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Sand in the Brain: A Fundamental Theory To Model the Mind

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the my-brain's-usually-rusty dept.

Science 105

An anonymous reader writes "In 1999, the Danish physicist Per Bak proclaimed to a group of neuroscientists that it had taken him only 10 minutes to determine where the field had gone wrong. Perhaps the brain was less complicated than they thought, he said. Perhaps, he said, the brain worked on the same fundamental principles as a simple sand pile, in which avalanches of various sizes help keep the entire system stable overall — a process he dubbed 'self-organized criticality.'"

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Vagina (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679557)

Is that like having sand in your vagina?

Re:Vagina (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679909)

It took me 10 seconds to determine this was bullshit. I win.

Re:Vagina (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 6 months ago | (#46681469)

Depends on what you usually use for thinking.

How come smart people usually die young ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681541)

Dr. Bak died at the tender age of 54, while scores of idiots died at age 70+, 80+, 90+

Why is it that so many of the smart people who have contributed so much to human knowledge (and could have been contribute *MUCH MORE*) usually die so young ?

As if there's something out there pulling strings - and yank out those it/they deem too "dangerous" to remain in the human population else they might lead human to true enlightenment, or something like that.

Re:How come smart people usually die young ? (2)

arjun.jrao (1976036) | about 6 months ago | (#46682309)

Knuth is still alive. Planck, Shannon, Newton and Feynman are examples of exemplars who lived full long lives.. these are just the ones that come to mind. I'm sure there are many more.

Re:How come smart people usually die young ? (1)

fygment (444210) | about 6 months ago | (#46682513)

Shannon died after a long bout with alzheimers. That brilliant mind had died long before its body.

As a physicist: (4, Insightful)

drolli (522659) | about 6 months ago | (#46679561)

Dear fellow scientists, admire us for the 1% of the cases when things like "oh i have a very simple theory about this" are brilliant and dont hate us for the 99% of the cases where this is just idiotic and arrogant.

As an observer (3, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 6 months ago | (#46679785)

The objective reality is that this process has been observed to happen in the brain. Repeatedly; consensually; experientially.

The open question, at least for me, is, is there any reason to think that this is the only, or even the primary, mode of neural operation?

Sand will indeed avalanche following the power law when it's poured on top of itself. But it does something completely different when it is suspended in turbulent water, or melted into glass, or just sitting there on the beach (seems to have an affinity for the inside of bathing suits as I recall, though it's been a while.)

Perhaps avalanche at criticality is "the" answer. But I think we're quite some distance from declaring that particular win. I'm all for the exploration, though.

Re:As an observer (0)

drolli (522659) | about 6 months ago | (#46679799)

Just because i observe something simple, it does not need to the the complete explanation.

Re:As an observer (0)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | about 6 months ago | (#46679967)

Didn't Slashdot have another story recently about how pop-science was in love with trying to find power laws in everything? (And producing nothing of value along the way.)

Re:As an observer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680093)

There's one reason... Occam's razor...

Re:As an observer (5, Interesting)

Artifakt (700173) | about 6 months ago | (#46680573)

Except we are seeing many cases where it is counterintuitive even to working scientists in their own fields, just which explanation is simpler.

            For example, Guth's inflationary hypothesis in Cosmology has resulted in a prediction that certain constants must be random (because otherwise, there's the implication of something we might as well call God behind the non-random values). A hypothesis that invokes God is probably not the most simple - anything that might merit the name of God is likely to be more complex than the very universe it 'explains'. Fair enough, but random values seem to imply an infinity of parallel universes, which however will never be detected by real science, only in science fiction. An infinity of untestable phenomina as the outcome of a model hardly makes that the preferred model by Occam either. Last I looked, neither one of these interpretations of the inflationary hypothesis* has been mathematically shown to be the more simple of the two. If people who have had some real impact on the specific field (i.e. Hawking), can't really agree on what they mean by simple, Occam's Razor isn't working very well.

          This has shown up in several other areas of science, for example recent math proofs by computer that are so complex there's a real chance the computer made errors during the months it was crunching numbers for the millions of steps required. Once a proof is too complex for humans to even check, how can we possibly tell whether it is more complex than another proof or not? (Counting lines of code is not a very good measure there). And while I'm hardly up on all the issues in the "universe as a giant computer" debate, I've seen arguments from some of the pros in that field that seem to show there's problem with determining which explanations are the most simple there too, and I've heard at least one working scientist in the field of sexual selection pressure complain about the same thing.

