The brain – made up of billions of neurons – is one of our most important organs and, of course, the most powerful. Through it we send signals to our body to function, we learn new things, we experience emotions and we save memories, among many other functions.
In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’How powerful is your brain?’’ We will explain why the brain is so complex and powerful.
How powerful is your brain?
The brain is extremely powerful. Dendrites make up more than 90% of neuronal tissue, and have a volume 100 times larger than nuclei, this could mean that the human brain has a capacity 100 times greater than previously thought.
Run a supercomputer every second of every day, and eventually your storage will fill up, your speed will slow down, and your components will burn out.
However, our brains function with amazing efficiency in almost every moment of our lives. For 40 years, scientists have wondered how delicate biological components, united in a seemingly chaotic heap, can sustain continuous storage of information for decades.
Even when individual neurons die, our neural networks readjust, adjusting their connections to maintain optimal data transmission.
Unlike a telephone game with messages that deteriorate more and more, somehow our neurons self-assemble in a “magical” state, where they can renew almost all the components of their inner protein composition, but still retain the memories stored in its interior.
This week, a team at Washington University in St. Louis combined neural recordings of rats with computer modeling to uncover one of the brain’s biggest mysteries: why, despite the noisy components, it is so powerful.
By analyzing the firing patterns of hundreds of neurons over days, the team found evidence supporting a type of “computational regimen” that may underlie every thought and behavior that naturally emerges from electrical sparks in the brain, including consciousness. .
The answer has its roots in an abstruse and controversial idea in theoretical physics: criticality. For the first time, the team observed an abstract “pull” that pulls neural networks into an optimal functional state, so they never stray from their dedicated “set points” determined by evolution.
Even more mind-blowing? That attractive force somehow emerges from a hidden universe of physical laws buried within the architecture of entire neural networks, without a single neuron dictating its course.
“It’s an elegant idea: that the brain can tune an emergent property to a point clearly predicted by physicists,” said lead author Dr. Keith Hengen.
A balanced point
The “point of attraction” sounds like pickup artist jargon, but it is a mathematical way of describing the balance in natural forces. An easy example to imagine is a coil spring, like the ones inside mattresses – it can stretch or crush them for years, but they usually return to their initial state.
That initial state is an attractor. A similar, albeit much more abstract, principle guides neural activity, especially the brain’s main drivers of communication: inhibitory and excitatory neurons. Think of them as the yin and yang of electrical activity in the brain.
Both send “spikes” of electricity to their neighbors, with inhibitory neurons that dampen the transmission and excitators amplify the message. The more signals that go in, the more spikes they send, something called “firing speed,” like the beats-per-minute music of brain activity.
However, even individual neurons have a limited level of activation. Normally, they can never fire so much that it ruins their physical builds. In other words, neurons are self-limited.
On a broader scale, neural networks also have a global “set point” that works at most synapses, mushroom-shaped structures that protrude from neural branches where neurons communicate with each other.
If the network becomes overly excited, the nob marks the transmission signals “silent” before the brain overdrives into a state of chaos, seeing things that are not there, as in schizophrenia.
But the dial also prevents neural networks from being too unfavorable, as can happen in other neurological disorders, including dementia.
“When neurons combine, they actively seek a critical regimen,” Hegen explained. Somehow, clusters of interconnected neurons achieve a state of activity right on the edge of chaos and stillness, ensuring that they have an optimal level of information storage and processing, without falling into a rush of activity and subsequent exhaustion.
Eyes wide shut
Understanding how the brain reaches criticality is huge, not only for preserving the brain’s abilities with age and disease, but also for building better brain-mimicking machines. So far, the team said, work on criticality has been theoretical; we wanted to look for real signals in the brain.
Hegen’s team took advantage of modern high-density electrodes, which can record from hundreds of neurons over a period of days.
They started with two questions: One, can the cerebral cortex (the outermost region of the brain involved in higher cognitive functions) maintain brain activity at a critical point? Two, is it due to individual neurons, which tend to restrict their own levels of activity?
Here comes the fun part: rats with pirate eye patches. Blocking incoming light signals into one eye causes a massive reorganization of neural activity over time, and the team monitored these changes over the course of a week.
First, in rats running around their cages with implanted electrodes, the team recorded their neural activity while the animals had both eyes open.
