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The illusion of the ghost in the machine is the bedrock upon which dualism is founded.  This article explains how that illusion is created.  Part ii deals states why the brain is designed the way it is. 


T H E    I L L U S I O N     O F     T H E      G H O S T      I N      T H E       M A C H I N E



    Neuroscience has since the late 40s gone from the black box which when damaged produces curious behavioral defects to an understanding of the various cells, their roles, the division of layers, the numerous neurotransmitters, and the connection betweens region, an understanding sufficient to produce a basic knowledge, albeit missing.  Using the puzzle analogy, I would say that 50% of the pieces are in place.  The evidence is much more than enough for to understand how what goes on in the brain that creates the illusion of there being a homunculus in a control tower--the common conception of consciousness.[1] 


My primary goal is educational, to promote a conceptual correct analysis of consciousness as a product of brain states.  Unfortunately, to embrace the materialism of brain states is not a simple matter, for three things are required: the mastery of brain science sufficient for to understand that the image on the retina is scramble by the neurons on its journey to the visual cortex, that the brain doesnt try to convert the pieces back into the original picture but rather relies upon learning through conditioning to create the suitable responses, and how the processing of the visual stimulation is sufficiently rapid so as to create an illusion of there being pictures of what is out there within the brain. But all we have is brain states and they are not organized within a viewing room:  there is no consciousness section of the brain for the soul to watch and direct.  As Laplace aptly told Napoleon when questioned about Gods role in physics:  There is no need for that hypothesis, so too about the ghost in the brain.  By undoing the illusion of the ghost, I am arguing for the materialistic conception of consciousness.


    An understanding of the machine is necessary for to understand just how the machine gives rise to the illusion of a viewing chamber within the brain.  In the brain there are a number of discrete structures.

The most prominent are the medulla, pons, cerebellum thalamus, hypothalamus, superior colliculus, corpus collosum, interventricular foramen, pineal body, and the two hemispheres of the cerebrum.  In the cerebrum there are numerous sections and subsections.  Their interconnection is controlled by genes.  The determination of types of cells, their boundaries, if a type of neuron its region, if the neuron extends its axon outside the region and to where, and the various properties of the type of cell such as the density of dendrites, its neurotransmitters, ability to reproduce, and such:  this is the extent of genetic control of the growth of the brain.  Given these limits, consider the eye for which a series of four cells from a relay leading to the optic nerve (see fig. 1).  Connected to the pigmented epithelium are rods and cone cells, strung among the next layer consisting of bipolar cells are horizontal cells which have dendrites connecting it to the dendrites of the rods and cones (their function is unknown).  Also in the layer of bipolar cells are amacrane cells which are connected through their dendrites to the dendrites of the bipolar cells and ganglion cells (their function is also unknown).  The ganglion cells axons from form the optic nerve.  It is like a flowerbed with rows four rows of different types of flowers, only in row two there are two types of flower (rods and cones) and in row three there are a few horizontal cells and amacrane cells.  Only nature does every things with a purpose.  The pattern of stimulation upon the pigmented cells is being modified so that even slight changes will produce much greater changes in the pattern of signal sent along the optic nerve.  Nature is not preserving the image projected by the lens upon the epithelium cells, but rather increasing the affect a slight change in stimulation upon the epithelium cell will produce in the signal sent by the optic nerve.  The layers of cells with their haphazard connections between layers is for the purpose of magnifying changes in patterns from slight changes in light stimulation. 


    Because the genes grow neurons and dendrites in clumps with only gross control of the interconnection, no precise relationship can exist between stimulation of the pigmented epithelium cells and brain stimulation.  A stimuli of one epithelium cell on the retina will affect a number of neurons in the optic nerve, and a precise number of neurons in the brain.  The same beam shined on a nearby receptor will affect a different number of neurons in the optic nerve and consequently different neurons in the brain.  This is because the ordering of connections between neurons is semi-random.  Figure 2, the ganglion cells dendrite branches out to make contact with a number of bipolar cells thus assuring that there is no exact relationship between stimulation of the epithelium and what is sent along the ganglion cells axon.  The clumping and haphazard patterning of connections introduce a random element into the neural signal reaching the brain that prohibits the ordered, rule-like analysis of the incoming data.  This neural networking precludes the analysis by the visual cortex of the stimulation into a picture like that projected by the lens upon the pigmented epithelium cells.  The role of all those neuron involve in the transmission to the visual cortex is one of creating even for the slightest change in the optical field a very large change in the signal being received by the visual cortex.  The process is one of amplifying change. 



