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Biological photonics: Can there be light in the brain?

  1. Jan 31, 2013 #1
    Hello, I am a mathematician and i have a personal theory of consciousness. Now, i DID read the rules for the forum, and i am aware that you guys don't want to be bothered with this, up to a point.

    However, i have isolated a key part of my theory in what are possibly satisfactory physical terms. I wish to ask just what is known about possible states of light (or E&M fields of other wavelengths) existing in the brain, i.e. in the biological tissue substrate of grey matter and white matter (or lower brain components). To the best of my knowledge it is not very well understood just what is possible here. Let me post a relevant link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21150047 . My theory would be that the visual field is literal light in the brain in the same physical locations as neurons which detect it AS the visual field. It is implied here that the literal light would be "generated" by other neural activity somehow ultimately originating from the retinas, etc.

    So the thing i want to ask about in this thread is: How much is known with as much certainty as possible (?) about existence, "stability", time evolution, etc of light in this "medium" (brain tissue).

    I am a mathematician. This means that 1) I am not a physicist so some help may be useful in understanding some concepts; 2) I should be able to go pretty far in a discussion which becomes mathematical.

    So, if i understand things properly, this thread (of which this is the Original Post) will need to discuss, possibly, optics, Quantum Mechanics, electromagnetic radiation and QFT.

    Can anyone say anything about this ... [question / issue] i am raising?

    I can provide more clarification, such as it is, if any responder has questions.

    I should mention that i have just joined this forum, and am not familiar with patterns of usage of this specific place on the net, if you will, so please bear with me if i seem a bit out of place.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 31, 2013 #2


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    Gold Member

    Welcome to PhysicsForums, JohnRood!

    Discussion of your personal theories is not allowed in this particular forum. We try to focus on generally accepted science. Your article reference is not suitable in that regard - see forum rules for more on that. There is no practical way for you to discuss the idea by trying to debate it or support it, as that is precisely what the rules are intended to prevent.

    From the description you provided, I would recommend that you take the time to gain background on the subject matter BEFORE you start up with your own hypothesis. There has been substantial research into these areas already - both in the biology of the brain as well as the physics of light. In effect, you are attempting to skip the nuts and bolts of accepted theory to go straight to the outer edges of speculation. Accepted theory has been well-tested and has withstood all kinds of challenges. That is the gold standard in science.

    As to quantum effects in biology: this is a very controversial area and so far the research is far from convincing.
  4. Jan 31, 2013 #3
    Ok, thank you for your response. It might not be the case that i have attempted to short-circuit the physics here. And, maybe it is my own fault that this is not apparent.

    However, i guess you might as well delete this thread. Thank you very mucn.
  5. Jan 31, 2013 #4
    Neurons act via electrical signals, ions, between synapses I suspect.....

    so if ions [charged particles, moving around] there is an electric field....
    I'm unsure if THAT is what would interest you and whether or not field signals
    outside the VISIBLE light spectrum would be of interest.

    You might find some information of interest in Neural Oscillations:


    Note the link to EEG equipment. This proves to me there ARE electromagnetic fields in the brain...we can record them!!!

    The first thing you may want to do is define ' light' for yourself. Light is simply the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum....I believe that light-cones in the eyes are sensitive to that....I suspect brain cell neurons may NOT be....reading about how lightcones record light images and convert them the electrical impulses, moving charges,
    might offer you some insights.

    and here confirms what I thought I remembered:


    A neuron or nerve cell) is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals.

    Sounds intersting.....let us know what you conclude....

    EDIT: john....I see Dr Chinese posted while I was composing...
    If you are able to delete this thread, maybe try again and just ask
    " I wish to ask just what is known about possible states of light (or E&M fields of other wavelengths) existing in the brain..."
    or however you'd like to phrase it....
  6. Jan 31, 2013 #5
    Your question is very general and vague, I can only imagine you're thinking of the brain as some sort of fiber optic hub?

    The biochemistry of neurobiology covers a lot. You can learn more by researching these topics specifically.

    PF isn't going to help much unfortunately.
  7. Jan 31, 2013 #6

    The clearest thing I can say is that even brain cells radiate electromagnetic radiation. But then almost everything does.

    Btw I love those quotes. Though I imagined them being spoken by some MOBA character in the bottom left of my screen.
  8. Jan 31, 2013 #7
    When I was in college, yo those many years ago,[My wife says I would need to add several additional 'many'] I considered bio-medical engineering as I was studying EE..... doing some goggle searching turned up this discussion which may be of interest:


    oh lordy, I now hardly know what those terms might mean...
  9. Jan 31, 2013 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    Correct personal theories are not allowed. If you want to learn about biology I suggest you go and learn biology. A starting point for you would be to look up rhodopsin and its role in visual phototransduction in rod and cone cells to get an understanding of how light is detected then move onto looking into the processes that occur accross the optic nerve and in the visual cortex. To understand this properly you will probably need to learn some basic cell biology too, especially with regards to action potentials and synapse function.

