Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Crick in the Brain

In the article "Crick's last stand" of the Economist (Jul 28), the late Francis Crick of DNA fame attempts to give insight to the neuromechanisms behind consciousness. Since he's dead, a Nobel prize winner and therefore untouchable, I feel the irresistible urge to put a pin in the remnant ego balloon that is still floating around in science circles.

Mechanistic explanations of consciousness are hard to come by because consciousness is so poorly understood. Indeed, it is one of the few unexplained phenomena that are genuinely mysterious rather than merely problematical.

It's very difficult to study a state of mind so few possess.

But Crick, together with his long-time collaborator Christof Koch, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, focused on a part of the mystery that seems tractable. This is the integrated nature of conscious sensation.

I like the derivative nature of conscious sensation. For example, the sudden negative impulse from conscious state to room temperature, during the instant an American sniper writes a lead prescription for a terrorist.

As the two researchers put it in their paper, which was published this week in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, "When holding a rose, you smell its fragrance and see its red petals while feeling its textured stem with your fingers."

The stem of a rose might result in the fragrance of Bactine and the texture of a fresh band-aide.

The part of the brain that caught the two researchers' interest is the claustrum, a thin sheet of grey matter that lies concealed beneath part of the cortex (the outer covering of the brain that carries out the computations involved in seeing, hearing and language).

I thought the outer covering of the brain was responsible for carrying the cannabinol enhanced rant, from a moonbat's brain to the nerves of its salivary glands.

The key to the researchers' claim is that most, if not all, regions of the cortex have two-way connections to the claustrum, as do the structures involved in emotion. It is plausible that the smell, the colour and the texture of the rose, all processed in different parts of the cortex, could be bound together into one cohesive, conscious experience by the claustrum. The authors liken it to a conductor who synchronizes and co-ordinates various parts into a united whole.

I liken it to Colonel Sander's, who synchronizes and co-ordinates various parts of a hasty meal into a united bout of constipation.

Thus far, this is mere anatomical speculation fuelled by the fact that very little is known about what the claustrum actually does.

Now there is where I see potential.

Crick hoped that his final paper would inspire researchers to begin to develop molecular techniques to disable the claustrum in animals to observe the aftermath. Time will tell whether Crick's spectacular contribution to understanding genetics will be replicated in the sphere of consciousness.

So, I ask anyone wishing to comment, what does this 'claustrum' actually do?

5 comments:

fmragtops said...

Damn it, Man! Didn't you read the words of the all knowing, all powerful scientist whose intellect we are not fit to possess. The claustrum is the conducter of the San Francisco Philharmonic. Oh wait, at the end of that article they said they don't know what they are talking about. Nevermind.

Insolublog said...

Looks like it's just you an me fmragtops. I guess thin brain membranes aren't good blog material.

Peakah said...

What's that? Combine blogging with neurobiologicalchemotherapeudicsedation is like putting Bolton in the UN?

BRILLIANT!!!

Leave it to the most used synaptic pathway in my brain to refer to Guinness in some way...

Nice post brah.

Dr. Phat Tony said...

I have told everyone that I'm not a real Dr. right?

Insolublog said...

I thought you got your Doctorate in neurobiologicalchemotherapeudicsedation,
from the prestigous university of whoopa$$.