Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Our Mind Electric?

14.05.2002


Are our thoughts made of electricity? Not the familiar kind of electrical signals that travel up and down wires in our computer or nerves in our brain, but the distributed kind of electromagnetic field that permeates space and carries the broadcast signal to the TV or radio.



Professor Johnjoe McFadden from the School of Biomedical and Life Sciences at the University of Surrey believes our conscious mind could be an electromagnetic field. “The theory solves many previously intractable problems of consciousness and could have profound implications for our concepts of mind, free will, spirituality, the design of artificial intelligence, and even life and death,” he said.

Most people consider ‘mind’ to be all the conscious things that we are aware of. But much, if not most, mental activity goes on without awareness. Actions like walking, changing gear in your car or peddling a bicycle can become as automatic as breathing. The biggest puzzle in neuroscience is how the brain activity that we’re aware of (consciousness) differs from the brain activity driving all of those unconscious actions.


When we see an object, signals from our retina travel along nerves as waves of electrically charged ions. When they reach the nerve terminus the signal jumps to the next nerve via chemical neurotransmitters. The receiving nerve decides whether or not it will fire, based on the number of firing votes it receives from its upstream nerves. In this way, electrical signals are processed in our brain before being transmitted to our body. But where in all this movement of ions and chemicals, is consciousness? Scientists can find no region or structure in the brain that specialises in conscious thinking. Consciousness remains a mystery.

“Consciousness is what makes us ‘human’, Professor McFadden said. “Language, creativity, emotions, spirituality, logical deduction, mental arithmetic, our sense of fairness, truth, ethics, are all inconceivable without consciousness.” But what’s it made of?

One of the fundamental questions of consciousness, known as the binding problem, can be explained by looking at a tree. Most people when asked how many leaves they see will answer ‘thousands’. But neurobiology tells us that the information (all the leaves) is dissected and scattered amongst millions of widely separated neurones. Scientists are trying to explain where in the brain all those leaves are stuck together to form the conscious impression of a whole tree. How does our brain bind information to generate consciousness?

What Professor McFadden realised was that every time a nerve fires, the electrical activity sends a signal to the brain’s electromagnetic (em) field. But unlike solitary nerve signals, information that reaches the brain’s em field is automatically bound together with all the other signals in the brain. The brain’s em field does the binding that is characteristic of consciousness. What Professor McFadden and, independently, the New Zealand-based neurobiologist Sue Pockett, have proposed, is that the brain’s em field IS consciousness.

The brain’s electromagnetic field is not just an information sink; it can influence our actions, pushing some neurones towards firing and others away from firing. This influence, Professor McFadden proposes, is the physical manifestation of our conscious will.

The theory explains many of the peculiar features of consciousness, such as its involvement in the learning process. Anyone learning to drive a car will have experienced how the first (very conscious) fumblings are transformed through constant practise into automatic actions. The neural networks driving those first uncertain fumblings are precisely where we would expect to find nerves in the undecided state when a small nudge from the brain’s em field can topple them towards or away from firing. The field will ‘fine tune’ the neural pathway towards the desired goal. But neurones are connected so that when they fire together, they wire together, to form stronger connections. After practice, the influence of the field will become dispensable. The activity will be learnt and may thereafter be performed unconsciously.

One of the objections to an electromagnetic field theory of consciousness is if our minds are electromagnetic, then why don’t we pass out when we walk under an electrical cable or any other source of external electromagnetic fields? The answer is that our skin, skull and cerebrospinal fluid shield us from external electric fields.

“The conscious electromagnetic information field is at present still a theory. But if true, there are many fascinating implications for the concept of free will, the nature of creativity or spirituality, consciousness in animals and even the significance of life and death. The theory explains why conscious actions feel so different from unconscious ones – it is because they plug into the vast pool of information held in the brain’s electromagnetic field,” Professor McFadden concluded.

Liezel Tipper | alphagalileo
Further information:
http://www.imprint.co.uk/jcs_9_4.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

nachricht Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>