    To come up with a novel hypothesis you must first understand all the subject matter well enough to reasonably speculate. Trying to do it backwards like this will waste your time and inhibit your understanding by encouraging a bias perception of the subject matter.
  10. Jan 31, 2013 #9
    Now i am getting confused about procedures in this forum. I thought this thread was nixed by the admin.

    Actually, i know more than i have said yet. Let me say a bit more.

    I am aware that light is E&M fields of a certain frequency. I know that these are detected by molecules as photons in the specific sense that the detection is quantized by energy levels.

    I have some knowledge of quantum theory, even QFT at the level of an amateur, but a mathematician.

    I also have a certain amount of familiarity with specific research which has been done on light in the brain. I believe that the mean free path of travel of a light wave in brain tissue, for example is of the order of millimeters, which is much greater than the width of a cell (not including axons of neurons which can extend "vast" (on this scale of length) distances).

    There is a substantial study of "biophotons" thse days. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophoton There are even some groups of researchers who argue that neural transmission is NOT solely electrical, but includes photonic transmission. Here is a random reference on that topic: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20221457 .

    I have some familiarity with various relevant parts of AI vision research, also DSP (filtering theory of images, for example) etc.

    It might be useful for me to mention that what i actually did say in my Original Post was quite precise in a certain way. I believe that there is no such thing as a "homonculus" etc (presumably most readers of this forum will agree) but i specifically feel that the "light" (EM) phenomena i conjecture to exist in the brain are the RESULT of the activity of certain sets (network(s)) of neurons, and are DETECTED (read: perceived, but this is a very funny way of theorizing about perception) by other sets (network(s)) of neurons.

    This is supposed to be a solution to the philosophical question of how can vision be the action of a subject (seeing) objects. The subject "is" the detecting neurons, if you will. The (post-processed by much computation beyond the retina, mostly in the brain ) objects ARE images "represented by" actual light.

    The most clear (elementary) paradigm of my idea is the theory of perception of PHOSPHENES. A phosphene is clearly a completely internal (to the brain) event. Often it is spontaneous. It seems to me that it is inescapable to define it as an instance of (an elementary form of) seeing. So what is the physics of it? What can it mean that you "see" a point of light flash on and off among your mostly dark afterimages? This has to reduce to physics. I have the definite impression that no physicist can adequately explain this.

    Let me make a further comment of some possible relevance, sticking my neck out a bit. I have read parts of von Neumann's Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, specifically the last chapter in which he *defines* the collapse of the wave function. If you go to that book, the (original?) definition of this hypothetical phenomenon, you will find that the main arguments he adduces in favor of the collapse are psychological. This makes an impression on me.

    Now, a word or two more. These hypothetical E&M fields which "intervene" in vision (and ARE mental images, on my hypothesis) have some purposes which, on my hypothesis, cannot be achieved by simple electrical neural interactions. Specifically i conjecture that all of some of the following depend essentially on the existence of E&M fields in the brain: Stability of vision [the images on the retina jump around wildly even over short time frames], smoothing of visual perception [i believe it is pretty commonly felt among vision researchers that this is intrinsic to vision--again it is not the case with the retinal impulses], recognition of forms [which is taken to be "algorithmic" in the theory of neural nets, but i conjecture it is (must be?) more than this], in this regard, i mention well known and studied "field effects" of the Gestalt psychologists, etc, perception of space in the "crude" form of a sort of psychophysical synthetic a priori--the fields have "images" and location as part of them "intrinsically".

    Here is the second word more. If, under normal daytime conditions of activity, you close your eyes, something disappears. I have a neologism for the thing which disappears: zeese. Hypothetically a philosopher would say "Zeese is qualia." The POINT here is THAT THERE IS something which disappears. What can it be in physical terms? How much can physics say about this question, even assuming a physical monism as basis of one's belief system? This is a question about PHYSICS, not philosophy, if the reader understands the issue i am trying to raise.

    I seek to [know / discuss] the known limits physics places on this kind of reasoning. I have the very definite impression, as mentioned by Dr. Chinese in his response to the OP, that this is controversial at the least, and, more likely, a matter of ignorance as far as science (let alone physics) is concerned.

    It surprised me to learn that more or less nothing definite is known on this type of question.

    To the moderator, i will close this thread, or remove any specific post if you ask.

    However, at the moment, i seem to have generated some reasonable responses. Please clarify the situation / status of the present thread.

    Thank you.

    Reaction to my thoughts?
  11. Jan 31, 2013 #10


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    Staff: Mentor

    Sorry but this was meant to be closed after my last post. If you want to learn about specific topics then feel free to ask in the appropriate forum e.g. "I've read X about the visual cortex but don't understand why" but trying to bolster your personal theory is not what Pf is for. Also for clarity a moderator has a green name.
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