     The other essential piece is the process of learning; a process of pattern recognition.  Learning is a prominent and essential element in the handling of data by higher life-forms, an explanation of how the brain function which does not include in a prominent way this element would be inadequate.  Learning is not merely a process of generating patterns on the visual cortex and recognizing them as cars and trees.  It is far more complex.  At the center of the learning process is that of positive and negative reinforcement.  There are in the brain two visceral-cerebral pathways leading to over 2-dozen centers related to the sensations of pain and pleasure Purves 169).  Acute pains produce immediate responses, and avoidance behavior there of is very strong.  Conversely, acute pleasures have a strong magnetic type of attraction.  Of acute pleasures, all are sexual in nature.  There are many mild sorts of discomforts and pleasures.  The effects of the pleasure and pains centers in producing what are loosely termed pleasures and pains forms the foundation for the underlying process that results in what is termed in psychology conditioning.[2] 


        Stimulation doesnt have to be acute to effect behavior.  Mild adversive stimuli, such as rap music, when more than a few bars, will result in mild stimulation of the pain centers.  Rap music is annoying because it disrupts the thought process.  Another common type of mild discomfort is called boredom.  An experience pleasing can over time become tedious and boring:  this phenomenon has been labeled satiation.  One mild pleasure is obtained through a nice word, a type of peer reinforcement.  Humans and other higher animals are engaged in activities directed towards the maximization of the mild pleasures and minimizing of the dull discomforts.  It seems to matter little if an activity relieves boredom or is mildly pleasurable, and there is often a mixture of both.  Eating, for example, often relieves boredom and the discomfort of an empty stomach and produces pleasure through pleasing company and tastes.


      The very process of neural networking in the learning process is founded upon conditioning.  Neonates (animal and human) permit observations of this learning process.  The newborn child does not see objects.  Slowly through the association of reinforcers such a food, soft sounds, relief of boredom, and the discomforts of wet dipper and of lying too long in the same position, the visual pathway begins to discriminate colors and shapes and sounds associated with both positive and the avoidance of negative reinforcement.  Within a few days a rudimentary recognition is demonstrated through responses.  However, it takes weeks before an infant can discriminate mother from other people.  The variety of pleasure-pain centers account for the rich­ness of human learning.  Learning occurs when the pleasure and pain centers are stimulated; the learning network that creates memory is strengthened.  This is the way responses are tested, the way learning occurs. 


    A loop exists within the learning network of the brain such that the fixation of eyes in an infant upon a bright, sparkling object with the resultant stimulation of certain sections of the visual cortex will also produce resultant stimulation in one or more pleasure centers.  Such stimulation strengthens the neural network associated with the fixation upon the bright, sparkling object.  A genetic program provides for learning by providing the interconnection between the pleasure and pain centers and the stimulation of the visual cortex. 


    On a neural level in the visual cortex, patterns of neural stimulation related to the face of a food giver are strengthened through the occurrence of reinforcers following the appearance of those patterns.  Parts of the cortex that deal with muscle responses, they receive fingerprint type inputs from the visual cortex that sorts for motion, color, and edges.[3]  A pattern is received by language, motor, and other centers from the visual and auditory centers of the brain.  Conditioning results in at first the most rudimentary positive behavior, such as cooing sounds when a person is near.  In time that sound, reinforced by attention and food has been shaped to occur only in the presence of a food giver.  The behavior occur at an appropriate time is dependent upon refinements in pattern recognition.  The patterns within the brain dont resemble face.  They are simply patterns of activities, of excitation and the diminution thereof.[4]  Responding to these patterns of neural stimulation so as to result in the best balance of pain over discomfort is at the heart of the learning process. 


       It takes over two years for a child to recognize and verbally respond by applying names to a number of different faces.  The one-year old responds to the neural patterns associated with reinforcements, but their visual processing is quite rudimentary.  It takes about 5 years before drawing of animals start to resemble the animals being drawn.  Subsequent learning effects the recollection of what has been seen in those formative years.


