Work Toward a Theory of Brain Function
Wright, James Joseph
This dissertation reports research from 1971 to the present, performed in three parts. The first part arose from unilateral electrical stimulation of motivational/reward pathways in the lateral hypothalamus and brain stem of “split-brain” cats, in which the great cerebral commissures were surgically divided. This showed that motivation systems in split-brain animals exert joint influence upon learning in both of the divided cerebral hemispheres, in contrast to the separation of cognitive functions produced by commissurotomy. However, attempts to identify separate signatures of electrocortical activity associated with the diffuse motivational/alerting effects and those of the cortically lateralised processes failed to achieve this goal, and showed that an adequate model of cerebral information processing was lacking. The second part describes how this recognition of inadequacy led into computer simulations of large populations of cortical neurons – work which slowly led my colleagues and me to successful explanations of mechanisms for cortical synchrony and oscillation, and of evoked potentials and the global EEG. These results complemented the work of overseas groups led by Nunez, by Freeman, by Lopes da Silva and others, but also differed from the directions taken by these workers in certain important respects. It became possible to conceive of information transfer in the active cortex as a series of punctuated synchronous equilibria of signal exchange among cortical neurons – equilibria reached repeatedly, with sequential perturbations of the neural activity away from equilibrium caused by exogenous inputs and endogenous pulse-bursting, thus forming a basis for cognitive sequences. The third part reports how the explanation of synchrony gave rise to a new theory of the regulation of embryonic cortical growth and the emergence of mature functional connections. This work was based upon very different assumptions, and reaches very different conclusions, to that of pioneers of the field such as Hubel and Wiesel, whose ideas have dominated cortical physiology for more than fifty years. In conclusion, findings from all the stages of this research are linked together, to show they provide a sketch of the working brain, fitting within and helping to unify wider contemporary concepts of brain function.
Degree Name: Doctor of Science
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: ICSS; split-brain; EEG; electrocorticogram; cerebral-rhythms; synchronous-oscillation; gamma-synchrony; cortical-embryogenesis; cortical-information-flow; cortical-synaptic-self-organization; brain-organization
Research Type: Thesis