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Medical How does the Brain work?

  1. Aug 22, 2009 #1
    I've been trying to find some very specific information about the workings of the Human Brain. I've tried going through Wikipedia reading about each part, but many of the terms are confusing (I'm obviously not an expert) and they aren't organized in any way which is helpful to me.

    I've learned some basic things (It's been a while, I'll probably get something wrong here), like that memory is the managed in the hippocampus, that the Thalamus System is where all (or most) inputs from our sense first come through, and some basic info on the various cortices.

    But there are many parts I still don't understand, like the Cerebellum, or where muscle impulses come from, how memory is formed stored, where information goes after it passes through the Thalamus. I don't even know what the Thalamus does.

    I was hoping that making this thread here will attract some experts to lend me a hand in my search. Any of my questions answered would be most helpful.

    To get an understanding of what I know:

    Not much of biology aside from the basics. I have about a high school level of understanding in biology with a bit of extra knowledge here and there. But I'm currently in my 2nd year of University.

    - Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2009 #2


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    A more reliable source than Wikipedia for self study is

    It's free on pubmed, the navigation is clunky, but you can search eg. for "thalamus" on the above page.

    The Introduction of this paper should give a quick overview of current uncertainties/research on the thalamus. Use the "free" link on the top right to get to it - many papers now become free 6 months after publication because of a recent NIH policy: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/...nel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2009
  4. Aug 23, 2009 #3
    yes young rascal the brain is very oddly wired and a wonder to many..

    i am a 30 year survivor of TBI ..
    memory is one of the main things that is affected by this unseen injury.
    memory is created via many diff pathways
    i can not replete a phone number to you after being told it
    i can recall it much better when it is written down
    it affects some logic venues also
    many times i know some thing but can not access why i know it thus
    i am in trouble for NOT telling some one why said to do some thing in X manner
    or i try to tell some one some thing i can not describe it so they know what i am saying of.

    i tested for navy exams to do any thing they had (nuclear power,ocs, ect)
    i Never did any home work in HS only read the book and took the test

    now i can not recall the main charters name in a book i read
    you could not read what i am wrighting if i did not have a spell checker
    at a grocery store i can tell you with in sales tax what the bill will be
    but can not tell you why or how i can do this..
    i know that there are layers in the brain and that neuron exchange is important
    there are path ways from the out side surface to the inter regions and
    that the due to differences in layers a shock wave rebounding off the sides of the skull
    will damage those path ways it can reduce the number of paths and then
    there is a over load of the ones left.. the brain gets tired and has to
    refresh it self in replenishing the chemicals it uses to transmit.

    i have found that if i get up set or happy i remember much better what happened
    but i may hunt for two hrs for my keys 10 times a week

    yes you should study the brain.. it is amusing that it works as well as it does
  5. Aug 26, 2009 #4

    I'm a neurobiology student. Can you give us some precise questions?
  6. Aug 26, 2009 #5


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    In my case, the answer is 'poorly'.
  7. Aug 26, 2009 #6
    Thank you, when I get some free time I'll take a nice long look.

    I'm sorry to hear you've suffered. But thank you for sharing. Indeed, knowing how the brain functions, not only in the normal state, but in the extreme state of injury helps us understand how it works. I hope one day scientists will know enough where neurological problems will be a non-issue, one day.

    About the overall flow of information:

    What is the flow of information in the brain?
    Where does the information from sense first come into the brain?
    Where is it processed? (Where does the information go while in there?)
    Where does it leave, what controls our muscles?
    Where is the sub conscious and how does it tie into information flowing through the brain?

    I'm not sure how hard the questions are to answer, but I appreciate the help you are providing me. You seem very excited to help, thanks. :)

    PS: I have many more specific questions, but lets take it slow. :p
  8. Aug 26, 2009 #7
    Salbris....you should read the book
    "the man who thought his wife was a hat"
    this book has some ... amusing and enlightening cases in it.
    and a link you might look at..:

    perhaps kldickson
    would also care to
    look in to and comment on some of the things/effects i spoke of ref the TBI?
    i have been told that not often does a long term survivor care to speak of it..
    esp one that can follow the medical speak of it and contribute to the discussion..
    i view it as not that diff then discussing a missing leg and phantom limb..
    he may also care to comment on the following also..