    Conditioning is at the heart of learning to see.  Not having ever seen an edge producing negative reinforcement, the kitten of 3 weeks when placed on a bed will soon will fall from the bed.  Upon re­placing the kitten again near the edge, it will now approach--or the subsequent time--the edge with caution, an indication that learning has occurred.  Seeing the edge of the bed produced a pattern of stimulation in the striate cortex dedicated to the processing of boundaries.  The adversive stimulation associated with falling prolongs the retention of the neural messages to the motor centers of those patterns just prior to the fall.  By returning the kitten to the same spot, the rate of learning is enhanced, because it is again confronted with a pattern of visual stimulation resembling that prior to the fall.  Its brain has encountered other patterns related to positive and to negative reinforcers; the pattern related to the edge will be similarly stored and a neural network will be set up so that when the pattern appears again a behavior response will result that doesnt include going over the edge.  Within a couple of minutes the kitten will have generalized the learning experience so that it will rarely fall off the edges of things. 


    Reinforcers drive the process of learning to see.  Seeing and hearing are not enough, reinforcement must be paired with the neural stimulation.  A new born rat if its movement is totally restricted for some months, it will never develop once more than a rudimentary ability to see.  Studies have shown that with lack of usage, the density of dendrites (and thus function) decreases.  There is a case where a Negro father in Los Angles who chained his daughter up in the basement for a number of years.  She experienced almost total language deprivation.  She never learned more than a rudimentary level of communication. . . .   During the first few months of life, human infants can perceive phonemes (the elementary components of speech) of all languages.  But by 1 year of age, prior to the emergence of spoken language, babies begin to lose the ability to distinguish closely related sounds of a language that they do not hear spoken.  Unless a child is exposed to the sounds of language well before puberty, the ability is permanently lost (Purves 436). 


    This brings us back to the mechanics of the neural process.  Recall that the genes direct types of cells in a subsection of the brain and the connections between different subsections.  Genes cause dendrites to spread out from certain types of neuron in a pattern resembling the branches of a tree, and they connect to dendrites of other neuron (see illustration). Sensory neurons fire at constantly at a moderate rate.  Stimulation will depending on the type of neuron either increase or decrease the rate of firing.  The effect of this complexity is to intensify the differences in patterns of neural signals in the optic nerve as the visual image changes.  Reinforcements drive the process of distinguishing patterns.  Higher sections of the brain process sounds, for example, and turn them into words so rapidly that they give the illusion of being heard as words not soundsunless they are of a foreign language.  The same is with the visual process.  For vision, there are two illusions created by this process of higher sections of the brain processing the sense data.  One is that the tree is out there although the process goes on between the ears.  The stimulation is caused by the tree out there, but the neural activity is in the brain, just like the television picture is in the living room.  The second illusion is that the pattern has been organized within the brain to be images like those organized by the TV picture tube into images.  The physical aspects of the brain reveal a process much different.


    Our brain converts bits of data rapidly.  The brain turns the phonetics of train into the word train so rapidly that the string of sounds is a word.  While it takes many hours to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, it takes only a fraction of a second to put together from the neural patterns trees, roads, and cars.  Only the pieces are not colored bits of the overall picture, they are individual neuron either firing at the background constant rate, or at an altered rate.  To think of firings of the individual neurons as individual pieces of the jigsaw puzzle is simply mistaken.  Learning has created the illusion that these patterns resemble trees and cars. 


    An understanding of food and digest based upon the 4 humors is fundamentally wrong.  It ignores 3 centuries of scientific evidence.  An explanation of the visual process which places a ghost (soul) in the machine is equally fundamentally wrong.  The priests have glamorized human life, but science has made us brothers of the monkeys and cats.  Ignoring the compelling evidence of science, the priests continue to tell the stories they find pleasing, and the soul in the machine, one that continues to exist after death, is one of those stories.   


[1]   I understood all this in 1964 when I read an article by  David Hubble on his work at Harvard University.  I attempted to share that years this insight in my public speaking class at Saint Josephs University.

[2]   The consequences balance (pleasure & discomfort) determines the type and frequency of response to a repeated stimulus.  The animal seeks to maximize the balance of pleasure over discomfort.  Conditioning is the fundamental block of learning.  Behaviorist psychologist maintain that all behavior including the higher cognitive processes are built from these learning blocks of conditioning, much like atoms can be built up into a chair, even though atoms are quite different than chair.  .   

[3]   The process is quite complex.  For example, there are 6 layers in the lateral geniculate body, a processing station along the optic nerve.  Three have inputs areas to the cortex and 2 layers to deep brain structures. 

[4]   Another complexity arises because neuron fire at a near steady background rate.  Each neuron will either be an on or off type.  If it is an off type, upon stimulation it will diminish the rate of firing; an on type would increase the rate of firing.  If the stimulation continues , the neuron will slowly shift it rate towards that of the background rate. 




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