Saturday, March 5, 2011

CCK11: ManyMe, or the Legend of Legion

Last night I posted some thoughts about the network nature of knowledge. While describing how my own understanding merges with understanding at a higher level, I used the metaphor of my voice joining a choir, and I said that "as my voice moves into a choir, my own unique tone and tenor becomes blended and a different voice emerges, a group voice." Even as I wrote those words last night, I was uncomfortable with my choice of the word tenor. It is not a wrong word or even an inappropriate word for the context, but it is not exactly the word that I was looking for, so I was uneasy with it. However, the evening was getting late, I was getting sleepy, so I moved on, ignoring the word.

Or so I thought.

I was awakened early this morning in a hotel room in Chicago by the word I was looking for: timbre (the quality given to a sound by its overtones, as (a): the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound (b): the quality of tone distinctive of a particular singing voice or musical instrument). This is the word I was looking for. It preserves the euphony that I was looking for—the consonance, assonance, and alliteration—and it has the more useful meaning of overtones, or echoes, that better captures the image I want of patterns echoing into other patterns.

We are all familiar with this kind of thing. We go to bed worrying with some issue only to awaken in the morning with the answer. Common enough. But here's the question relevant to my discussion of networks, especially neural networks: where did this answer come from? I was asleep, unconscious. Who figured this out? Who continued to look at tenor, recognized it as a near miss, looked for the alternative, and then woke me to give me the answer? uberMe? And who is this uberMe? The unconscious mind? That isn't a very enlightening answer.

Sporns makes an interesting observation at the beginning of Chapter 8 in his book Networks and the Brain (2011) when he details how the brain is not limited to merely processing the signals it receives through our sensory organs as we make our way through this world. Rather, the brain is extremely active, even when no sensory impressions are coming in, when the body is quiet, or unconscious as in sleep. Sporns says:
Until now, much of the interest in theoretical neuroscience has focused on stimulus-driven or task-related computation, and considerably less attention has been give to the brain as a dynamic, spontaneously active, and recurrently connected system. … Even cursory examination of structural brain connectivity reveals that the basic plan is incompatible with a model based on predominantly feedforward processing within a uniquely specified serial hieararchy. … The vast majority of the structural connections that are made and received among network elements cannot be definitively associated with either input or output. Rather, they connect nodes in complex and often recurrent patterns. … Even in regions of the brain such as primary visual cortex that are classified as "sensory," most synapses received by pyramidal neurons arrive from other cortical neurons and only a small percentage (5 percent to 20 percent) can be attributed to sensory input. (149, 150)
So much of the brain's activity, even vision, has little to do with sensory input or output; rather, it has to do with the brain's internal creative, organizing, sense-making functions (at least, that's how I'm interpreting Sporns' comments). And this activity is quite independent of my conscious mind, or awareness, which seems to be heavily dependent on the sensory side of the house.

Knowledge, then, even that knowledge easily identified with my own brain, is under the influence of forces and processes of which I have very limited control or conscious awareness. There is an uberMe, an unterMe, which is also at work, and apparently does not tire and require sleep as does the conscious littleMe does.

Hmm … this requires more thought by all the Me's in me, but now I have to go to a conference session. Later.
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