I’ve always wondered about ‘neural centers’. This is the idea that certain areas of the brain are ‘centers’ for certain functions. The neurons in this area are geared and designed for a specific function. It seems that there is truth in this for the more basic functioning of the brain. The ‘centers’ seem very prevalent in what I’ll call the ‘lower brain’ – spinal cord up to brain stem.
When you get beyond the brain stem into the limbic system, basal ganglia, cortex, etc. -what I’ll call the ‘upper brain’ – there seems a whole new other process involved that is not seen in the ‘lower brain’. The ‘centers’ seem to disapper and replaced by a more generalized functioning where the brain works more as a unit. This is because the brain is more inteconnected. In fact, it always seemed to me that the ‘upper brain’ is most noted by its interconnections, and not by any ‘centers’. What I mean to say is that the ‘upper brain’ seemed to work more as a unit, a whole mass, not as individual ‘pieces’ with definate ‘centers’ that communicated with one another. The ‘upper brain’ is not like a phone system where point A is calling point B, but seems more like a mesh, an amalgemation of different things working together. In effect, the ‘upper brain’ is more like a homogenous unit and works that way.
This is not to say that the ‘upper brain’ does not have areas where certain functions seem dominant. These areas are there but they are not necessarily a ‘center’ for that function as they seem spread over a large area (that is, they are not as ‘centralized’ as in the ‘lower brain’). Damaging part of this area may not affect that functioning too much as the area around it may compensate for the loss. I call these the areas of ‘predominance’. These seem to be related to specific sensual/motor functioning especially, such as hearing and speech.
When it comes to overall behaviour it seems that the whole brain is used. When this happens I speak of it as ‘interconnected‘. This means that its various functions have to be spread over large amounts of the ‘upper brain’ and overlap and combine with areas around it. Any areas that involve a specific function tend to blend into the areas around it, like a blurring. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this overlapping blurring quality varies from person to person and as a person ages. So, an ability in one person may be predominately in one part of the brain. In another person, it may be on the other side.
Considering this, then, it seems that there are levels within the brain functioning which go something like:
You can see a spectrum going from specific (centers) to generalized (interconnected).
I have always felt that the biggest part of the brain, the ‘upper brain’, is big not because of all the supposed “abilities” its supposed to have but because of the complexity of the interconnection. The ‘interconnected’ aspect is, in some ways, the most powerful aspect of the human brain. Its this ability of being ‘interconnected’ that is the “great ability” of the human brain, in my opinion, not intelligence or social ability.
The ‘interconnected’ phenemena makes the brain very difficult to see how it all works, as its working over a large area and things can’t be pinpointed. Think of it: somewhere in all this white and grey mass of the brain, all our thoughts, emotions, hopes, dreams, fears, etc. lie!
A big aspect of the ‘interconnected’ phenemena is that it must be maintained. That is to say, the brain has to as if keep it running. In other words, the ‘upper brain’ requires a maintenence of ‘brain tone‘ much like muscle tone. Interestingly, this function seems to be centered in the ‘lower brain’ – the brain stem – which shows that it is a controlled function of the brain. In effect, the ‘upper brain’ is kept active (that is, given a ‘brain tone’) by the ‘lower brain’. It does not keep itself going.
This ‘brain tone’ seems to keep the brain open, ready, and willing to react to situations. It seems a continual activity of the neurons (that is, they are continually working). As a result, it keeps the brain aware and awake. This shows that the neurons can continually be firing without any sensation or activity taking place. Normally, we tend to think that if a neuron is ‘firing’ it is going somewhere to cause a reaction of some sort. The ‘brain tone’ shows that this is not the case. It reveals the fact that the neurons cannot be compared to a telephone line going from point A to point B.
This fact has made me speculate that the functioning of the individual neurons are not what’s important, nor where they are going necessarily (depending on where they are going). The ‘upper brain’ works because of all the cells working together in concert energizing this and that area. If this were true then the brain being alive is nothing but a continual awakening state created by ‘brain tone’, of a brain full of neurons continually firing.
This brings up some questions:
– Why would the neurons be continually working? As I said before, it puts the brain in a continual ‘ready’ stance. By keeping the brain ‘ready’, with the continual working of the neurons, it allows the organism to have an increase access to its abilities, knowledge, senses, etc. that is available.
– How can so many neurons be fired with nothing going on? This would suggest that there is a mechanism in the brain that allows reactions to happen. By this, I mean something controls the impulse so it will leave the ‘upper brain’. Otherwise, it would stay in the ‘upper brain’ as part of the continual neural action taking place there (the ‘brain tone’). In other word, there is an ‘inhibitory neural action’, or maybe its a ‘facilitary neural action’ or both, which controls any neural activity that leaves the ‘upper brain’.
This ‘brain tone’, in a way, is the framework for which the whole ‘upper brain’ works. It is the base for which the whole perception and reacting to the world is achieved.
This ‘interconnectedness’ allows the brain to, in a way, have an access to the whole experience of the brain – memory, thought, emotion, movement, etc. – allowing for an ability of great flexibility and versatility. This, in many ways, is one of the greatest strengths of the human brain, as animals brains tend to be more focused for certain behaviors and activity.
I often have this belief that the origins of the self originate with the ‘brain tone’, or the continual working of the neurons, which keep the brain in a constant alertness, wakefullness, and openness. This is because it is the basis for the organism to ‘sense’ that it is continually in the world. With the ‘brain tone’ the organism is aware and watchful. It sees itself in the world and looks about the world. As a result, it creates an image of the world, itself, and how it behaves in the world. This is the beginning of the self and the self in the world. If this were true then it would show that the self is a result of the working of the ‘upper brain’ and its ‘brain tone’ as an overall general process. Once this is developed, other aspects of the self, such as the social tendency (which seems dominant in the frontal lobe) ends up creating a perception of the self in society, expanding the sense of self. As a result, the self develops and grows. As it grows it uses more and more of the ‘upper brain’ which develops it and lets it grow.