Sunday, January 8, 2012

The wave pattern analogy for the brain

I was reading last night about the Language of Thought Hypothesis. The idea is that thoughts and ideas get some representation in the brain such that they interact in a way that has some syntax and semantics. In that manner, the work of the brain is to mix and mingle existing ideas to produce new ones, according to some specific procedure.

I like this approach. It goes along to how I've imagined the brain works. What really puzzles me is the fact that the brain is not a static storage system of ideas, thoughts, memories and sensory input. Somehow they all get connected, mixed, analyzed. Memories get triggered by seeing an image or smelling something. Images carry information that gets scrutinized, compared with other images and memories. And what it's more important, new thoughts get created out of that activity. We can recreate many scenarios of the type "what if". We just have to run a simulation of the reality in our imagination, call upon our experience of how the world behaves and see the outcome right in our mind.

If we could have a way of coding all this information in some amenable and convenient form, there's still the problem of how to make it interact to create new information and new thoughts. It could be that we try different schemes until we reach some desired result. Something that behaves more or less as a brain. Or maybe the brains works as some dynamic system that needs constant input and driving stimulus.

The idea is the following: imagine a two-dimensional finite membrane that is free to vibrate. We can impose whatever boundary condition we wish. Sensory input could behave as some driving force making some piece of the boundary to oscillate. Those vibrations will propagate throughout the whole membrane. Let's focus in the steady state motion of the membrane. The driving force will create some sort of standing wave pattern. Now let's add some obstacles inside the membrane. Regions such that incoming waves are scattered off. Another way of picturing this is imagining the water surface in some tank. Waves propagate on the surface and we can put objects and make the waves bounce off, creating interference patterns all over the surface. What if of those wave patterns are like our thoughts, interacting with each other all across the brain. There could be regions where unchanging patterns are formed, maybe those could be memories. Maybe when the driving of the sensory input gets there, they interact with some of the obstacles and the scattered wave is the resulting new thought of what would be e.g. listening a song and remembering something. The mapping of wave patterns to thoughts is of course just an analogy of how a system of neurons in the brain form our memories and thinking processes.

The rationale behind the analogy is that the brain is actually always working, even when we are asleep. Neurons keep firing all the time. In the analogy, the membrane keeps oscillating all the time. Is that how the brain works? Maybe not. It's just fascinating thinking about it.

That is it. Idea registered.

Links about Language of Thought: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Larry Kaye's page

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