* The recent Antarctic discovery might argualbly elevate Cosmic Inflation from hypothisis to full fledged theory if it wasn't there yet. For those who think it was a theory already, these observations would seem to place it on even more solid ground, in much the same way as Crick and Watson's work helped strengthen the claim of Evolution to be a well tested and heavily supported theory. But, not being able to predict whether the initial universal constants were random or non-random is a real problem when it comes to proclaiming Cosmic Inflation has the status of a solidly tested theory, no matter how much other evidence scientists gather.

Re:As an observer (1)

TheLink (130905) | about 6 months ago | (#46681227)

Wouldn't Occam's razor exclude the subjective _experience_ (not behavior) of consciousness? There's no apparent "need" for it is there? Couldn't all of us walk, talk, etc without experiencing it? Except for the fact that I know I personally experience it AND I don't think I'm that special to be the only one. There's no proof you can provide to me that you experience consciousness right? Couldn't an AI make the same claims you do and not be conscious?

Or does the simplest explanation in this Universe require that experiential consciousness must exist alongside behavioral consciousness? Both the true or false cases would be interesting ;).

Re:As an observer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46684245)

This gets tiresome to explain. Occam's Razor "excludes" absolutely nothing. It does not say what is possible, it does not say what is more probable. It resolves in no way what the facts of the situation are.

Occam's Razor says, and only says, that if you have two models that vary in no way whatsoever in terms of evidentiary or inferential support, direct or indirect, stipulate using the simpler one, because, and -only- because, it is simpler and therefore has more conceptual economy.

In the general case, Euclidean geometry expresses something more simply that Riemannian geometry. Therefore, for the general case, Occam's Razor indicates using the former. It in no way follows that Euclidean is "more likely" or "more true".

Thanks, Dawkins et al, for totally screwing up a generation's knowledge of basic philosophy and science for the sake of overextending a dubious argument for your worldview.

Re:As an observer (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680527)

I think it should be noted that the human brain also has an affinity for the inside of bathing suits. . .

Re:As an observer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46684777)

I think it should be noted that the human brain also has an affinity for the inside of bathing suits. . .

If you are using your bathing suit as a wrapper for your brain, then you are doing it wrong. Hope this helps.

Re:As an observer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681057)

Does anyone feel like playing a game of Tetris?

Re:As an observer (4, Informative)

mikael (484) | about 6 months ago | (#46681137)

There was an idea in computing several decades ago about "asynchronous computing". The idea was that you could get rid of the need to have all the different regions of your silicon chip clocked at exactly the same speed. Instead, data would move between different units at different speeds according to demand. If a particular circuit wasn't used, you could put it in a low power state, if something was being filled up with data, you boosted the clock speed. You end up with data "flowing" through the system or data-flow- computing.

So it's much similar to the brain where different regions light up under fMRI analysis as oxygen flow increases as they are used. And scientists have a good idea what different regions of the brain do - usually a high-level function like generate-muscle-motion-to-say-phrase or recognise-name-of-object-from-picture. From other methods of MRI scans, they have identified the pathways where different parts of the brain communicate along, and are able to visualize these as "connectograms", Phineas Gage is the best example.

Re:As an observer (2)

Viol8 (599362) | about 6 months ago | (#46682097)

Except for standard computers it doesn't work so well since the CPU is almost always faster than everything else so the other parts of the system almost never have a chance to kick back and relax - its usually the CPU waiting for them to do something. Also a serial computer is pretty much like a road - everything moves at the speed of the slowest vehicle/component. Slow one thing down and you slow everything down. Parallel systems improves things a bit - you now have a multi lane highway - but even so , the same basic rules still apply to each lane.

Re:As an observer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46682429)

Asynchronous logic is always faster, as the gates don't have to wait for the next clock pulse to change state.

Intel uses asynchronous logic in it's chips wherever possible. Once clock speeds get above 3Ghz, it's pretty much essential, as just distributing the clock around the chip starts to take significant amounts of power. They even built a fully asynchronous Pentium compatible chip more than ten years ago.

Details on this kind of engineering are closely guarded, so pretend you didn't read this.

Serial computer like a road (1)

iMactheKnife (2556934) | about 6 months ago | (#46687115)

The limitation on serial computation is not really in the architecture, it's in the code. If the compiler were to generate multi-threaded code where serial dependencies were minimized, (and if coders learned to use this feature), then it would be fairly easy to uncouple the various cars on the computer train and let them each follow their own tracks until some intermediate output was exchanged.

A lot of new VLSI architecture is capable of this kind of uncoupling. Even with the same clock rates.

Re:As an observer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681391)

However, how do you explain that a pebble in your shoe will go up the pressure grade to hurt you as much as possible?
Intelligent pebble, that is what I say.

