Sunday, October 29, 2006

Why our brain remembers...?: Part 1

Memory is something intriguing; thinking is something intriguing as well; but dreaming...? What is that? We are not the only animals that dream or are capable of dreaming. Even dogs dream. But we don't really pay attention to that.

Sigmund Freud was the first to do a systematic study on dreams. He captured his case studies in his book called "Interpretation of Dreams". But people disregarded his conclusion as pseudo-scientific. I think he was able to tell why people dreamed; why they see the images they dream of in vivid detail; but his conclusions were unsatisfactory. Now let us take a look at dreams.

Why do you dream?

The most logical answer I can give is that the brain is active. But this level of activity is not the same as that of when we are awake. Sleep is another thing that I don't have a good knowledge. But sleep is something physiological. It induces stress on our muscles which in turn communicates to the brain to stop all activities. How does this communication happen? The first thing that would probably come through your mind is the nervous system. But the nervous system does only that. How do you think our eyes shut. The eye muscles are far apart from the thigh muscles (assuming you have walked a lot, and then you feel like sleeping).

The brain can communicate this information to the eye muscles through a system called neuro-transmitters. In short some chemical messengers that either dulls or aggravates the activity of that muscle. Neurotransmitters are extensively used when we think of the functioning of the heart. Because in case of an immediate threat the brain signals the heart to pump faster because you have to flee from danger.

But what is the brain actually? A house packed with neurons. Millions and millions of them. Even more staggering are the connections one neuron has with other neurons. There are at least 5000 connection for a single neuron. But how is information processed in the brain? What is the output of this processing? Here is where I need to get philosophical.

Why is a red cube, red in colour? Why red is just a colour! We see it as red and call it so because that how we have done for centuries. Everybody knows that red colour is "red". How would you prove this fact? You see a some colours and you are asked to pick the colour red, you will definitely pick it out and say "this is red". But how do we define what is red?

We see colour because of light rays falling into the retina. What is special about a red colour light ray is that it has a particular wave length and frequency. The cones that populate on the inside of our retina is sensitive enough to decipher these signals. But then again what is the output? The colour red? No. It's a thought. It is an emotion. The brain is familiar with this colour...I guess the output is an emotion.

Emotion, what you are familiar with is about expressions or something that deals with it. When we get excited with an idea, excitement is the emotion. So why not when we see a colour we experience emotion? I am deliberately re-inventing vocabulary here. Try thinking, "or else how do you explain what the red colour actually is...?".

In the later parts I will make the distinction clear!
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