March 11, 2022 | Jerry Bergman

The Brain Files Information Logically

The Brain Just Became Even More Complicated.
Another New Structure in the Brain Discovered.

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The day after my last article was submitted to this website, I came across another article that revealed yet another new discovery of a previously unknown structure, this time in the brain. In my previous article I stated, “To the proverb that nothing is certain but death and taxes, can be added that one other thing is certain, namely, as scientific research progresses, life is shown to be increasingly more and more complex as time passes.” Another new discovery proves once again that this assertion is true.

This discovery concerns the human brain, which is referred to as the most complex structure in the universe. The following article explains the evidence behind this claim:[1]

the human brain is the most complex thing we have discovered in the universe. It contains hundreds of trillions of cells that are connected through trillions of connections. … The total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on planet earth. We are talking about ten sextillion stars, a 1 followed by 22 zeros (1×10²²). In size, the universe studied ranges, according to estimates, between 13 and 48 million light years. In comparison, the human brain has approximately 1×10¹¹ neurons that interconnect with each other 1×1015 times (in a changing manner). All this with a weight of around 1.5 kg and a volume of 1,300 cubic centimeters. That is enough to tell us who we are: beliefs, political preferences, sports predilections and who we fall in love with.[2]

Its storage capacity is estimated at 3,000 hours of recorded TV shows or 2.5 petabytes.[3] (a petabyte is 1,000 terabytes, which is 1,000 gigabytes, which is 1,000 megabytes, which is 1,000 kilobytes, which is 1,000 bytes). The brain is not only the most complex object in the universe, but the source and details of its operation are also collectively one of the greatest mysteries in the universe.

Nevertheless, scientists continue attempting to understand how it functions. Two billion-dollar projects are attempting to solve its mysteries. The ambitious “Brain” initiative – launched in 2012 – is the latest attempt to draw a dynamic and comprehensive map of the brain. This joint project involves the Pentagon, the National Institutes of Health, the research agency of the National Science Foundation, Google, and Microsoft. The European equivalent attempts to compile all of the existing knowledge about the brain to generate the most virtual simulation that has ever been done in the field of neuroscience.

Unquestionably, the brain’s structure and function is one of the great questions of the universe.[4] How the brain works was rated as one of mankind’s’ greatest mysteries.[5] Even a basic question such as “how memories form” is still unclear.[6] Mark Leary, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, explained:

If you ask most people where consciousness comes from, of course, they’ll say the brain, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that the brain is involved in consciousness. Obviously, activity in the brain is associated with seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing, and thinking, and if we damage the brain in certain ways, people are no longer conscious. But here’s the problem—nobody has even the slightest idea of how the brain produces consciousness.[7]

Of course, although neurologists admit that our understanding of how this enormously complex organ works is very poor, evolutionists are confident that it was not created. They still insist that it evolved during the course of millions of years from much simpler beginnings.[8] The new discovery reported here adds to their hopelessness by revealing that the brain is both more complex than previously believed, and more mysterious as well.

The new discovery

In short, the new discovery has found a new type of cell that facilitates filing material in memory into sections or clumps. At the BBC News, Jonathan Webb asked the following question over 7 years ago:

Storing information so that you can easily find it again is a challenge. From purposefully messy desks to indexed filing cabinets, we all have our preferred systems. How does it happen inside our brains?[9]

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California have determined that dedicated brain cells signal when to begin new memory files. Once these new files are created, similar material can be placed in the new file.

From prior research on memory, neuroscientists suspected that the brain stores information in a logical, connected way. For example, one has a file on one’s spouse, and to recall that file requires only a few bits of data. If you see your spouse unexpectedly in a busy supermarket, you are able to recognize her 80 or more feet away from gleaning only a small amount of information, such as her height, her back side or hairdo.