Re:As an observer (1)

stenvar (2789879) | about 6 months ago | (#46684201)

The objective reality is that this process has been observed to happen in the brain. Repeatedly; consensually; experientially.

The objective reality is that intoxication, aneurisms, drug trips, and brain tumors also have been observed in the brain; that doesn't mean they have anything to do with thinking or the mind.

Re:As a physicist: (4, Interesting)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 6 months ago | (#46680727)

"I have a simple theory" is the result of multidisciplinary collaboration, in which new connections get made by someone who understands the patterns and foundations of apparently, but not really, unrelated subjects.

"Your field is fundamentally wrong" could be idiotic and arrogant. Or it could be something so intrinsically obvious as two plus two does not equal four, or God exists (or doesn't). Democrats are evil, Republicans are evil, and the focus of neuroscience should be about how the system maintains criticality.

I hardly consider this arrogant. Arrogance is an inflated sense of superiority, and usually the arrogant person knows, on some level, that it is just a front. Just stating something gives them a feeling of superiority, triggering pleasure centers. Being proven right, in public, is quite possibly the best thing ever because it presents a factual basis for what is, at least occasionally, a fantasy.

People who know, or believe, something truly and completely, do not do this. Believers seem to rebel against any contrary information, actively rejecting it. Knowers present clarity of fact. They may be completely wrong, and may cross over into being believers, or they may disbelieve when proven wrong.

Because science is fundamentally about trying to prove others wrong (and either failing or succeeding), it is important to distinguish among a deep-rooted belief, transference of knowledge (even if it is mistaken), arrogance, idiocy, and the scientific method.

As far as physicists specifically, I would expect that biological and chemical functions would have some level of physics at their core. Whether it is a true correlation or just similar in appearance will have to be decided. But I would prefer to have an asshole physicist say everything is wrong and be right 1% of the time, and the rest just be brushed off like the guy from marketing at the Christmas party.

Nitpick the oversimplified psychobabble if you like, but the point is that words mean things. And attributing intent to people based on their ideas, and even their words especially if they are not a native speaker, is a great way to completely miss the point. Not debating that it's an issue - but it is far too easy to dismiss an interloper from another discipline as arrogant - all the easier if you believe in your field of study, as opposed to knowing it.

I ahve seen (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46688037)

physicist, many, many times make statements about other disciplines and been wrong every time.
Why? becasue they don't hold themselves to the same level of rigor in other fields as they would in there own..
Sure, maybe he is correct, but not likely. So.. write a scientific paper held to a high level of rigor.
If you can do that, then I don't care what you expertise is in. Hell, you could be a ditch digger, but if you write a paper that stands up to peer review, then you history should not matter.
Unless you history includes fraudulent papers.

Re:As a physicist: (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 6 months ago | (#46684327)

Science is a process with the end goal of leading us to fact.
One of the parts of the process, is if you are faces with many different models that work, the simplest one is probably the correct one.

However the simplest model isn't obvious all the time, as you are trying to make a pattern out of complex results. Because we are trying to figure out a pattern from a complex result, we will need to try out many different models, and these models can get complicated. But in the process of finding the complicated model, we can often find a reduced form inside of it.

Scientists are human like the rest of us. They make mistakes, they can jump to assumptions. But the Scientific process if left alone by politicians with agenda, can help work out many of the human mistakes over time.

oblig xkcd (5, Insightful)

bistromath007 (1253428) | about 6 months ago | (#46679569)

http://xkcd.com/793/ [xkcd.com]

The really interesting thing will be when Randall does a comic about how you can get easy upvotes for "oblig xkcd" posts.

Re:oblig xkcd (3, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 6 months ago | (#46679641)

This comes from the fact physicists are used to working with differential equations that they can't prove existence or uniqueness of a solution for.

So they simplify, i.e. 'assume a spherical cow' as a way of living.

Of course that almost never works for a real system so they go off and try to understand the universe one particle at a time.

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680817)

From a topological standpoint, a cow and most lifeforms are not spheres at all. We are all donuts. The only true hole that goes through the entire animal, is the intestinal track. The rest are just pockets (lungs, etc).

So, cows and people are donuts, not spheres.

If you want spheres, you have to loop at starfish.

Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681135)

What about the nostrils? Those seem to form another hole with two ends.

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681625)

three ends - two in your nose and 1 in your mouth to which the other two come down to so result is a donut with 4 wholes alltogether. I am also not so sure about the ears of people that got ear shuttering explosion near their heads or some doctors doing experiments on them but I guess for population at large that is not a valid configuration. So here we go

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46682255)

Intestinal TRACT.

Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46685741)

Management track, intestinal track, either way the end result in an asshole.

depends on there (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46688063)

discipline. It's not like there is a physicist factory where everyone just pound out physics. So disciplines are less abstract the others.

Re:oblig xkcd (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#46679687)

That is what I thought of too, but in this case neuroscientists agree with him. If you read the article:

But over time, in fits and starts, Bak’s radical argument has grown into a legitimate scientific discipline. Now, about 150 scientists worldwide investigate so-called “critical” phenomena in the brain, the topic of at least three focused workshops in 2013 alone.

Just goes to show that xkcd is not the answer to everything.

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 6 months ago | (#46679761)

That is what I thought of too, but in this case neuroscientists agree with him. If you read the article:

But over time, in fits and starts, Bak’s radical argument has grown into a legitimate scientific discipline. Now, about 150 scientists worldwide investigate so-called “critical” phenomena in the brain, the topic of at least three focused workshops in 2013 alone.

Just goes to show that xkcd is not the answer to everything.

Except notice how the field is gaining complexity? So it's clearly not that simple. It might end up being right, but the final product is not going to end up adding a lot of complexity back in.

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#46679777)

That sounds like an interesting thought, but I'm really not sure what you mean by this sentence: "but the final product is not going to end up adding a lot of complexity back in."

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 6 months ago | (#46679857)

Early mornings and working on a few things at once :)

Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679771)

xkcd says nothing about the physicist perspective being wrong, just that it's annoying.

Re:oblig xkcd (1, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | about 6 months ago | (#46681303)

Meh I can come up with silly theories too.

a) neurons while not necessarily geniuses are actually not that stupid, and that the real problem a brain solved was not "thinking" but that a single thinking neuron can't be used to control a multicellular body because of connectivity and redundancy reasons (can't have a whole body wasted just because one neuron died).

b) The brain is like a bunch of Bingo halls each filled with neurons that yell Bingo when something they recognize is "read out". The fancy trick is some of them are supposed to recognize and announce the future before it happens... ;)

Now move along and figure out how a neuron or single celled creature actually thinks.

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#46681329)

Sure, now try to convince people that you are right

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

Capt.Albatross (1301561) | about 6 months ago | (#46683369)

That is what I thought of too, but in this case neuroscientists agree with him...

There's a huge difference between identifying a principe behind some low-level aspect of neural activity, and explaining how the brain works. This sort of article (and other pronouncements of Dr. Bak, apparently) gives reductionism a bad name. Only if he could show how consciousness arises directly from neural self-organized criticality would the absurd hyperbole of the first paragraph be justified.

Re:oblig xkcd (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 6 months ago | (#46683597)

150 scientists worldwide, three "focused workshops" and "trying to start a journal" is pretty fringe. I think time cube guy has them beat on that one.

Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46684933)

150 scientists worldwide, three "focused workshops" and "trying to start a journal" is pretty fringe. I think time cube guy has them beat on that one.

You definition of fringe and mine don't quite seem to match. Yeah, odd, I know.

This is more like what's going on. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679891)

http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2556

Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680447)

I'm sorry sir, I just heard 'How Meta can Meta get?'

META-META BANG BANG!!

broski

Hipster alert (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680507)

You saying "Randall" instead of "xkcd" makes you a fucking faggotass hipster.

Oooh we're all so impressed you know the artist's name. Fucking idiot.

bistromath007.

I have a fuckload of time on my hands and I intend on interfering with your real life as well as attempting to have you killed.

Going to see where your username takes me.

Re:Hipster alert (-1, Flamebait)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about 6 months ago | (#46680863)

Careful - the username has "007" in it, so you have to assume they have a license to kill.

Heh, we'll never hear from THAT Anonymous Coward again...

or will we?

Hipster alert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681079)

You can find so much dirt on that username that I'm surprised he still uses it. Although I don't understand your rage, I wish you luck.

Re:Hipster alert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681105)

About the Troll mod - it's just there's no -1 Laughably Impotent.

Re:Hipster alert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46682057)

*laugh*
Sure you are, tough guy.

Try re-reading the sentence where he used the artist's name. How 'bout you cut back on the 'roids/caffeine/soldier-of-fortune-subscription and take a nice calming walk outside.

Re:Hipster alert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46685049)

I have a fuckload of time on my hands...

I see. Ever heard the expression "Idle hands are the devil's play things"?

...and I intend on interfering with your real life..

Or maybe you could just get a hobby. And a life. Might be more enjoyable, less stressful. Just sayin'.

...as well as attempting to have you killed.

