Where does a brain come from?
While on vacation walking with my wife on the New Jersey shoreline, early one morning we were surrounded by a bubble of light. We could only see about forty feet ahead as if inside a sphere. As we moved so the sphere moved, we could not see the horizon, we had no bearings to measure our progress, the beach was before us, behind us, the sand trail of our feetprints were the only reference points. It was a light mist fog that had created this bubble light effect. I felt attached to the beach yet detached from all else at the same time, inside our Fullerene portable halo. We could hear the crashing of the waves beside us. It gave me a primal contact feeling with early life. A jelly fish appeared in our halo bubble. As I knelt down to examine the creature, I noticed a couple of eye-like things along the creatures circumference form. “I didn’t know these guys had multiple eyes,” I mumbled to myself.
When you become a student of science, the mind starts to connect things, to bring into focus the sweep of Nature. I discovered that jelly fish have at least four eyes, one per quadrant. Looks like they want nothing to sneak up on them. Jelly fish also have light energy sensitive detectors of the general light daily cycle. Each day every day as far back as the first supernovas light arrived at Earth, the daily sun cycle has steadfastly imprinted itself becoming Nature’s watch mechanism. We are a product of that internal clock, as if ticking away in each and every creature of the planet. We are harmonized exquisitely to the daily ritual of being bathed in light, to be followed by dim light beneath the swirling star fields.
When a jelly fish navigates within its liquid neighborhood, the eyes are joined in a loop of connection. The gentle expelling propulsion sweeping each coordinated motion pulse is coordinated through this primitive net ring structure. The jelly fish has no brain yet the jelly fishes sees. So how does he see without a brain ? Is a brain required to interpret the visual field in front of an eye structure? Does Nature build an eye first then build a brain later in stages to make it work better? So does the neural loop act as a brain like network capable of seeing ?
At the beginning, as the dance of evolution swirled, life forms began to get their first networks functioning, systems would in their way of experimentation with its trial and error way of creating sensing systems. As the distant supernova lights arrived, the sweep of form in all its diversity had taken hold in Nature’s playground here on earth.
Going further back in time when the primal oceans were the source of life explosion, sensing systems had evolved in various niche locales. A great marker in the explosion of life in the primitive seas lies as evidence, shapes frozen in fossils. Shapes from creatures that could move, shapes of creatures that could see. Yet recent evidence reveals the shape of jelly fish fossils 300 million years older than the benchmark Cambrian explosion. How could this be ? Eyes happening before brains in the trail of evolution traces, is this possible 800 million years ago?
Other great momentous accomplishments have preceded this first primitive eye. Nature had its own tool kit of assembly. It is those very ancient networks at the heart of the modern brain. When you figuratively look into this new brain that we see in magnetic resonance scanners, what you must work with is the configuration of assembly that created the primal networks in primitive creatures from evolution’s earliest days. What you don’t see in the imprint of an MRI image is how the mechanism works.
I look now to Donald Ingber of Harvard to help unravel this riddle of cellular assembly. Further queries arise. How does Nature build things, what are the backtrackable rules of cellular construction?
When I was working in Duncan Stewart’s laboratory with the nitric oxide-NO gas trying to visualize the three dimension effects as this primal gas self organized small circuits of cells in all directions. At one point I kept hitting my own wall of assumption of cellular assembly. As the first gases leached into what would become our atmoshere, the very oxygen and nitrogen we breath in without any consideration. What was earth like in conditions where the atmosphere was literally building itself, volume by volume onto a planet scale? Gases such as nitric oxide were now available as life made the giant leap from no oxygen, nitrogen anerobic blueprinting toward aerobic life with an oxygen, nitrogen planet conversion. The planet life was learning to take its first breaths.
During Montreal’s great Ice Storm I experienced my first epiphany of scientific grasping. Frustrated at having lost our power I was shut out from work at McGill, which was a first for the university. McGill by the way was the highest consummer of electricity concentrated into Montreal’s electrical grid. Hydro Quebec demanded that all work at McGill would have to stop. Somehow they knew that rabid researchers would still try to sneak into their offices to flick on their computer in a vain attempt to forget the Ice Storm for a few hours. I had forgotten my reading glasses in our student dental plaster room lab as the storm was starting. Being without my reading glasses was worse than being without power. I couldn’t read. Somehow on the sixth day of the storm I convinced McGill Security to open our building in the Strathcona Anatomy building. I was escorted by the security agent to where I had left my glasses. When I first called security that frigid morning I was told they would not be able to pass before 2PM that afternoon. I had four hours to kill. I headed to the Montreal General Library with my latest copy of Scientific American under my arm. One of the articles was titled, The Architecture of Life by Donald Ingber. Despite my squinting through this article I was mesmerized by the article’s message.
Before NO could diffuse through cell walls, my gut sensed an even older system was present than this diffusion system that could get cells to talk to each other harmoniously before using a gas such as NO. Ingber’s article was like turning on the lights in a giant building where you have been groping around in the dark trying to make sense. It’s like being in the maintenance hanger of Air Canada, suddenly before you is a Boing 747 of such enormous proportions right beside you. It took me a few weeks for the Ingber article to sink in to my comprehension. Before diffusion cells self assembled using the building rule of balanced tension with compression. This is how Nature builds things figuring things out in clumps a group of cells in a bacterium, the archebacteria. Be it the sea sponge which is the first life form all life came from on our planet. Be it our planet or a galaxy, all life is scalable in its assembly patterns. Ingber was pointing the way to saying life is shape, shape itself is capable of sensing through shape change. Bang I am back to getting an explanation to Penfield’s tethered brain causing seizures, those brains changed shape. Wow that was my moment of the epiphany- that shape alone can sense itself, is that the base network before a brain can be built? You must know this if you are going to understand something complicated like a brain concussion suffered by Sidney Crosby. You must know these elemental networks to begin to grasp toward understanding the symptoms following the concussion.