechanism(s) of information transfer from the motor to the sensory system, the phenomena of phantom limbs and synesthesia. Moreover, the model has not infused the features of flexibility and cross-talking (or a feedback schemata so inherent to any non-linear system) that forms the essence of operational architectonics of the chaotic neural dynamics of the human mind.
In this backdrop, especially considering the pitfalls of the proposed model of working of the human mind of the earlier times; as well as with the discovery that the working of the human mind is based on the principles of nonlinear chaotic neural dynamics, a paradigm shift has been initiated with subsequent transformation and metamorphosis. The idea of an interface and a logical synthesis between the motor and sensory mechanisms was worked upon and evolved into an archetype and a prototype model. According to this model, a 'mirror neuron system' has been envisaged that provides a two-way portal and gateway to information flow and flux along the sensori-motor loci and evolves a virtual image on which motor mechanisms elaborate and excogitate the algorithm for the motor effector response.
It has been documented and reported that the working of the human mind is based on the precepts of 'chaos,' opening new avenues and frontiers along the realms of chaos that endorse Carl Jung's popular phrase “In all chaos, there is a cosmos, In all disorder, a secret order.”
The human mind is conceived as an entity, forming the functional singularity of the human brain that evolves through the integration of quantum mechanics of wave-particles. The latter espouses the inter-convertibility of mass into energy wave-form and vice versa. Higgs Boson is proposed as the interface and amalgamating particle in the sequence of events. A set of neuronal pools, referred to as 'fractals', with the inherent capability of self-organizing and self-iterating, are recruited to subserve a distinct selected function. They are limited by the coordinates of space-time with a time decay of 2-3 seconds after which they are recouped and retrieved by another set of neuronal pools observing similar fractal dimensions. The set of neuronal pools evolve during the course of the time-rhyme and oscillate with a specific wave-pattern. This wave-pattern is construed and translated onto the stochastic phase-space trajectory, with the specific attractor focused on the function being attended to, silhouetting and profiling the human mind.
The 'cosmic consciousness' is the predicate of mass-energy wave-form interface, defined by God's particle, the Higg's Boson. The effervescent and evolving human mind works on the same principles as that of the cosmos, with a tendency to cohere and sync with the flow of cosmic consciousness.
In conclusion, it can be deduced that the modular sensory and motor representations in the brain's operational architectonics funnel onto the prime seat of the distributed operational phase – the space of the brain obeying the dictates and stipulations of chaos. The human mind and/or human consciousness evolves from the principles of chaos, wherein the distributed neuronal pools across the brain cohere to evolve into the wonderful experience of being a 'human'.
Lest you think that all these concepts are radical and new, think again! Although the scientific information is new, the basic insights are ancient. A very old aphorism, popularized about a hundred years ago by the German philosopher, Schelling, said it all:
'God sleeps in minerals, dreams in plants, thinks in animals, and awakes in man.'