Going to see where your username takes me.

Would you mind including your name and address in your next post? I think the police might be interested in knowing. Just sayin'.

Re:oblig xkcd (3, Insightful)

JanneM (7445) | about 6 months ago | (#46680683)

I think this SMBC comic is very appropriate as well: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id... [smbc-comics.com]

Re:oblig xkcd. TFA itself points this out (1)

infinitelink (963279) | about 6 months ago | (#46680771)

As much as scientists in other fields adore outspoken, know-it-all physicists, Bakâ(TM)s audacious idea â" that the brainâ(TM)s ordered complexity and thinking ability arise spontaneously from the disordered electrical activity of neurons â" did not meet with immediate acceptance.

Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680985)

To me, the story more misses the forest for the trees. The fact is, Bak apparently noted that there exists these commonalities between different disciplines because phase transitions have critical points that are generally describable under a power law of scale of the disruptive effect. Well, yea, that's like noting that f = m * a, whether mass is a pebble or a planet. It doesn't really, unfortunately, prove that it's the phase transitions that's causing the workings of the brain any more than it's the mass that's causing things to collide with each other. I mean, sure, there's probably some part of it to the answer and perhaps it is as simple as all that. But, to me it's more of a simple observation that, like the comic, complex systems exhibit certain consistent mathematical properties in analogous situations precisely because their components are interacting in synonymous ways. That's physics. :)

A physicist figured it all out in 10 minutes, huh? (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679579)

Relevant xkcd [xkcd.com]

Women (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679585)

The entire system is not stable overall.

Sand in our Brain (2)

ComputersKai (3499237) | about 6 months ago | (#46679629)

Hey, at least now we have an excuse for stupidity!

alright just kidding, but seriously...if our brains really are just jumbled masses of impulses...

Then jumbled masses of impulses must be pretty darn good.

Re:Sand in our Brain (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#46679711)

Did you read the article? If you understand it, please explain it, because his theory makes no sense to me whatsoever.

I don't understand how it helps us understand intelligence. I mean, I'm sure things happen in the brain in waves, you could say the same thing about a computer as well, when I start JAVA there is a mass of RAM allocations, that suddenly get released in varying sizes when the GC happens. But I'm not sure that's a helpful way of looking at things......

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679983)

Some kind of convergent FPGA timing solution during the key moments when a correct timing is required might be a good analogy. To me the article seems to trying try explain why the brain works at all, and why the result of this process of working actually converges to discreet thoughts such as language elements and concepts, and life preserving processes such as hearing, seeing and corrected heart beat. Occasionally. In other words, this would be the clock tree of the brain.

Re:Sand in our Brain (4, Informative)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 6 months ago | (#46680001)

Ok, well... my understanding of it is that nature is made up by random events. If those events were all there were, you'd get white noise. A perfectly even randomness. However, nature also has laws. With regard to sand, there's gravity, and slope, friction, etc... and that means these randomly falling grains of sand, on the macro scale, end up forming patterns. These patterns end up being very complex but predictable with statistics. Understanding a dune from the point of view of a grain of sand is nearly impossible. You just need to know the rules the system is following and then you can make accurate macro-scale predictions without having to compute every grain of sand in the dune.

The arguments made its way into nearly every branch of science now. Our attempts at brute forcing nature, and trying to connect the sub-atomic scale with the macro scale have mostly failed. But it now seems that maybe nature doesn't work that way. Nature seems more to work based on sets of probabilities, and particles seem to work more like "attributes" than matter. So perhaps the brain works like this to. It's a collection of chaos, bound by rules. Those rules cause the microscopic chaos to form patterns on the macro scale.

Re:Sand in our Brain (5, Interesting)

barlevg (2111272) | about 6 months ago | (#46680037)

The pendulum regarding self-organized criticality is beginning to swing back in the other direction: many researchers now believe it's being over-applied, and the "power law" distributions that people see for natural phenomenon that are "evidence" of S.O.C. have been shown to not actually obey power laws (it's really easy to make these kinds of mistakes when you make your graphs on log-log scales). Sorry if that was a bit dense, but the long and short of it is that not everything that is being touted as an example of self-organized criticality likely is. For instance, the Bak–Tang–Wiesenfeld sandpile (Bak being the one from TFA)? Turns out it's a HORRIBLE model for how real sandpiles behave.

A lot of the above really needs citations, but I'm too tired and lazy, sorry. To "back this up," let me just say that I have a Ph.D in physics, specializing in nonlinear dynamics, and the above comes from a graduate-level course I took from a professor who knows her shit.

