The next Einstein will be the person who discovers how brain waves work. Because once discovered, true artificial intelligence and human-like robots will be possible within years, or even months.
Brain waves are the cornerstone of how we think, and how we reconcile our instincts with our perceptions. In order to study brain waves, we must abandon our quaint notions of how we wish the mind operates, and focus on how it actually operates.
We humans evolved over millions of years to have instincts that aid our survival. Instincts are enacted in the brain’s neural circuitry. We have billions of neurons (neural cells) in our brain that develop and connect (loosely) by a genetic recipe. Each neuron connects with (and receives electronic pulses from) thousands of other neurons. Each neuron possesses a complete copy of our DNA, two meters long, containing twenty-three chapters (chromosomes), twenty thousand paragraphs (genes), and three billion genetic characters or letters.
Genes act as recipes for brain development, yet genes are non-deterministic in their outcomes. Imagine a recipe to make bread that reads “if temperature is 70 degrees, add ingredient X, but if it’s 80 degrees then abandon the recipe and go outside for a swim instead”! In other words, developmental outcomes are environmental selected, even as the genes constrain the possible outcomes and establish the conditional instructions for each developmental path. (One can even imagine genetically constructed roulette wheels deciding among alternate developmental paths; even if we’re all 100% genetically identical, we would all be unique.)
In any case, once the brain has developed, hundreds of billions of neurons begin to fire electrical signals (pulses) at a frequency of up to hundreds of times per second, sending this signal to thousands of their nearest neighbors. The entire brain begins to hum and vibrate as these signals begin to align and synchronize and resonate with each other via feedback loops. When millions of neurons in a region of the brain begin to fire at around the same frequency, these are known as brain waves. Beta waves range from 15 to 40 cycles per second (hertz), and a relatively low signal strength (low amplitude). Supposedly, beta waves are characteristic of a highly engaged mind. Alpha waves have a frequency of 9-14 hertz, and supposedly represent non-arousal or resting state or meditation. Theta waves have a frequency of 5-8 hertz, and have higher power, supposedly associated with a daydream mental state, as when performing a routine task. Finally, delta waves are neurons that are firing a signal to their nearest neighbors at a rate of 1.5-4 cycles per second (hertz), supposedly indicating sleep.
This quaint recital of beta, alpha, theta and delta waves is overly simplistic and does not describe the full story, however. Brain waves co-evolved with survival instincts over millions of years. It is within this context that we must study them. Our development manifests millions of years of experience with life threatening scenarios, from predators, the environment, and other humans.
Instincts are triggered by environmental inputs, requiring an ability to perceive those triggers (i.e. environmental inputs), and the ability to enact a response. All three (perceive, trigger, respond) must be innate. But are they innately hardwired into neural circuitry? No, I don’t think so. Neural circuits are merely substrate, passing along waves in the patterns of their firing, but the perceive/trigger/respond instructions remain within individual neurons themselves, and in our DNA (or more likely in RNA that has been shuffled to offer some variation in response among individuals), and back again to individual neurons, which are sophisticated signal processors. Neurons serve two roles, substrate and signal processor/recognizer of patterns stored locally in DNA.
An individual neuron receives input patterns from other neurons, as a spectator in a football stadium receives “the wave” from nearby spectators and dutifully passes it along. Each person in the stadium also has an opportunity to reflect on the information carried in the wave (frequency, amplitude, etc.). In theory, multiple overlapping and interacting waves can pass through a football stadium, as people stand up and sit down on cue. Similarly, many different frequencies/amplitudes (signatures) can travel across the same neural networks, with each complex wave signature representing a unique concept. Neurons pass along “the wave” (complex signatures) to other neurons, while at the same time comparing those signatures with an internal DNA library of ancestral neural signatures (again, each neuron has a complete copy of our DNA). This implies that each neuron must specialize to consider only a small subset of interesting DNA signatures, and trust that other neurons specialize as well, to avoid duplication of effort.
As mentioned, instincts have three components: perceive, trigger, respond. Each works the same way. When a neuron experiences a complex wave form (perhaps it has signal processing capabilities, such as Fourier transform, to separate a complex wave signature into its constituent frequencies), it compares this complex pattern with its ancestral DNA pattern. Once a pattern match is found, the trigger identifies appropriateness of enacting a response (to this perception) within the current context. For example, someone with the innate condition of “social mutism” may be perfectly talkative in a familiar environment, but mute in public. The instinct must first actively train another neuron to detect what is “a public setting,” and store this learning (signature pattern) in its DNA. This learning should be recall-able by a unique identifier shared by all humans, otherwise this and other traits could not be passed down to the next generation. The trigger then leverages this well-known perception (i.e. “if public setting, then enact response”). The stereotyped response is also a pattern of neural firing, stored as a DNA pattern, that in this case initiates a new wave of neural activity. All humans share the same set of identifiers for learned traits, which allows DNA triggers to be innate and constant, even as the content of our learnings may differ across generations.
We all experience the world as the same set of concepts. Through resonance of wave signatures in neurons with stored wave signatures in DNA, every human’s brain begins to converge into similar activity as every other human. (Neural connections themselves simply act as a substrate for these waves to travel back and forth. All memories, ancestral and temporal, are stored within individual neurons as wave signatures.) Every human perceives the world the same way (i.e. as the same set of wave signatures.) It must be so, otherwise we could have no innate instincts (motivation toward, fear toward, craving toward, desire toward) if we did not map our perceptions to the same set of underlying ancestral wave patterns, stored in our shared DNA, with an associated trigger to an innate response. Of course, humans exhibit subtleties in our responses, but these subtleties of perception and response are stored in well-known locations, tagged with the same unique identifiers across the human species, for our instincts to leverage them.