The brain is complex. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly complex it is.
Or at least, that is how Douglas Adams might have described it.
This isn’t the first time that the brain has been compared to the frontier of outer space. After all, both are things to which we are inextricably tied, yet whose vastness and intricacy make their secrets seem so ironically inaccessible.
But there is no reason to get discouraged. In 200 years, we’ve moved from total ignorance about the brain to knowing that it is composed of tens of billions of networked neurons sending innumerable electrical impulses to each other every second. But with all of the knowledge we’ve gained so far, it has become ever more apparent how little we understand. There is presently no widely accepted scientific explanation for how a basic signaling unit like a neuron could produce thoughts, language or conscious experience. A neuron is very good at carrying action potentials and growing dendrites. But on its own, that is all it can do.
That is not to say that there will not be an explanation of the mind at some point. Indeed, researchers today have shifted the focus of their research onto how neurons cooperate in an organized fashion, with the assumption that the result of interaction between individual neurons is more than the sum of its parts.
It shouldn’t surprise any of us that the key to the puzzle of the mind is cooperation. We as a species have relied on it for every major breakthrough in our history. As the impressionists tried to teach us, the contributions of millions of specks towards a common end can result in a masterpiece, a notion which makes our identity as specks rather more comforting. In fact this, our first edition of Grey Matters, owes its existence to the collaboration of multiple committed individuals, each of whom brought their own unique contribution.
In this way, Grey Matters could be considered an emergent property of the combined efforts of its creators. Likewise, the cooperatively networked neurons in your head are functioning to create the emergent property that is you, orchestrating all of the processes needed to focus your eyes, to hold your posture, and to read this sentence.
This, then, is where our brains meet yours.
Kayla R. Ritchie