Using a mathematical method to analyze the data in “neural avalanches” (cascades of electrical spikes that remain relatively local in a network), the team found that the visual cortex rippled at the edge, regardless of day or night. Question one, resolved.
The team then occluded a single eye in their rats. After a little over a day, the information-carrying neurons of the pirate’s eye fell silent. However, by the fifth day, the neurons recovered in their activity to their baseline “attractor”, exactly what the team predicted.
But surprisingly, the criticality of the network did not follow a similar timeline. Almost immediately after locking the eye, the scientists saw a massive shift in its network state away from criticality – that is, away from optimal computation.
“It seems that as soon as there is a mismatch between what the animal expects and what is passing through that eye, the computational dynamics falls apart,” Hengen said.
Within two days, however, the network fell back to a near critical state, long before individual neurons regained their levels of activity. In other words, peak computing in the brain is not because the components of individual neurons are also functioning at their peak; rather, even with imperfect components, neural networks naturally converge toward criticality or optimal solutions.
It is an emergent property at its finest: the result of the individual neural calculation is more than its sum. “[It’s] what [we can] learn from many electrodes,” said Dr. Erik Herzog, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study.
Emerging phenomena, such as complex thinking and consciousness, are often moved to philosophical discussion: Are our minds more than electric gunshots? Are there any special abstract properties, such as qualia, that arise from measurable physical laws?
Rather than resort to manual shaking theories, the team took the second route: they hunted down the biological basis for criticism. Using computational methods, they tested several different models of the visual cortex, playing with various parameters until they found a model that behaved in the same way as their one-eyed rats.
We explored more than 400 combinations of different parameters, the team said, and less than 0.5 percent of the models matched our observation. The successful models had one thing in common: They all pointed to inhibitory connections as the crux of achieving criticality.
In other words, the optimal calculation in the brain is not due to magical fairy dust; The architecture of inhibitory connections is a fundamental root upon which mind-blowing abstract physical principles, like criticality, can grow and guide brain function.
That’s great news for deep learning and other AI models. Most currently employ few inhibitory connections, and the study immediately points to a way to move toward criticality in artificial neural networks.
Greater storage and better data transmission – who doesn’t want that? Going further, for some, criticality may even present a way to nail consciousness into our brains and potentially into machines, although the idea is controversial.
More immediately, the team believes that criticality can be used to examine neural networks in neurological disorders. Altered self-regulation can lead to Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia, Hengen said.
Scientists have long known that many of our most troublesome brain disorders are due to network imbalances, but identifying an exact, measurable cause is difficult. Thanks to criticality, we can finally have a way of looking inside the hidden world of physical laws in our brains and tuning them into health.
“It makes intuitive sense, that evolution selected for the fragments that give rise to an optimal solution [in brain computing]. But time will tell. There is a lot of work to do, ”Hengen said.
FAQS: How powerful is your brain?
How powerful the human brain is?
It is so complex that it is able to generate the highest degree of perception and the mental mechanisms by which we interpret, function, understand, and recall. All of our emotions, beliefs, experiences, and our feelings, all products of our minds, are driven by these 86 billion neurons.
Is your brain more powerful than a computer?
A standard machine operates on around 100 watts of electricity. A human brain needs approximately 10 watts, on the other hand. That’s right, ten times more energy-efficient than a machine is your brain.
Is the mind the most powerful?
The mind is the most powerful weapon of the human being. … To visualize and use the law of attraction for the lottery well, what you should avoid is despair, sometimes we can attract small prizes, but with a positive mind we can reach the bigger prize.
Are computers faster than the human brain?
The computer can perform calculations faster than the human brain, although the brain has the ability to interpret information, obtain new ideas, and be imaginative.
Can you live with no brain?
As for fetuses that come into the world without frontal lobes, they only manage to survive a few days. However, in some cases, the little ones can live for a few years.
In this article we answered the question ‘’How powerful is your brain?’’ We explained why the brain is so complex and powerful.
If you have any questions or comments please let us know!
Bassett, D. S., & Gazzaniga, M. S. (2011). Understanding complexity in the human brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(5), 200–209. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2011.03.006
Human intelligence and brain networks. (2010). Neurocircuitry of Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior, 12(4), 489–501. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2010.12.4/rcolom