Wednesday, 20 April 2016

What about the brain?


In neuroscience the brain is the centre of everything. It is the control centre that allows us to be who we are and act as we do in our environments. Neuroscience is taught in a factual way, it is science and it is not to be questioned. Although there is a lot about the brain that scientists still do not understand, neuroscience is taught in a very confident way indicating that this is the way the brain works and this brain is how we as humans or animals are able to live. It is hard to go from this to a more enactive way of thinking, where the brain is simply another organ in the body. But the more I look into the enactive approach the more plausible it seems.



I’m going to use vision as an example. In neuroscience classes I have learned about the basic anatomy of the eye, the different compartments, the regulation of light process, the various photoreceptors. I have learned the specific details about how light and colour are processed in the retina and that these stimuli start the vision process. In a very brief overview the light causes molecule binding which causes changes in ionic fluxes across membranes which causes change in membrane potential thus opening the ion channels. The neurons then process signals from many photoreceptors in response to different patterns of light stimulating the retina. It is interesting to note that most of the visual processing occurs in the retina before it is transmitted to the brain. The visual stimuli are transmitted to the occipital lobe and it is responsible for vision processing. But what happens next? What happens when these signals reach the brain? How do we actually interpret them?

The more I look at what I’m learning in neuroscience the more I come to the realisation that I am not learning that much about the brain at all! I have learned so much about all of the different pathways that transmit various signals to the brain but very little about what actually happens to these signals once they reach the brain. There is so much detail about these pathways and the synaptic transmissions of the signals. Specific regions of the brain are said to be associated with specific functions. Yes ok different brain areas light up when we are conducting different tasks so those areas must be associated with those functions. But how do we actually interpret these signals? What happens next?

Maybe the brain is just an organ in the body. Maybe “vision is a mode of exploration of the world that is mediated by knowledge on the part of the perceiver”. O’Regan and Noe might be on the right track suggesting that the brain itself does not constitute the seeing, it supports vision by enabling mastery and exercise of knowledge of sensorimotor contingencies.

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