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2/25/10

Chaos Theory and Avalanches: Your Brain Is Like A Pile of Sand

So you think your thoughts, you say? Well, if you do, what will you think thirty seconds from now? One minute from now? One hour? Where is this thinker you claim yourself to be?

What about space? You know what that is, right? Show me space. You are wrong if you say it is that which is occupied by the chair, the wall, and your computer monitor. They occur in relationships and are put in something termed space to explain the relationships. In fact, pure space is an illusion. What you call space is instead a sense impression used to filter the relationship of objects.*

When you think about it, you realize that many of our intuitions about the world are only a way for us to make sense out of it so we can get along within it. Making sense out of it is not the same as the way things are within it.

So when I say that the brain--your thoughts, your reason--works in a kind of chaos, don't dismiss the idea out of hand.

Formulated by Edward Lorenz in his study of weather patterns, then applied to population growth by Robert May, and later developed into the fractal geometry of nature by Benoit Mandelbrot, Chaos Theory now has entered the field of neuroscience.

According to those who apply the theory to consciousness, your brain operates on the edge of chaos. Moreover, disorder is essential to the brain's ability to transmit information and solve problems.

"In technical terms, systems on the edge of chaos are said to be in a state of "self-organised criticality". These systems are right on the boundary between stable, orderly behaviour - such as a swinging pendulum - and the unpredictable world of chaos, as exemplified by turbulence."

When sand piles reach a certain height and mass, they unpredictably begin to avalanche. "The brain has much in common with them. Networks of brain cells alternate between periods of calm and periods of instability - "avalanches" of electrical activity that cascade through the neurons. Like real avalanches, exactly how these cascades occur and the resulting state of the brain are unpredictable." More

*Einstein folded Newton's classical space and time into curved spacetime.

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