You are able to do this because this small amount of information is enough to pull up the file on her from your brain. The answer is usually correct. What information you obtained earlier pulled up the file on your wife and you saw her in your mind. But suppose in the next few moments, when you get closer to her, you realize that it is not your spouse and are startled by this realization. The new information gleaned from eyesight at closer proximity caused you to realize that the woman you saw was not your spouse. Your brain had pulled up the wrong file. Embarrassed, you walk away.

How the research was done

The new research involved obtaining, from electrodes in 19 people’s brains, data that revealed certain hippocampus neurons firing in  a burst of activity when observing something novel. They interpreted this to be the boundary between different events. The bursts of activity were observed in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for the conversion of short-term memories into long-term memories. The neuron activity the researchers monitored, using the analogy mentioned above, implied that the participant was creating a new file.

Diagram of the hippocampus (Wiki Commons).

Importantly, the results did not reveal a new brain function, but rather a new structure: “A newly discovered kind of brain cell involved in memory formation seems to mark the boundary between distinct events as we experience them.”[10] The newly discovered cell type makes up about seven per cent of the neurons in the hippocampus. The researchers called these boundary cells, whose firing peaks when new events occurred. Like file folders, boundary cells do not relay information about the memory contents, only that there exists a boundary, indicating the brain should form a new memory section. It’s “like starting a new folder,” notes Clare Wilson in New Scientist.[11] The source paper, published in Nature Neuroscience by Zheng et al. on 7 March 2022, explains:

while experience is continuous, memories are organized as discrete events. Cognitive boundaries are thought to segment experience and structure memory… neurons responded to abstract cognitive boundaries between different episodes… These findings reveal a neuronal substrate for detecting cognitive boundaries that transform experience into mnemonic episodes and structure mental time travel during retrieval.[12]

Summary

This is the first evidence of a physical mechanism in the brain that helps humans to organize large amounts of information. Forgetting is often not due to the loss of information, but the inability to locate it in the brain’s filing system which must find it among billions of bits of information. More cues in the file often allows faster retrieval of the information which was there all along. For instance, when asked who was the 34th president of the United States, many people will draw a blank. Adding new information, such as the 34th president was the U.S. president during the Korean war, or better yet, was the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in western Europe during World War II, helps the person retrieve the correct name, which is Dwight David Eisenhower. Thus the filing system, inferred by the study reviewed in this paper, helps us to understand that the brain works by organizing information into logical groups facilitated by the specialized cells which the researchers called boundary cells. As research continues we will no doubt continue to discover more secrets of the human brain.

References

[1] Tuarez, J., Is the human brain the most complex thing in the universe?  Society of Neuroscience, https://neurotray.com/is-the-human-brain-the-most-complex-thing-in-the-universe/, 28 October 2020.

[2] Tuarez, 2020.

[3] Reber, P., Ask the Brains. Scientific American, doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0510-70, 1 May 2010.

[4] Bilsky, E., et al., Brain Facts, Society for Neuroscience, Washington, D.C., p. 5, 2018.

[5] Bryner, J., Greatest Mysteries: How Does the Brain Work? https://www.livescience.com/4583-greatest-mysteries-brain-work.html, 2 August 2007.

[6] Wilson, C., Special brain cells may signal when to start new memories, New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2311077-special-brain-cells-may-signal-when-to-start-new-memories/#ixzz7MyXVI2TK, 7 March 2022.

[7] Leary, M., Consciousness and the Brain: The Greatest Mystery of Being Human. https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/consciousness-and-the-brain-the-greatest-mystery-of-being-human/, 27 December 2020.

[8] DeFelipe, J. The evolution of the brain, the human nature of cortical circuits, and intellectual creativity. Frontiers of  Neuroanatomy., 16 May 2011 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnana.2011.00029

[9] Webb, J., Peeking into the brain’s filing system, BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33380677, 5 July 2015.

[10] Wilson, 2022.

[11] Wilson, 2022.

[12] Zheng, J., et al., Neurons detect cognitive boundaries to structure episodic memories in humans, Nature Neuroscience, 25:358-368, p. 358, 7 March 2022 (emphasis added).


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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