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

Artifakt (700173) | about 6 months ago | (#46680625)

I'm reminded of the dinosaur flocking animations of Jurrassic Park. The dino herds flock about here and there, respond to events such as predator attacks, and it all looks very realistic, but the computer models there can't be what nature really uses, because they work by having some parts of the herd respond to others faster than the individual elements could really sense what the others are doing. Yet it looks realistic, and if you use the same formulae to animate model birds or sheep or such things, even trained naturalists don't see anything odd about the results. What would you call a model that produces accurate seeming results for biology, but at the cost of the biologists claiming the physicists are all wrong about faster than light transmission of information? HORRIBLE doesn't begin to describe it. Fortunately, we haven't seen a bunch of bio-informatics specialists claiming they have just disproved General Relativity - maybe there really is some humility in science.
       

Re:Sand in our Brain (3, Informative)

mikael (484) | about 6 months ago | (#46681157)

Look up "boids". Each critter has a field of view and a current direction. It only responds to what it sees in that field-of-view. If other critters start running, it starts running too. If they stop, it stops. With fish, the minute one turns, there is a flash of light. That instructs all the others to turn as well, providing the flash is bright enough. Maybe it takes two or more.

There *is* a pause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681925)

Look up "boids". Each critter has a field of view and a current direction. It only responds to what it sees in that field-of-view. If other critters start running, it starts running too. If they stop, it stops. With fish, the minute one turns, there is a flash of light. That instructs all the others to turn as well, providing the flash is bright enough. Maybe it takes two or more.

I've been observing the "group reaction" ever since I was a toddler. I'm always attracted to the almost instantaneous "flock mind" action that the entire (almost entire) flock does, like the fish you've outlined.

But I do notice that there's a "pause", albeit a very very short one, in between the action of the "pioneer" and its "second in command".

Which brings back to the sandpile phenomena --- I too spent a lot of time, way too much time, watching the hourglass. I'm totally mesmerized by it, even today.

And that too, I notice a "pause", in between the fall of that first bit of sand, and what follows it (and then the whole pile tumbling down).

I guess there lies a hidden sequence - and we, the fishes, the birds and all other things, all of us exist within the same "sphere" (for lack of a better word) and our behaviors do connect, in some, still unknown ways.

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

visualight (468005) | about 6 months ago | (#46682569)

It's like you just told an economics professor to look up "double entry accounting".

Re:Sand in our Brain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681631)

if it is perfectly even than it is not perfectly random I shall think.

Re:Sand in our Brain (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680017)

The theory is an overarching idea of how the brain works and best makes sense when compared to other theories. One (not this theory) way to think of the brain is that it is like a computer, with specialized areas which each calculate for specific functions and having a whole mess of complicated parts that evaluate against each other and somehow all work together. This theory instead sees the areas not as having logically complicated interlocking parts, but as each part having a sort of pile where if enough stuff (hormones, electric potential, etc.) is piled onto it, it performs its action. Often this action will include piling more stuff onto other areas piles and then resetting to a baseline.

  This theory better explains how the brain can operate in a logical, deterministic fashion while allowing for easy error correction. A computer-like brain would continue to use bad data and damaged instructions could cause whole parts of the brain to fail permanently. The "piles of sand" resetting to a baseline model would accept the bad data once, reset to base, and move on. Damaged instructions (mislinked neurons, brain damage, etc.) could continue to send to much or too little "stuff" to other nodes or wrong nodes, but a system which monitors what is considered "normal" and resets to such will eventually be able to re-normalize every node that isn't directly damaged.

Re:Sand in our Brain (5, Informative)

wanax (46819) | about 6 months ago | (#46680197)

The linked article was horribly written. I'll give a shot at trying to explain it (or rather, a really, really simplified version).

Two of the fundamental problems that neural circuits must solve are the noise-saturation dilemma and the stability-plasticity dilemma. The first is best explained in the context of vision. Our visual system is capable of detecting contrast (ie. edges) over a massive range of brightness, spanning a space of about 10^10. Given that neurons have limited firing rates (typically between 0 and 200hz), there needs to be some normalization criteria that allows useful contrast processing over massive variations in absolute input (more on this later). The stability-plasticity dilemma is that the brain needs to be sufficiently flexible to learn based on a single event (let's say, touching a hot stove is a bad idea), but once learned memories have to be sufficiently stable to last the rest of a creatures' life span.

The stability-plasticity dilemma implies that neural circuits must operate in at least two (as I said, very simplified) distinct states, a "resting" or "maintenance" state, and a "learning" state, and that there is a phase-transition point in between them. Furthermore, these states need to have the following properties regarding stability:
1) the learning state must collapse into the maintenance state in the absence of input (otherwise you get epilepsy).
2) reasonable stimulation (input) during the resting state must be able to trigger a phase change into the learning state (or you become catatonic).

