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Three Neurons, Free Will

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Modern Slaves Are Predictable, Free Worms Are Not:

Enough of these sad songs about how plutocracy, stupidity, cowardice and greed rule! Worms are smart, and willful! Yes, even worms have Free Will. Too bad for those who thought god controlled everything. Too bad for those who thought animals were machines. Too bad for those controlled by a decerebrating media: they are predictable, whereas worms are not.

That worms have free will is what a study led by Cori Bargmann shows. She is, among other titles, Torsten N. Wiesel Professor, head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University (Americans love complicated titles, they aspire to aristocracy; Wiesel a Swedish neurologist, got the Nobel, and was president of Rockefeller).

Brainy Blonde Cori Bargmann “Think Like A Worm”
Brainy Blonde Cori Bargmann “Think Like A Worm”

Brainy Blonde Cori Bargmann “Think Like A Worm”

Researchers can genetically engineered just two, or three neurons in the worm’s head to glow bright green if those neurons respond.

Each neuron in the worm’s brain is assigned a three letter name. By zapping specific neurons with a laser beam, the neuron’s role is deduced from whatever function the worm lost.

So doing, working through the 302 neurons of Caenorhabditis elegans, Cornelia Bargmann discovered that just one neuron control worm hibernation and that worms have a sense of smell, and taste.

In 2011, Bargmann was asked what would be required to understand the worm’s nervous system fully. “You would want to understand a behavior all the way through, and then how the behavior can change. That goal is not unattainable.”

Well, in the end, I believe the behavior of neurons will be found to boil down to Quantum, or even SUB-Quantum physics. So, in the end, there will be no full understanding, just good guesses.

This is indeed what Bargmann discovered in 2015 points towards.

[See below much of the press release from Rockefeller. Also a 2011 NYT’s article on Bargmann’s lab, “In Tiny Worm, Unlocking Secrets of the Brain” may help.]

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FREE WILL WORM GNAWING OLD PHILOSOPHY:

First, let me philosophize on this recent scientific discovery, which is bound to shatter many old illusions. Philosophy means guess further, or observe, what it all means, or could mean.

Saint Bernard made a rather enlightened observation: “the animal spirit or soul is limited by time – it dies with the body.” Descartes, five centuries later, advanced the grotesque thesis that animals were machines. It was grotesque, because anybody familiar with animals can tell they have free will.

Now neurologists have put Free Will down to as little as three neurons.

Indeed, then, worms are not machines, at least not in the classical sense. Given an input, they behave in unpredictable way, differently from classical machines. That is what the neurologists found.

Do we know of machines behaving that way? Yes. Quantum machines. A Quantum machine is driven by the unpredictable certainty of Quantum Waves.

Are worms then Quantum machines? Yes and no, as Abelard would say. Not necessarily, but probably.

Worms were exposed to a stimulus, a delicious smell. The same smell, always, but it did not give rise to the same reaction. Sometimes worms wormed their way towards the source of the smell, sometimes not.

Conclusion?

The worms’ thinking prevent us to predict its behavior. (Worms are smarter than politicians, the latter being thoroughly predictable!)

Plato famously considered his cave, where people were described as watching shadows on a wall. That was supposed to depict the relationship between humans and reality. The image is still popular among philosophers, and so consequences of it trickle down to the masses.

Plato’s picture is interesting, and it sure applies to propaganda from the powerful, and the way it is received by most. But only as such. As a depiction of how the minds of free worms, let alone, free humans, works, it fails utterly.

However, as far as what science says, and thus, what philosophy ought to confirm, buttress, and fly from, Plato’s picture is now completely obsolete, deprived of reality and imagination.

If a network composed of only three neurons can have an internal mind of its own, a cave of its own, we have to review and change, the concept of mind.

So, what is a mind? A mind, even reduced to three neurons, a network of a mind, has its own mind. How could that be?

Minds are worlds, this is why and how they will. Let me explain.

Quantum Physics describes the behavior of Quantum Waves. Quantum Waves sort-of think (one thousand and one naïve philosophers screaming at this point).

What is thinking? Roughly, “looking”, or perceiving (somehow) what is out there, and then conducting a computation (of sorts) taking what is out there in consideration.

This is exactly what Quantum Waves do.

The roundworm, our hero of will, has 2,000 genes controlling its sense of smell (twice what the rats have, and rats have excellent olfaction). Roundworms do not hear, and do not see, they are all about smell.

