July 12, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Brain Provides Shortcuts for the Will

The brain is like a smart assistant, allowing previously-learned actions to be called up on demand.

A typist flies over the keyboard without error. A pianist executes a rapid passage of a piano concerto flawlessly. A gymnast executes a dozen complex somersaults and flips in a tumbling run. Thank goodness they don’t have to think about each move.

In an article titled “How the brain prepares for movement and actions” on The Conversation, Myrto Mantziara from Bangor University describes how humans and primates are able to store a sequence of moves and execute them in rapid-fire succession. The code for each move in the sequence is stored simultaneously, but the activation potential determines the order in which they will be executed. This is called “simultaneous planning” and “competitive queueing.” It’s competitive because each move competes for the highest activation potential; after the previous move is executed, the move with the next highest activation potential moves up in the queue. This is how a simultaneous code becomes a sequence.

Participants were trained to associate dot patterns with finger actions, and then perform them the next day.

Looking at the brain signals, the team was able to distinguish participants’ neural patterns as they planned and executed the movements. The researchers found that, milliseconds before the start of the movement, all the finger presses were queued and “stacked” in an ordered manner. The activation pattern of the finger presses reflected their position in the sequence that was performed immediately after. This competitive queuing pattern showed that the brain prepared the sequence by organising the individual actions in the correct order.

The researchers also looked at whether this preparatory queuing activity was shared across different sequences which had different rhythms or different finger orders, and found that it was. The competitive queuing mechanism acted as a template to guide each action into a position, and provided the base for the accurate production of new sequences. In this way the brain stays flexible and efficient enough to be ready to produce unknown combinations of sequences by organising them using this preparatory template.

Voice Activation in the Brain

The voice is key to making sense of the words in our brain (Medical Xpress). Another capability of the brain is to extract information from the tone of speech beyond the mere words. Imagine a sentence read by a monotone speech synthesizer. Now imagine it read with all the expressiveness of a Shakesperean actor. As epigenetics is to genetics, vocal inflection is to simple words in a dictionary. Think of how many ways you can pronounce “all right” to express a wealth of emotional information beyond what the words mean in a dictionary. New experiments confirm what we all know from experience.

Now, a study by the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) in San Sebastian concludes that sound waves effectively transmit information beyond the lexical meaning of words. This research, published online in the Journal of Memory and Language, has proven that words carry information indexed through the voice.

Led by Efthymia Kapnoula, the paper determines that the meaning we give to words is conditioned by factors that are not simply limited to lexical information. People, and more specifically their voices, have much to say in the mental representation of words.

Hear them roar: How humans and chickadees understand each other (Science Daily). This ability to extract information from the voice is not limited to humans. Any dog owner knows that the family pet can tell a lot about mood without understanding the words, just by the type of expression. Fear, excitement, or other types of arousal come through the tone of voice, say researchers at the University of Alberta. Even little birds in the yard can tell the emotional state of not only humans, but other animals. As they showed, this capability comes built into the brain.

Under the supervision of Professor Chris Sturdy, Congdon conducted two experiments, one examining chickadees and another examining humans. In the experiments, participants distinguished between high- and low-arousal vocalizations produced by other species, including alligators, chickadees, elephants, humans, pandas, piglets, ravens, macaques, and tree frogs. Human subjects were able to identify high arousal in different species.

“Black-capped chickadees were also able to identify high arousal in other chickadees, humans, and giant pandas,” said Congdon. “This is fascinating, because a chickadee that has never come across a giant panda before is able to categorize high — and low — arousal vocalizations.

The little birds could not have evolved this ability, because they never encountered giant pandas before. It must be part of the software package in the brain, like bundled apps that are included in a smartphone. Our brains use the apps, but the decision to use an app requires the will of a non-material being. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor takes on materialism and supports dualism (i.e., that the mind is distinct from the body) in two interviews on ID the Future: Part 1 and Part 2.

In a very interesting video on YouTube, Dr Randy Guliuzza of ICR goes into more detail about the human hand in mind/body coordination. During typewriting or piano playing, the brain has to respond within a fraction of an eyeblink’s time to send the right information down the arm for the next letter or note in the sequence. Guliuzza also shares unique features of the human hand not present in chimpanzees or other primates. We are unique in the biosphere in many ways; “fearfully and wonderfully made” like it says in Psalm 139. Are you thankful for your hardware and software endowments? Are you using them for good?

See biographies of some 50 scientists who believed in intelligent design, not evolution.

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