Many circuits/mechanisms have been proposed to explain how the brain solves these dilemmas. Most of them involve the definition of a recurrent neural network [scholarpedia.org] using some combination of gated-diffusion and oscillatory dynamics to fit well known oscillatory and wave-based dynamics that have been recorded in neural circuits. Some of these models employ intrinsic learning using a learning-rule (ie. self-organized maps) while others are fit by the researcher. One key point about this class of models (as opposed to the TFA approach) is that they have a macro-circuit architecture specified by the modeler. Typically these models are at least somewhat sensitive to parametric perturbation.

TFA describes another approach, which comes out of research on cellular automata done by Ulam, von Neumann, Conway and Wolfram. This approach posits that parametric stability and macro-circuit organization is only loosely important so long as the system obeys a certain set of rules regarding local interaction (could also be through of as micro-circuit) because it will self-organize to a point of 'critical stability'. In the the two-state model described above, this approach predicts that neural circuits are always at a state of 'critical stability' where maintenance occurs through frequent small perturbations or avalanches, and any new input will trigger a large avalanche, causing learning. Bak has proposed this as a general model of neural circuit organization. One trademark of these type of models is that they show 'scale free' or 'power law' behavior, where the size of an event is inversely proportional to its frequency by some exponential function. Some recent data has shown power-law dynamics in neural populations (a lot of other data doesn't show power-law dynamics).

One big problem with the critical stability hypothesis is that it doesn't deal well with the noise-saturation dilemma: it needs to cause the same general size of avalanche whether it's hit by one grain of sand, or 10^10 grains of sand.

None of this is particularly new, neural-avalanches (albeit in a different context) were postulated in the early 70s. Could some systems in the brain exploit self-organized criticality? Sure, but there is a lot of data out there that's inconsistent with it being the primary method of neural organization.

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#46680409)

That's really interesting.

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

parallel_prankster (1455313) | about 6 months ago | (#46680475)

What kind of "local interactions" are needed among individual elements to make it turn into a self organizing critical stability system? Is this described in his 1987 paper?

Re:Sand in our Brain (2)

wanax (46819) | about 6 months ago | (#46680687)

With regard to question 2) No.
Question 1 is an ongoing field of research. Some of the work that I've found helpful in approaching the question:
-The Computational Beauty of Nature (Gary William Flake)
-Barriers and Bounds to Rationality (Peter Albin; there are free pdf copies available online).
-A New Kind of Science (Stephen Wolfram; also available free online).

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

Artifakt (700173) | about 6 months ago | (#46680647)

I'm pretty sure that the neurons that are firing at 0 Hz don't contribute to the noise-saturation delimma (unless you are using some "sufficiently large values of zero"). ;-)
.

Re:Sand in our Brain (3)

wanax (46819) | about 6 months ago | (#46680811)

Actually, since neurons have functional homeostatic pruning and nonlinear membrane responses, there are quite large values of zero when we're recording firing rate.

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about 6 months ago | (#46680903)

But what about when Curly says - "I'm trying to think but nothing happens."

Obviously his brain is working enough to make him speak...

Re:Sand in our Brain (2)

master_p (608214) | about 6 months ago | (#46681713)

Could it be that neurons simply don't store new information except the first time and that all experiences are stored as an incremental backup, i.e. it's only the changes that are stored?

This solves the stability-plasticity dillemma: the first experience that comes is stored as a whole, and then similar experiences are only stored as a delta from the initial experience - thus allowing the brain to maintain some 'forever' experiences like touching a hot stove but also be flexible enough to remember new experiences.

This can also account for the deja vu effect - recalling experiences that are similar.

Re:Sand in our Brain (1)

rtb61 (674572) | about 6 months ago | (#46680247)

I think they have simply used a too dumbed down simile. Perhaps a better one would be a chain reaction with an catalytical agent. The chain reaction varies according to the catalysing agent or agents, whether internal bioelectrical stimuli, released hormones, drugs, dietary surges or direct physical stimulation. Also the current state of brain and the individual coincidental states of brain cells in molecular transition. So no simple sand pile.

Reminds me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679745)

Bak’s hypothesis implies that most of the time, the brain teeters on the edge of a phase transition, hovering between order and disorder.

This is why imo Zen is so useful as a spiritual tool, for enlightenment. Zen is sort of about accepting the disorder and not panicing, letting go of clinging onto the order. it won't stay around, and then you find a kind of a chaotic order or equilibrium of kinds.

