There was a time when finding models for the notion of
neural nets in the brain was hard to do and talking about the subject was pretty
much limited to computer geeks who got excited about computers being able to
simulate thinking in anyway analogous.
One of the most common models we have of the brain is a densely packed system
of interconnected neurons. Bundles in various areas of the brain function in
related, but distinct ways. However, this view has always had a very biological
bias. On the cognitive plane, we are more apt to how and why our thoughts work
in a psycho-social setting. A large gap has always existed between the hardware
and software. With the rise of the early computer models of the brain, this gap
only further widened as computers were seen as being able to function in only a
serial fashion. That is, the computer performs one operation, then another. It
may appear as if you are running more than one program at a time on your
computer, but in fact, the computer is quickly switching back and forth between
tasks. New generations of computers attempted to develop PDP or parallel
distributed processing. In these computer, there are several central processors
working at the same time and communicating with one another. One of the models
to come out of this is Connectionism. In this model, the machine is a rich
interconnection of nodes which influence but don't directly control one another.
Rather, one network is influenced by the variety of input it receives from other
networks and balances this with its own sets of harmony and the overall harmony
of the other networks it is in contact with.
Frances Crick, famous for his discoveries about the structure of DNA, became
somewhat notorious in the dream field for his suggestive essays with his friend
Mitchison in the 1980's. They combined this research with a model of neural
networks to suggest that the brain is actually unlearning during dreaming. They
suggested that the neural networks that the mind loads during the day get
saturated with information and create false links between neural nets that
produce what we see as bizarre dreams. The random firing or REM cleans these out
during the night. Thus, they hypothesize, remembering dreams may be counter
productive to the unlearning process.
Gordon Globus has suggested that the brain works not only with
stimulus-response and chemicals, but with models of *whole worlds*. He uses a
similar model to Crick and Mitchison, but points out that there is a complex
interactive brain system best described as neural nets that *produce* as well as
respond to events. In waking life there is feedback and corrections from a more
concrete world. In sleep we continue to produce models of worlds, but they have
their own rules and we then interact with these.
With the deployment of the Internet as a model and reality, these notions of
the neural nets are clearer to understand. When events occur, such as threat of
a war, a political scandal or the availability of a celebrity, the Internet
begins to buzz. The neural nets might be seen as newsgroups, e-mail discussion
lists, bulletin boards and other interactive groups. The information and stories
flow into these areas, and are responded to in variety of ways and passed along
or absorbed. Eventually the perturbations settle back into the normal ebb and
flow. But the process is not just passive, nor does it ever return to exactly
the same state of harmony. These stories lead to discussions that become actions
in the world and online that change the world.
Crick, Francis & Mitchinson, Graeme (1983). The function of dream sleep.
Nature, 304(14), July, 111-114.
Crick, Francis & Mitchinson, Graeme. (1986). REM sleep and neural nets.
Journal of Mind and Behaviour, 7(2&3), 229-50.
Globus, G. G. (1987). Dream life, wake life: The human condition through
dreams. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Globus, G. G. (1989). Connectionism and the dreaming mind. Journal of Mind
and Behavior, 10(2), 179-196.
Globus, G. G. (1991). Dream content: Random or meaningful? Dreaming, 1,
Globus, G. G. (1993). Connectionism and sleep. In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer,
& R. Hoffmann (Eds.), The functions of dreaming (pp. 119-138). Albany: State
University of New York Press.
Globus, Gordon G. (1991). Dream content: Random or meaningful? Dreaming,
Globus, Gordon G. (1987). Dream Life, Wake Life: The Human Condition Through
Dreams. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Globus, Gordon G. (1989). Connectionism and the dreaming mind. The Journal of
Mind and Behavior, 10(2). 179-196.
Globus, Gordon G. (1993). Connectionism and sleep. In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer,
R. Hoffman (Eds.), The Functions of Dreaming. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.