How mere nerve impulses are fun, or awful

By: Abraham Thomas

The feel of paper and the flush of shame. Feelings and emotions are relayed as nerve impulses. Nerve endings or sensors report on feelings from tissues all over the body. These sensations include sharp pain, burning pain, cool or warm temperature, itching, muscle contraction, joint movements, soft touch, mechanical stress, tickling, flushing, hunger and thirst. Electrical excitation of certain parts of the temporal lobe, cause intense fear to be produced in patients. Excitation of other parts caused feelings of isolation, loneliness, disgust, or even pleasure. The mind differentiated finely between these nerve impulses - to feel tired, hungry or much else. But, how could the “pleasant, or unpleasant" quality of nerve impulses be explained? Why should the universal experience of pain be wretched and pleasure agreeable? What kind of code could the mind use to differentiate between nice and awful? The book, The Intuitive Algorithm (IA), explains how mere nerve impulses could achieve this. That view is founded on the crucial IA evidence that instant pattern recognition – intuition - could underpin the processes of the mind.

A seamless pattern recognition system.

Over the ages, science had speculated on the nature of human intelligence. The IA concept was a new view. That the wisdom of the mind relied on the massive memories of nerve cells for combinations. The mind used intuition, a pattern recognition process. It was a logical elimination routine, which could instantly sift a single contextual answer from its immense knowledge base. It was this process, which enabled you to reach into your pocket and identify a key. Just by touch. Nerve cells could finely differentiate between combinations of sensations to recognize objects and events. Recognition was enabled by a combinatorial coding process by neurons. Such a recognition process was recently accepted by science and a Nobel Prize acknowledged that discovery in 2004. So, at the input end, kaleidoscopic combinations of millions of sensations were received. From these, the mind instantly recognized events. Recognized events triggered contextual feelings. Feelings triggered allied drives. Drives fired sequences of remembered muscle movements. The circuit closed. All this was enabled by massive memories in neurons and, intuition. 100 billion nerve cells recognized events and delivered motor output, within a bare span of 20 milliseconds. The time between the shadow and the scream. So, from input to output, the mind was a seamless pattern recognition system.

Intelligent drives.

The current feeling dictated purpose at the highest levels. A hierarchy of intelligences followed through. At the second level, learned movements were inserted. At the lowest level, fine motor coordination delivered the final output – whether a spoken word, or a written line. A feeling expressed a purpose. A feeling of fear could dictate an escape drive, whose purpose was to achieve safety.

That demanded instant responses, varying across species. A deer bounded away. A bird took flight. A fish swam off. While the activities of running, flying and swimming differed, they achieved the same objective of escaping. Such activities could not be stupid. Escape was hardly possible by heading into the predator. Increasing the distance from danger demanded uncommon cleverness. That objective could even be achieved by slipping into a safe sanctuary, inaccessible to the predator. Like the underside of a rock. The system received intelligent contributions down to the lowest levels. Purpose was expressed as feelings at the highest level and remembered drives operated at lower levels.

A drive, which assembled combinatorial memories of context

The nerve cell memories, which powered these intelligences were both inherited and acquired. The IA concept of nerve cell memories was supported by research. The study of cortical activity, while learning skills, presented a mystery to science. PET scans revealed that as a person learned a skill, cortical activity was initially high. But, with learning, it gradually reduced. Why did practiced effort require less cortical activity? Why should practice need less neural interactions? Surely, highly skilled activities should have more neural traffic? Science remained in the dark. However, mastering a skill needed attention. Landmarks had to be identified and remembered. Attention increased cortical activity. Those combinations of context were recorded by the drive channel. The IA concept suggested that learning involved memory at lower levels. The cortex laboured to teach the drive channel. The memories of the drive channel neurons later responded appropriately, without cortical intervention.

Largely unconscious drives.

The drive channel initially learned by recording context. That was when you first learned to drive a car. As the mind learned, combinations of contextual memories were encoded into the memories of drive channel neurons. Over the years, millions more contexts would be added. Shortcuts, early lane changes, responses to traffic snarls. Because the channel neurons remembered, it was no longer necessary to highlight a landmark through attention. Increased firing was not needed to indicate context. Normal perceptions were adequate. The channel remembered and managed habitual activities. The studies supported the view of a drive channel which acted through learned memories. But those memories had inherited components also. Those components also responded to feelings and emotions.

The historic basis of drives.

Purposeful drives had antecedents from the beginnings of life. The Hydra was a primeval example of such a mechanism. It was a branched tubular animal. A netlike arrangement of neurons was interposed between its outside and its internal digestive cavity. A stimulus applied to any part of its body resulted in contraction or bending of its tubular body and its tentacles. The Hydra moved about with this simple nerve net, varied its length and used its tentacles to push food particles into its mouth. Occasional strong contractions of the whole animal served to expel indigestible material from the same orifice. From the beginnings of history, nature had devised ongoing drives, which enabled essential activities - to move about, swallow, or expel food. Across millions of years, more sophisticated feelings and emotions developed. Inherited memories generated a far wider range of drives to meet the needs of these emotions. Drives to teach the young, to lie in the grass, or to play on the field. But the essentials remained. Drives to seek out and accept, or to avoid and escape.

The agreeable and disagreeable quality.

Medical texts reported that the pleasure emotion was triggered from the septal areas of the brain for rats. The animals were observed when they were able to self stimulate themselves, by pressing a lever, through electrodes implanted in the septal area. They continued pressing the lever till they were exhausted, preferring the effect of stimulation to normally pleasurable activities such as consuming food. The pleasure emotion impelled the animal to repeatedly seek that stimulus. On the other hand, pain was felt in two waves, separated by an interval of a few tenths of a second. The first was sharp and localized. The second wave was diffuse and still more disagreeable. So, also, after an operation called lobotomy, the presence of pain was no longer distressing to the patient who would say that the pain was still there, but it did not “hurt." Pain was divided into a sensation and a disagreeable element. That element was, in reality, a drive to avoid the stimulus.

Pleasant and unpleasant drives.

The primitive Hydra, moved about, swallowed, or spewed out food. Its drives worked to approach, accept, reject, or escape. Millenniums later, the control systems were more sophisticated. But, humans traveled the seas, enjoyed delicious meals and occasionally became sea sick. Pleasant emotions generated a drive to approach and accept. The rat kept pressing the lever. Such emotions made you feel good. Unpleasant emotions generated a drive to escape, or reject the stimulus. The second wave of pain was a drive triggered by cortical recognition of pain. That feeling triggered a drive to escape. That drive was disagreeable. It made you want to run away. When the drive was disconnected in lobotomy, pain became just a sensation. Drives affected peace of mind. The IA concept of a drive channel explains those subtle attributes of pain and pleasure.

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