Avalanches (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46679769)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLrnkK2YEcE

Physicists have a long history with Neuroscience (1)

barlevg (2111272) | about 6 months ago | (#46680003)

The most accurate single-compartment model [wikipedia.org] for how a single neuron operates is based on circuit theory and was formulated by two [wikipedia.org] British [wikipedia.org] biophysicists in the 1950s.

1999? (0)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about 6 months ago | (#46680079)

From 1999? Is this a new low in late new on /.? If there's reason to believe that there's an advance that makes it relevant in 2014 it's not obvious from the summary. May I'll wait another 15 years and then read the article.

Re:1999? (1)

asylumx (881307) | about 6 months ago | (#46682691)

Is this a new low in late new on /.?

I think you just had a brain sand avalanche.

Another model (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46680181)

I prefer the "Dust in the Wind" model.

Something is missing (1)

Livius (318358) | about 6 months ago | (#46680395)

I even Read The Fine Article but I still get the sense there is supposed to more to this than just the self-evident "if a system reaches a state of instability it stops being stable".

Song about that? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 6 months ago | (#46680681)

"Sand in the clowns"

Sand in our Brain (1)

grep -v '.*' * (780312) | about 6 months ago | (#46680721)

I'm confused here. I know some people that seem to have rocks in their heads -- is that the same thing?

Sand in the brain - cloudflare in the way? (1)

MartinD (7344) | about 6 months ago | (#46680901)

What's with the "cloudflare" website middleman stuff? Kind of feels like someone's breaking net neutrality. I can't read the link unless I go through a middleman SSL & whatnot?

Re:Sand in the brain - cloudflare in the way? (1)

heypete (60671) | about 6 months ago | (#46682535)

What's with the "cloudflare" website middleman stuff? Kind of feels like someone's breaking net neutrality. I can't read the link unless I go through a middleman SSL & whatnot?

Cloudflare's basically a CDN.

The site owner intentionally uses Cloudflare as a middleman to cache their content in locations around the globe and to improve security (Cloudflare can block attacks before they hit the actual server). Cloudflare also offers SSL proxying to site owners so visitors can connect securely to the local Cloudflare cache, which in turn connects securely to the source server.

It's quite similar to, say, Akamai, and doesn't "break net neturality" (the site owner specifically elects to use Cloudflare, just as they'd elect to use Akamai).

Ick (2)

BrianPRabbit (2020846) | about 6 months ago | (#46681125)

Can We stop conflating the brain with the Mind, please? The Mind is a philosophical concept and the brain is a physical organ. The two ideas are distinctly different and their conflation speaks of gross ignorance.

Re:Ick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681461)

We get it. You know the meaning of the word "conflate." Well done.

Re:Ick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46687417)

The best you could come up was to criticize him for repeating a word?

Re:Ick (3, Funny)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 6 months ago | (#46683739)

Can We stop artificially dividing the brain and the Mind, please? The two ideas are likely the same and their distinction speaks of lingering medieval mysticism.

See that? I even put in the gratuitous capitalization!

Re:Ick (1)

Prune (557140) | about 6 months ago | (#46685519)

I commend your good intentions, but in the end, please realize that it's futile to argue with the sufferers of Assburgers syndrome.

Re:Ick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46687497)

I commend your good intentions, but in the end, please realize that it's futile to argue with the sufferers of Assburgers syndrome.

Why? ceoyoyo wasn't arguing with you.

Re:Ick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46687453)

Maybe you should produce proof of your position instead. Ya know, to not look like an asshole.

See that? I even put in the gratuitous capitalization!

I've seen German speakers do this when writing in English. Quite common actually.

'di3k (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681333)

7000 users of about halfU of the

Hegel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46681627)

An exposition of the true metaphysics, in European language.
Heathens, please die.

Maybe, maybe. (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 6 months ago | (#46682011)

But any time a scientist (particularly a theoretical physicist; they're especially prone to that) claims, within minutes, to revolutionize a different field of science in which everybody has apparently been wrong for decades, this should be taken sceptically. Obligatory xkcd: https://xkcd.com/675/ [xkcd.com]

An analogy (1)

Prune (557140) | about 6 months ago | (#46685563)

Claiming self-organized criticality explains the mind, as TFA does, is akin to claiming that a model of how clock synchronization works in a microprocessor explains the algorithms it implements. This is literally the dumbest thing I've seen posted on Slashdot in a long while. If you really want to know how the mind works, read the work of leading neuroscientists like Damasio (Self Comes to Mind is a good start, then just follow up on the extensive bilbiography therein).
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