That world of smell occupy (part of) their 302 neurons, and build up the rest.

Could we made a “classical” model of a three neuron network? Perhaps, in first order. Actually, even classical model, complete with guiding waves, have been partly made, not just on a computer, but experimentally… for Quantum Waves.

However, in the end, Quantum processes will be found to be non-local (because, well, they are). That will ultimately limit classical, guiding waves models of Quantum waves, Black Holes, or even Roundworms three neuron networks.

If a piece of a worm’s mind is a world, entangled with the rest of the galaxy at a distance, philosophy also has to stretch.

Some would say that whether minds are Quantum, or entangled at a distance, will not bring the bacon on the table: this is neither here, nor there, as it has no practical effects. They would be wrong. Indeed, Non-Local philosophical models, Non-local, Quantum models of thinking, will allow to stretch human understanding so far that it may end up meeting reality itself.

Patrice Ayme’

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Here is much of the press release from Rockefeller University:

Analysis of worm neurons suggests how a single stimulus can trigger different responses

March 12, 2015 | Science News

Even worms have free will. If offered a delicious smell, for example, a roundworm will usually stop its wandering to investigate the source, but sometimes it won’t. Just as with humans, the same stimulus does not always provoke the same response, even from the same individual. New research at Rockefeller University, published March 12 2015, in Cell, offers a new neurological explanation for this variability, derived by studying a simple three-cell network within the roundworm brain.

Worm brain: All the neurons within this microscopic roundworm are highlighted, with the large cluster at one end representing the brain. Coelomocytes, a type of immune cell, appear as dots along the body.

“We found that the collective state of the three neurons at the exact moment an odor arrives determines the likelihood that the worm will move toward the smell. So, in essence, what the worm is thinking about at the time determines how it responds,” says study author Cori Bargmann, Torsten N. Wiesel Professor, head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior. “It goes to show that nervous systems aren’t passively waiting for signals from outside, they have their own internal patterns of activity that are as important as any external signal when it comes to generating a behavior.”

… By changing the activity of the neurons individually and in combination [researchers] could pinpoint each neuron’s role in generating variability in both brain activity and the behavior associated with it.

The human brain has 86 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses, or connections, among them. The brain of the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, by comparison, has 302 neurons and 7,000 synapses. So while the worm’s brain cannot replicate the complexity of the human brain, scientists can use it to address tricky neurological questions that would be nearly impossible to broach in our own brains.

Worms spend their time wandering, looking for decomposing matter to eat. And when they smell it, they usually stop making random turns and travel straight toward the source. This change in behavior is initially triggered by a sensory neuron that perceives the smell and feeds that information to the network the researchers studied. As the worms pick up the alluring fruity smell of isoamyl alcohol, the neurons in the network transition into a low activity state that allows them to approach the odor. But sometimes the neurons remain highly active, and the worm continues to wander around – even though its sensory neuron has detected the odor.

By recording the activity of these neurons, Gordus and colleagues found that there were three persistent states among the three neurons: All were off, all were on, or only one, called AIB, was on. If all were off, then, when the odor signal arrived, they stayed off. If all were on, they often, but not always, shut off. And, in the third and most telling scenario, if AIB alone was active when the odor arrived, everything shut off. “This means that for AIB, context matters. If it’s on alone, its activity will drop when odor is added, but if it’s on with the rest of the network, it has difficulty dropping its activity with the others,” Gordus says.

AIB is the first neuron in the network to receive the signal, which it then relays to the other two network members, known as RIM and AVA; AVA sends out the final instruction to the muscles. When the researchers shut off RIM and AVA individually and together, they found AIB’s response to the odor signal improved. This suggests that input from these two neurons competes with the sensory signal as it feeds down through the network.

Scaled up to account for the more nuanced behaviors of humans, the research may suggest ways in which our brains process competing motivations. “For humans, a hungry state might lead to you walk across the street to a delicious smelling restaurant. However, a competing aversion to the cold might lead you to stay indoors,” he says.

In the worm experiments, the competition between neurons was influenced by the state of the network. There is plenty of evidence suggesting network states have a similar impact on animals with much larger and more complex brains, including us, says Bargmann…“In a mammalian nervous system, millions of neurons are active all the time. Traditionally, we think of them as acting individually, but that is changing. Our understanding has evolved toward seeing important functions in terms of collective activity states within the brain.”

 

 

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