The Human Brain Is On The Edge Of Chaos


I had not seen this and I found it extremely interesting.   A central point that I took away from the first book I ever read in depth on Complexity was the notion that it, complexity, happens right at the boundary where chaos meets the static.  Hence not in ice nor steam but in water.

I think the two big mechanisms that will come forth more and more as core features of our new understandings of how things work will be (1) this notion that complexity arises at the edge of chaos and we will begin to see it everywhere and that (2) nature makes use of quantum effects whenever they make sense.

Regarding the latter, I expect you’ve seen the articles out over the last year explaining that the reason our calculations for how photosynthesis generates energy could never ‘explain’ how the observed molecular mechanisms could actually generate the total energy they’ve been seen to generate – the explanation turned out to be that a sort of quantum computer effect is happening as the electrons cascade through the photosynthetic sieve and they ‘know’, via a quantum computers type solution, where to go to maximize energy output.

Someday, I think we’ll discover that at the deepest level, a lot of the mind’s processes will involve quantum computing along with the currently understood chemical and electrical mechanisms.  Given that the scale of these events hovers on the edge where quantum effects compete with macro-effects, I doubt it could be otherwise.


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Cambridge-based researchers provide new evidence that the human brain lives “on the edge of chaos”, at a critical transition point between randomness and order. The study provides experimental data on an idea previously fraught with theoretical speculation.

Self-organized criticality (where systems spontaneously organize themselves to operate at a critical point between order and randomness), can emerge from complex interactions in many different physical systems, including avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, and heartbeat rhythms.

According to this study, conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge, the Medical Research Council Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, and the GlaxoSmithKline Clinical Unit Cambridge, the dynamics of human brain networks have something important in common with some superficially very different systems in nature. Computational networks showing these characteristics have also been shown to have optimal memory (data storage) and information-processing capacity. In particular, critical systems are able to respond very rapidly and extensively to minor changes in their inputs.

“Due to these characteristics, self-organized criticality is intuitively attractive as a model for brain functions such as perception and action, because it would allow us to switch quickly between mental states in order to respond to changing environmental conditions,” says co-author Manfred Kitzbichler.


– research thanks to Alan T.

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