Sunday, September 28, 2008

Central control of homeostasis

(Turrigiano and Nelson, 2004: Nat. Rev. Neurosci., 5, 97–107)

Conversation on Friday between a sixth-year (I think) graduate student and me:
— The idea is that without centralized regulation, the market will be healthier, and the people will be better off.
— Well, yeah, that’s what conservatives believe in.
— And what’s wrong with that? Why does the government have to control it?
— It doesn’t need to control everything, and to some degree, the market must be free, but... what needs to happen is like in synaptic scaling: there has to be a homeostasis.
— Exactly! The neuron follows its individual properties and program, leading to homeostasis. But in synaptic scaling, there is no central structure controlling each neuron’s behavior.
— Maybe there is...
— ???
Now, of course, there is something like that. It’s called “soul”. But it’s not observable; it exists in a separate reality to such degree that its influence is undetectable. From the brain’s point of view (or somebody trying to cure the brain), its functioning is the result of 100 billion neurons working simultaneously, each in its own interest. And within each neuron, the same thing happens: each synapse follows its own interest resulting in global homeostasis. If one group of neurons delegates anything to another, it’s only more specialized computation, not centralized control.

It may be interesting for philosophers and pseudo-scientists to think of the brain in terms of an “emergent entity” with its emergent properties — but for somebody trying to cure the brain, he needs to think in terms of 100 billion neurons working together. On an individual level, not grand-scale centralized one. Emergent principles are important, but only in terms of them emerging from individual neuronal properties and function. Now, for someone trying to cure economy…

(I still need to write about how emergent properties are nullified when one focuses on their source — the same as when something in this world becomes bottul to its shoiresh.)

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