is the brain a bit like a massive max-msp patch?
April 1, 2009 7:32 PM   Subscribe

it seems no question, no matter how absurd, is too strange. Everything seems to get a sensible answer. So from the deepest pockets of my private imaginings: is the brain a bit like a massive max-msp patch?

is the brain a bit like a massive max-msp patch?

clearly I am not a neuroscientist.
but just like everybody else i cobble together half explanations about how the things I see around me work.
I was hoping someone who does understands a little more about neuroscience could tell me whether the overlap between how i imagine that my brain works, and the current state of understanding is some, plenty or none.

As this is simply the product of my own imagining, it is spectacularly uninformed about the current state of brain science,
so if it comes across as a little bit like:

"Nikola Tesla was an alien who first came to earth as Ramses II and is still alive chained to a secret altar six hunded and sixty six cubits beneath the skull and crossbones headquarters"

please keep in mind, I am not claiming to be right, I'm certainly not claiming to have made any breakthroughs, or have any insights that might in anyway useful for the wider world, I'm just curious



ok heres what i've been wondering:

I think of the brain as a humoungous max-msp patch

nervous impulses are basically oscillating electrical signals
our simpler ancestors must have have simple behaviours that were triggered by certain sensory signals

subsequent ancestors developed more sophisticated ways of processing these signals to refine the responses.

Once you've got all this signal processing brain infrastructure in place it seems that the easiest way to keep a memory is to find a way
to keep bouncing a sensory signal round and in a loop. The next easiest way, is to encode the signal so that it can be stored and recreated on demand.
But if memories are stored in a static form, the memory can't be used in the stored form, the signal would actually need to be played, recreated to be used.

Replaying a memory is a bit like experiencing the sensory signals as they originally occurred.

As sensory input signals - both current and recalled memories - go through all kinds of processing, the line between sense signals and higher order thoughts which are developed from that input becomes quite blurry.
So it makes sense that higher order thoughts would take place in an extension of the same
infrastructure that handles sensory signals. That way higher order thoughts can be stored and recalled just like sensory information.

which brings me to the crux of my question, is thought a bit like signal processing, is my brain essentially adding,
subtracting, modulating, inverting, high/low pass filtering, fft ing thought waveforms?
posted by compound eye to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As a bong-fueled analogy, sure.

As any kind of accurate description of what's going on in the brain, probably not.
posted by ook at 8:17 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems like you are analyzing these brain processes on a more philosophical level, rather then a biological/chemical level. I suggest you read some Douglas R. Hofstadler
posted by Mach5 at 8:50 PM on April 1, 2009

Max-MSP and other composition environments are comprised of combinations of logic gates in various forms and implementations. To the degree that the brain is logical, you could think of it as a network of conceptual objects that operate according to preset rules, pipelines and conditions....but the brain isn't always logical. That's where the analogy breaks down.
posted by rhizome at 9:56 PM on April 1, 2009

You need to read Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. But as someone who understands Max/MSP fairly well, synthesis and computers at a pretty advanced undergrad level, and philosophy of mind as a really curious amateur - no, I think your comparison is misleading beyond the fact that they are (at least if you're a physicalist) both interconnected deterministic systems.
posted by phrontist at 10:26 PM on April 1, 2009

(oh and a neuron is more like an integrator than the analog signal processors you mentioned)
posted by phrontist at 10:29 PM on April 1, 2009

Eh, actually, that's a poor comparison. A comparator is more fitting. You basically sum up a bunch of inputs coming in on dendrites and if a certain threshold is reached, your output "goes high" and may or may not trigger some other neurons to do the same depending on the strength of dendritic connection and whole bunch of other extremely complicated a poorly understood neurochemical factors.
posted by phrontist at 10:34 PM on April 1, 2009

I am considering the possibility that what phrontist is basically saying is that the brain is like a Max patch made of nothing but comparators.

Much of your question has the distinctive feel of a brainstorm. You have a big idea but not the disciplined working through of the idea that makes it useful instead of just interesting.

So, my answer is that you should find out how to model a comparator in Max, and play with patches that work like simplified neural networks. They will probably be more fun if you stick audio or video output on the end of course. What you are suggesting will probably be just another big brainstorm that never really has the work done to make it useful, but you could seize the day and make something out of it (if I am reading your post the right way, I imagine you have this feeling as if you could have just made a historical breakthrough (that is how I feel when I talk that way, I have been wrong so far)).
posted by idiopath at 11:08 PM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: it seems no question, no matter how absurd, is too strange. Everything seems to get a sensible answer.

Perhaps a question that absurd could exist, but you are incapable of conceiving of it because it's so absurd.

I mean, you have to hold a question in your conscious mind before you can solve it; if there's a question too absurd to hold in your conscious mind, you not only couldn't answer it, you couldn't even consciously think about it.

In other words, perhaps there's a million questions too absurd to answer, but they are also so absurd you can't think about them.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:08 AM on April 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for the book suggestions,

I guess that heart of my question is that I have always imagined the brain a network of logic gates.

Messing around with signal processing and fourier transforms made me away of how much information can be stored in an analog wave, and some of the amazing processing you can do with waves.

I began to wonder whether the brain used any of the same techniques I have been messing around with in max msp to process analog signals

wikipedia has been revealing:

"The conduction of nerve impulses is an example of an all-or-none response. In other words, if a neuron responds at all, then it must respond completely. "

if the brain is doing anything simmilar, then it is not in the way I was imagining


posted by compound eye at 6:21 PM on April 2, 2009

Response by poster: typos typos,

made me aware of how much ...
posted by compound eye at 6:22 PM on April 2, 2009

« Older Mac Mini: Yes or No?   |   Relationship Filter: How do I maintain a new... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.