    additionally i recently experienced another brain effect were i posted in visual thread
    here is copy of what i posted :::
    """"in the Jest the Last week I experienced a strange vision issue!!
    things suddenly seem brighter .. then suddenly my vision got
    "nothingness " spots!!!
    i could not see a yellow dog in front of a light tan/gray fence!!
    looking at my blue jeans i only saw blue lines weaving around brown spots..
    sun glasses helped for jest a few moments
    then i had to go inside as it hurt to "look"
    not like were they dilate your eyes and it the light hurts your eyes..
    i also had cramps in my arms and legs..

    at the ER on Saturday (aug 25 ) i got the bad news
    that the visual effect with the start of cramps in my arms meant
    i was suffering heat stroke !!!
    that it happen 3 days in a row more then two times each day
    made the doctor tell me i was lucky grand daddy to be alive still.

    the visual effects were generated in the cerebral cortex and were evidence of damage starting in the 'miniscua sheath" ( sp and may have wrong term)
    covering of the nerves in the brain..
    cramping of the arms and body evidence that damage in the motor cortex also was occurring

    advice to any one with some thing different happening in visual experience
    get to a ER ASAP!!!""""
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2009
  9. Aug 26, 2009 #8


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    The enthusiasm of kldickson notwithstanding (pssst...welcome to PF kldickson), since the questions you have seem to be very general...and numerous...and you indicate that you do not have much biology background to start with, here is my suggestion. First, obtain a copy of a college level introductory biology text...something meant for bio majors, such as Campbell's Biology. No need to buy the book, just find it in a library. Read the chapters that pertain to the nervous system (not just the brain). THEN come back and ask specific questions about the things you still don't understand...each question in a different thread. Too many questions in one thread, or too general of questions are hard to answer on a forum when there are multiple textbook chapters dedicated to explaining the answers to those questions. But, if you read the text and then need help understanding specific parts of it, or want to know more or where to look for more detailed information about the parts that really interest you, that's something more conducive to discussion on a forum.
  10. Aug 26, 2009 #9
    howdy moonbear!
    well he and most on this thread are newbies , inc me ..
    yes to the point questions are nice and easy to answer
    some how i feel the OP does not know enough to know what
    he wants to ask..
    a help full hint for newbies (from those that really know)
    have would be to post links to some general info on line
    easier to click to asap and read then them..
    and some times it is only a general desire for info that brings some one here..

    exchange of knowledge is a wonderful thing ..
    like i offer personal knowledge of tbi and its effects
    which you will not find in a book ..
    but yes all grasshoppers need to learn how to learn
    and it is elders that will point them to the way..
  11. Aug 26, 2009 #10
    I think the brain develops through our genetic code, likely chaos/complexity plays a role in neuronal placement and brain development overall as well. I think once in tact, the brain interacts with the environment as an input and output device. Neuronal firing correlates with the external environment, this is why we are able to learn new things (change the environment and we will have to process and ultimately learn new info and skills). I think the brain is fully deterministic, I'm even open to random neurons firing, but free-will is metaphysical and obsolete.
  12. Aug 26, 2009 #11


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    However, in order for someone to understand what you are talking about in the case of TBI, they need to get those basics from a book. Textbooks are valuable resources. When someone is new to a subject, they are a good place to begin to help refine their questions. While people may crave the quick click on a link type responses for immediate gratification, sometimes you need to take the time to get the longer answer. The OP is seeking a lot of general information, not asking one specific question. I can't offer a link that will give them a good general overview of the nervous system with the same quality of explanation as a textbook will offer. This is why I recommended a specific author, so the OP can find a textbook of the appropriate level. This elder recommends to the grasshopper that learning begins with a book, not a link, and patience is a virtue. :wink:
  13. Aug 26, 2009 #12
    This I know all to well. I too am a believer of determinism, especial in the brain.

    I'm more interested in how the general neural network is designed in the brain. Being deterministic it is ultimately replicate-able and the prospects of a truly artificial mind are incredible.

    I'm not really so happy about reading a text book to find some fairly general questions. I don't need to understand the exact mechanism of chemical interactions between cells, I just need to know how they occur, in what variety, etc. I don't need to know how signals are created and sent within a nerve cell just, where they are sent. I don't need to know about every nerve in the body, just in general the purpose of nerves in the body and more specifically nerves in the brain.

