Harmonies of the Mind


1. Brain Polyphony and Polyrhythm.

The brain is a dynamic oscillatory system with a complex polyphonic and polyrhythmic structure. The adaptive state of Self is a consequence of internal harmony, as a physical process of frequency and phase tuning of different nervous system elements. In this sense, the brain is a musical ensemble that plays the notes, melodies, chords, and rhythms of the music of the Mind. It is not a metaphor but an analogy. Teleological Transduction Theory (TTT) uses several physically plausible analogies. It takes the processes known to us due to the simple fact that we created them and shows what mutual regularities they have with complex natural processes that we study.

The chapter takes a historical perspective on the development of the musical code (notation) that, in its modern form, reflects the main physical parameters of the harmonic sound production that we call music. It combines frequency (tone) as space parameter and phase (place and duration of notes) as time parameter. It is essentially a coded spectrogram of the oscillatory signals that are the sounds of music.

Complex polyphonic and polyrhythmic music requires precise frequency and phase matching of notes, thus integrating them into a harmonious and rhythmic flow. This code is information-rich and effective at the same time. While the basic elements are relatively simple, they are flexible and can accommodate the required large set of parameters. Such code allows a potentially massive number of elements to participate in the process simultaneously and play their unique part. They may differ in frequency and rhythmic structure, but everything must be written into a single code and physically played together.

The requirements are the same for the neural code. This chapter develops the TTT symphonic neural code hypothesis further. It shows that the neural code consists of the neuron action potential frequency, phase and amplitude parameters simultaneously, and we cannot ignore any of them if we want to ‘hear’ this music (read the code).

2. The Emergence of Order from Complex Dynamics.

The second chapter goes back to the hypotheses of the Theory of Energy Harmony (ТЕН) about the universal mechanism of energy interactions that leads to the creation of structures. This mechanism of interaction is fundamentally the same in inanimate and living matter. Any living organism is a self-organizing system of interacting and energy-exchanging self-sustained oscillators with various amplitude-frequency characteristics and phase portraits. The internal interaction of the elements of the biological system, generating different frequency modes and phase trajectories, is based on frequency-phase tuning and bringing the entire ensemble to a single harmony. An adaptive state is a consequence of internal harmony, and a maladaptive pathological condition means disharmony. Within TTT, these are not metaphors but physical terms.

The chapter proceeds from the hypothesis that the brain does not differ in this sense from the rest of biosystems. The orchestra of the brain plays a unified, coherent symphony consisting of many different parts. The sequence and duration (rhythmic pattern) of activation of various members of the brain ensemble produces a unique temporal structure of each representation, which can combine with other similarly unique forms and create the polyrhythmic depth. Each pattern’s frequency characteristics (melodic structure) can be coordinated with other patterns, thus forming polyphony and harmonic depth of the Mind.

These hypotheses lead to nontrivial conceptual and technological consequences for the brain research process. The chapter considers leading theories of neural code and shows that they are the roads to an impasse. It also looks at leading technologies of studying the brain and explains why they are currently not sufficient for the task if we proceed from the idea that information is in subtle nuances of melodies, harmonies and rhythms of brain activity. Counting discrete spikes or looking at averaged population activity gives us nothing, just as counting notes or averaging these notes would provide nothing for understanding music. To ‘hear’ and understand the music of the Mind, a radical paradigm shift of neuroscience models is needed. The research technology will follow.

3. Personality as a Physical Process.

The chapter proceeds to substantiate the hypotheses offered in the previous part and shows the details of physical processes in the brain that form the cognitive functions that we combine in one word – personality. It offers a new look at the cortico-thalamic system (CTS) that plays a vital role in these functions.

The standard connectome approach shows the distribution and connection of neural pathways but ignores the central question of how these streams of energy turn into information (code patterns). The mainstream studies keep mapping ‘wiring diagrams,’ hoping to simulate the complex network and create the artificial copy of the living brain. But connections are only part of brain technology.

TTT shows how the general algorithm of the Mind is implemented at the CTS level for performing higher cognitive functions. It also takes the usual approach to the thalamus as a ‘relay station’ further and gives a new account of its role in the brain’s technological chain. The chapter formulates a technologically sound hypothesis about the function of this part of the nervous system, explaining the observed anatomical features of the thalamus and the entire corticothalamic and thalamocortical pathways.

4. The Small World of the Big Brain.

This chapter takes the spatial aspect of neural networks and proceeds from the idea that the connections in the brain are not just a ‘bundle of wires’ that connect everyone with everyone in the social community of neurons that we call the nervous system. It takes the old hypothesis that the brain is structured as a ‘small-world network’ and develops it further by showing what role such structure plays in the physical and technological processes that create the Mind.

5. Revealing the Secret of the Unified Self.

Here we go back to the ‘binding problem.’ It has two sides: the segregation problem and the combination problem. How does the brain create a coherent model of reality and what we perceive as the unity of Self while maintaining the representations’ identity and at the same time preventing the picture from falling apart into separate pieces?

