How concepts are represented in the brain

By | December 10, 2017

I’m shocked at how little progress has been made in the past 3 decades to understand how the brain is organized at a conceptual level. At best, we’re shown glowing MRI scans of brain regions that are supposed to tell us something. They’re correlated with cognitive states and differences in human preferences, temperament and personality, but no one knows what’s really happening under the covers.

It’s a sad state of affairs, and shows a real lack of imagination.

The key to understanding how concepts are represented in the brain lies in making observations in the real world, and deducing what must be true in the brain to explain those observations:

  1. Certain sights and smells and sounds trigger innate responses.  For example, a moose runs away from the smell of wolf urine in fear, even in areas where there are no wolves currently living.

What must be true to explain this observation?

  1. Innate fears must be represented in DNA if they are never training or experienced directly
  2. DNA patterns must be converted into neural patterns, otherwise the object of the fear (wolf urine) cannot be perceived, and the response (running away) cannot be enacted
  3. Ability to perceive the object of a fear (wolf urine) must be represented in the brain using the same underlying neural pattern, or characteristic unique number.  Because the DNA representing the fear remains constant across the species, it follows that every member of the species must perceive the same threat the same way (as the same concept).  Otherwise a unique perception (wolf urine) could not be associated with an innate response (fear and flight), if every member of the species represented it differently in the brain.

The same perception is thus associated with the same unique neural pattern (signature) across the species.  These signatures would be an encapsulation of brain waves and patterns during the perception, reduced to a unique set of numbers (that can be converted to DNA or neural circuitry, and back again).

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