    Reading a text will yield the result I yearn, but I'll also be reading a lot of extra "garbage" I do not want to learn.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2009
  14. Aug 27, 2009 #13
    The flow of information in the brain largely depends on what's being transmitted. Not everything goes through the thalamus.

    The information from sense first comes into the brain via either the spinal cord or the cranial nerves, which transmit the information to the appropriate processing center.

    Processing centers in the brain vary. For example, the main visual processing center is the occipital lobe, which only processes visual information.

    Information leaves the brain through afferent neurons in the same nerves that go to the spinal cord and brain, which send signals to the muscles they innervate to move.

    The subconscious is really just a construct by psychologists; it is not in any particular region of the brain that we have been able to find. Think of the mind as something you do rather than a noun.

    Brains are plastic. Different kinds of memory functions are affected by brain injury, depending on where it is. Remembering a phone number audially is different from remembering written information. In addition, declarative memory is not similar to procedural types of memorizing.

    Yes. Read a textbook. It's clear you don't have the understanding of basic biology needed to pursue further questions on this, even if you ignore what you've told us about how much biology you know. High school biology is woefully inadequate to cover what people should know about how organisms are driven.

    The brain's development is a combination of genetic and environmental influence; there are clear patterns that arise in brains exposed to various stimuli. Neuronal firing not only correlates with the external environment but with the person's neurochemical milieu.

    It's not garbage. The thing about the brain is that every system is dependent on its subsystems; you'll get a better understanding of those systems if you know about their components. Knowing how signals arise in a nerve cell will give you a better understanding of why they're propagated where they are by what propagates them.
  15. Aug 28, 2009 #14

    Andy Resnick

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  16. Aug 29, 2009 #15
    yes grass hopper you need to heed elders on this to understand well
    i studied to were i could understand most of it
    but then i had a personal cause driving me
    then promptly did not remember it much detail at all
    but when there is talk some how i understand what is being said
    hee hee and i may have been the one testing your local nuclear plant !
    real life is stranger then fiction..
  17. Aug 29, 2009 #16
    Would it be useful to understand artificial neuro networks?
  18. Aug 30, 2009 #17


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    Cambell's Biology textbook is actually really concise and fascinating. I found very little information that wasn't applicable to something. (perhaps not necessarily on a test... but... :p ) When I was taking General Biology, I read certain sections that weren't assigned simply because they were really interesting. If you could find it in a Library or borrow it from someone, the section on the brain itself starts in the pp.1070s. Just before that is an overview of the Central Nervous System and the Peripheral Nervous System.

    Since I took biology from a cell biologist, we hardly touched on the CNS as a big picture, but spent lots of time understanding dendrites and axons and neurons... I'm assuming this will be important to know later in my education...
    I know it's good to know about the things happening on a cellular level, but sometimes I lose track of how to apply it to the organismal level, which I think is more interesting.
    But I digress.

    My suggestion, if there are no textbooks at your library, is to find a College bookstore and read the textbook for introductory Biology there without buying it. Campbell is standard. Possibly a used copy, since many of Cambell's Biology books often come with a cd that's shrink-wrapped to the book. Depending on the college, they might even have a neurobiology class and a neurobiology book that you can flip through.
    Anyways, they can't kick you out, and they can't force you to buy it.
    I have friends who study for tests in humanities classes this way.
  19. Aug 31, 2009 #18
    Why are people suggesting Cambell for the questions the original poster is asking? That is a general biology book and would be full of a lot of irrelevant information. Why not recommend an introductory neuroscience book like Kandel Schwartz and Jessel, or Squire et. al. or Purves...? These books are not so hard to read and if I remember correctly, their introductory chapters are really quite introductory.

    Edit: aren't there also even more introductory neuroscience textbooks like Bear, Connors and Paradiso?
  20. Aug 31, 2009 #19


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    Yes, in-credible as in not credible. The more the OP actually studies this area the less reason he will find to dream of machine intelligence.

    But for his purposes, he ought to just get on with neural networks - Grossberg's ART literature would be the best place to start I would suggest. Grossberg does capture the fundamentals as well as anyone has.