The classic view is that it is achieved by fusing neural pathways. Of course, the architecture and topology of the network are of great importance for the organization of the process. But the idea that the presence of different neural connections can explain the separation of streams and that integration occurs by bringing them together into a single channel simplifies the model and makes it inconsistent with the physical and physiological facts.

The popular ‘binding by synchrony’ theory reduces the unified experience of consciousness to the coincidence of spikes in time. Such a limited attitude to the synchronization phenomena as ‘playing in unison’ obviously contradicts the physical reality of the brain functioning and does not solve the issue of segregation and integration at the same time. If we take the musical analogy, this theory says that the brain orchestra plays a single note at a varying tempo. There is no place in it for different frequencies (melodic and harmonic structures) and patterns of activity in time (rhythms).

Fixation on the tempo parameter and synchronization as a simultaneous firing is a dead-end direction of research. The chapter shows the way out. It describes the physical binding mechanism and its technological implementation in the brain. It offers an elegant solution to the issue of differentiation and cross-modal unity of the Self.

6. Musical Notes of the Mind.

The chapter considers the ‘building blocks’ of the neural code: action potentials. It rejects the standard attitude to them as identical shots. The neuron’s activity has amplitude-frequency characteristics and the phase portrait of each action potential (AP). Thus, AP is not only a spike as the peak of the wave but a complex structure carrying unique information in its waveform. It can be called a note.

Individual notes make up an activity pattern of a given neuron with a clear spatio-temporal organization making possible its integration into the general music of the Mind with its melodies (frequency pattern), rhythms (phase pattern) and harmonies (simultaneous existence of different patterns). Due to this, the information density of each note (action potential) and each pause (resting membrane potential) is very high, and the system as a whole has tremendous computing power, efficiency, and speed.

All the complex and delicate logistics and kinetics of processes at the intracellular and intercellular level are aimed at creating these parameters of the oscillatory process of each neuron. As a musician of an ensemble of the brain, each neuron plays its part that brings meaning into the general score of a multidimensional symphony of the Mind. This process is based on a universal physical mechanism for creating energy patterns and their interaction. As a result, the notes of this music can be the same and different, sound simultaneously and separately.

7. Brain Music Notation.

If we take the symphonic neural code hypothesis as a working one, then we have no choice but to study the internal characteristics of each note, its place in the general melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structure. The chapter shows possible ways of analysis that will combine all the parameters that have to be reflected if we want to write a full-fledged musical notation necessary for reading and reproducing the music of the Mind (neural code).

8. Brain Octaves.

Over a hundred years, a huge effort of theorists and experimenters has been devoted to analyzing the ‘brain rhythms.’ This is how almost all neuroscientists call the frequency parameters of the nervous system. From the musical analogy perspective, these are melodies as frequency patterns and harmonies as their combinations. They are not rhythms as duration and sequence structure. But the problem is not in the inaccuracy of terminology. Without a model of the physical mechanism that underlies the frequency interaction, all studies of the ‘brain rhythms’ are bound to stay at a phenomenological level (describe facts without explaining) and categorize frequencies by arbitrarily defined classes.

Based on the Theory of Energy Harmony and previous hypotheses of TTT, this chapter offers a new look at brain frequencies. It explains the functions of different frequency levels and their combinations in the overall signal processing performed by the neural system. It also contains a hypothesis about the frequency structure of the brain, which by no accident is very similar to the musical structure with its various intervals reflecting frequency ratios, as the physical mechanism is universal. Moreover, this structure coincides with experimentally derived frequency levels of the brain. Thus, the proposed model moves current theoretical neuroscience further by providing explanatory power.

9. Looking for Harmony.

The functional significance of brain oscillations remains a tantalizing mystery for many decades after their discovery. The researcher of oscillatory processes of the brain, György Buzsáki, wrote: “When multiple, transient, or sustained oscillations emerge from the same or different neuronal substrates simultaneously, how do they influence each other? Given the ubiquitous and simultaneous presence of multiple oscillators in various parts of the brain, this is a critical question. It is therefore perhaps not outrageous to state that a requisite for understanding network and system interactions in the brain is an understanding the nature of oscillatory coupling. Unfortunately, the story stops here for now, just as it begins to get really interesting, because the mechanisms of coupling of multiple oscillations are poorly understood.”

The story should not stop, especially at the most exciting place. The chapter provides examples showing evidence that neural activity has complex dynamics, frequency and phase structure, and different levels of this structure are interconnected and interact with specific patterns. Based on TEH and TTT worked out in the previous volumes, this volume continues to unravel the mystery of these complex phenomena in an attempt to make them better understood. The story is just beginning. If we develop a coherent model with good explanatory power, the more pieces fall into place in the puzzle, the more complete the overall picture.