Lightning-Fast Brain Explored
Transmissions in the brain are both complex and fast, scientists find.
Uncounted billions of nerve impulses fly around through our brains all the time, but the way they travel seems like a kludge. Each nerve ending hits a gap called a synapse. To cross the gap, chemicals have to be wrapped in a membrane-lined vesicle, sent out into the gap, picked up by the next nerve cell, unwrapped, and converted into an electrical pulse. It happens really fast, but why the complexity? Why can’t the electrical signal reach out and continue on the next neuron?
Science Daily explored the question of what makes the brain tick so fast. “Surprisingly complex interactions between neurotransmitter receptors and other key proteins help explain the brain’s ability to process information with lightning speed, according to a new study” at McGill University. The interaction between a neurotransmitter and its receptor is “much more complex than previously thought,” the article says. Three labs have been working together to try to understand it. Synapse transmission seems overly complex, but one can’t criticize a system that works at lightning speed.
Another paper in Science Magazine finds that different neurotransmitters have their own uptake mechanisms. This allows two-way traffic across the synapse. A summary of the paper says this has been mysterious:
Despite opposing ionic gradients, synaptic vesicles are able to accumulate neurotransmitters. To resolve the mystery of how this happens, Farsi et al. made parallel measurements of pH gradients and membrane potential at the single synaptic vesicle level. Glutamatergic and GABAergic vesicles had different uptake mechanisms, revealing insights into the energetic and ionic coupling of vesicular neurotransmitter transport.
The paper explains, “To maintain synaptic function, synaptic vesicles are refilled with thousands of neurotransmitter molecules within seconds after endocytosis, using the energy provided by an electrochemical proton gradient.” Those tiny tips of neurons keep a ready supply of vesicles that are rapidly filled, ready to cross the synapse (exocytosis) and be taken up (endocytosis) by the next nerve ending.
How this frenzy of electrical and chemical activity translates into thoughts, feelings and actions is one of the greatest mysteries of science and philosophy. All multicellular animals have brains of some sort, but there’s nothing like the human brain. An article on Medical Xpress focuses on the greatest distinction: “Language characterizes humans.” Some animals can learn words, but only humans understand meaning.
The ability to learn words is not what constitutes human language. So what is it then? It is the faculty to combine words according to specific rules. Loosely strung together words do not produce language. They only convey a meaning when they are put together according to a defined set of rules. In contrast, great apes are not able to learn grammatical rules corresponding to those of a language.
The article goes on to describe some of these rules, but says there’s more to it. A sentence can follow the rules of structure (noun, verb, object, etc.) yet be nonsensical. “Equally important is the meaning of the individual words, the semantics.” But can semantics be reduced to neurons? How is it that all children grow into language in a developmental program?
The medium in which we speak, read and write, think and write poetry, e-mail and tweet is ultimately a specific human natural and cultural product of a neuron bundle interconnected in a complex way. A bundle that develops according to a predefined biological programme, but which clearly emerges under the influence of the cultural environment in which we grow up and live. Only by exploring both aspects – the natural and human science aspects – can a deeper understanding of language be achieved.
Fergus Walsh at the BBC News explains his emotions at picking up and examining a human brain.
When I picked up the human brain in my hands, several things ran through my mind. My immediate concern was I might drop it or that it would fall apart in my hands – fortunately neither happened.
Second, I was struck by how light the human brain is. I should say this was half a brain – the right hemisphere – the left had already been sent for dissection. The intact human brain weighs only around 3lbs (1.5kg) – just 2% of body-weight, and yet it consumes 20% of its energy….
It was only after I’d got used to the feel of the brain in my hands that I could then start to wonder about how such a simple-looking structure could be capable of so much.
This brain had experienced, processed, interpreted an entire human life – the thoughts, emotions, language, memory, emotion, cognition, awareness, and consciousness – all the things that make us human and each of us unique.
You may think yuck, but I’m with the scientists and surgeon who declare: “Brains are beautiful“.
The apparent simplicity of the small object held in the hands is belied by its inner complexity. Look at the wiring diagram in the article.
It was a privilege to be allowed to hold a human brain. The experience increased my respect for this piece of tissue, which can be so easily damaged with catastrophic consequences.
Walsh calls the object in his hand a “masterpiece of evolution.”
There you see it: “evolution” is the secular mind’s idol. To this idol they ascribe all the attributes of God, including omniscience, wisdom and omnipotence. They worship the Bearded Buddha, laying their brains at his feet. At the end of the video clip, Walsh extols the brain as “a masterpiece of evillusion and biology, and yet there is still a huge amount that we don’t know about how the brain works, and why it sometimes goes wrong.” How many see some reflexive irony in that statement?
The Creator of the human brain is a jealous God; it’s no wonder. What intelligence could tolerate the folly of calling the most complex object in the known universe a “masterpiece of evolution”? The true and living God will not share His glory with another – especially with a mythical blind watchbreaker whose explanation for everything is, “stuff happens.“