    A good starter.....
    Grossberg, S. (1995). The attentive brain. Invited article for American Scientist, 83, 438-449. Preliminary version appears as Boston University Technical Report CAS/CNS-TR-95-012. Available in PDF (groASAttBra1995.pdf)(1.24Mb)

    Clearly one of the lessons Salbris has yet to learn about brains is that they are generalising systems. And so the effort involved in disgesting a lot of particulars is how they move towards meaningful relationships with the worlds they inhabit.
  21. Aug 31, 2009 #20

    First of all neurally-inspired computer systems are common research topics especially in computer vision. Apeiron is showing his own particular bias by saying that.

    Second, don't read Grossberg unless you go to Boston University. No one outside of BU reads his stuff.

    Do read David Marr. Everyone in the "computational" side of theoretical neuroscience reads David Marr.
    For the "physics" side of theoretical neuroscience... read... probably Larry Abbott is a good choice.
  22. Sep 1, 2009 #21
    when i toyed with them in school years ago, they were mostly just used for pattern-matching. not terribly reliable, but pretty useful when you've got no clue how to attack the problem with more traditional tools.
  23. Sep 1, 2009 #22


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    Cincinnatus - You're welcome to your own biases. But really. You're talking about a field that is very well known to me. So if you can explain the errors in Grossberg's approach, please enlighten us all.

    The amusing part is that I've chatted to Grossberg about this very issue of his Dangerfield-like lack of respect. I was there at the time people like McClelland and Kelso were realising their "new" ideas were already Grossberg's old ideas. While others like Hinton and Sejnowski could not even see this fact, being the bullish characters they are.

    So the usual academic bunfights are involved here - creating a received impression that you are sadly perpetuating. Though I presume from ignorance rather than malice.

    Anyway, to give you a flavour of the case for the defence, here is a snippet of correspondence from about 15 years back. Grossberg wrote:

    "For example, I (and my colleagues Mike Cohen and Ennio Mingolla) predicted
    in 1984 the type of horizontal connections that are now all the rage, just
    before von der Heydt, Peterhands, and Baumgartner reported the first
    neurophysiological evidence for it in cortical area V2 in their famous
    Science article. I introduced a model of depressing synapses in PNAS in
    1968. Larry Abbott and Henry Markram et al. are popularizing them now. I
    discussed the influence of retrograde dendritic spikes in the mid-1970's.
    It is now a fad. I lectured on cortical synchronization as part of ART to
    Singer in Munich in the late 1970's. Again, he has made it into a big fad.
    So this has been going on for quite a while. Often the earlier work doesn't
    even get cited, because the collective memory of the field hardly ever
    stretches back more than 5 years. So what you see over 4 years is perhaps
    the collective amnesia of the field!"
  24. Sep 1, 2009 #23
    Apeiron- I should be careful here... if you are still in the Boston computational neuroscience community then there is a pretty decent chance that we actually know each other.

    I would guess that the real reason people don't read Grossberg's work is because he makes up too many words. How many different versions of ART are there?
  25. Sep 1, 2009 #24
    when discussing what others write in a book
    many have differing thoughts on what was said

    the more some learn the more they may disagree with what others think
    conversely some may be more willing to listen to differing thoughts..

    i have learned in my study of TBI that there are many differing thoughts
    of how things dont work..
    with the mind in abstract as to thought and being human
    there are many things that cause similar symptoms
    the brain in fact as a organ is still under investigation
    every day there are discovers of new ways the brain connects
    that once were thought unlikely
    we are jest now at the point of knolage to see how the smallest
    aspect fits in to the whole thing..

    it is not surprising that some thoughts form years ago
    are being seen in new findings
    nor is it surprising that thoughts from years ago are
    found to not be the way

    healthy exchange is important
    that observations from time back is found to be valid is cool..
    but still it was skilled observation that had to be validated

    credit and accolades should be given to such ..
    hailed as discovery with out data .. well ...
    we should listen to skilled observers..
    and encourage researchers to confirm or tear it to pieces thoes observations
    any thing less is not ... wow i cant find the word ...
  26. Sep 1, 2009 #25


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    There are valid technical reasons to criticise Grossberg's models. I was raising those aspects at the time. Particularly over how ART and BCS might map to cortical circuitry. And his support for a Goodale-style approach to dorsal/ventral paths.

    And he made "marketing" errors, like having a model for every mental function, and talking too freely about consciousness at the wrong time, publishing in minor places, over-claiming on the technological applications.

    But still I found him to be the most correct thinker in a deep way. The whole anticipation-based approach. The plasticity-stability dilemma. The LTM-STM scalar hierarchy.
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