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 Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>