Long-standing problems

The theory of Practopoiesis offers solutions to the following long-standing problems in neuroscience and philosophy of mind:

1. Why does the brain generate spontaneous activity?

Short answer: What looks as “spontaneous” activity reflects in fact the process of brain’s continuous adaptations—which is in fact the very process of generating cognition. In other words, the main function of the brain is not to “respond to inputs”; rather its main functioning is founded in continual internal adjustments. These adjustments take place with and without stimuli.

2. Why does our working memory have such a narrowly limited capacity?

Short answer: Because the content of working memory does not simply result from copying information from one register to another. Instead, the content of working memory is the result of the operations needed to understand the inputs and to prepare the brain for interactions with those inputs. The content of working “memory” is thus created by the very process that powers our cognition and intelligence. Working memory IS our cognition.

3. How do nerve cells manage to interact globally i.e., how do they create a global workspace?

Short answer: Global interactions results from the practopoietic loop of causation in which fast adaptive systems of neurons change the way those nervous respond to inputs, which in turn changes the inputs to other neurons, which then affect fast adaptive processes of those other neurons. And the cycle of interactions is closed in this way through equi-level interactions.

4. How does the downward causation—i.e., causation from the mind to the body—take place within the nervous system?

Short answer: See Downward pressure for adjustment.

5. How do perception and action come together?

Short answer: In adaptive systems, perception does not correspond to “representation”. I.e, when we see a chair, no flag “chair” is being raised. Instead, to perceive means to prepare the nervous system for interaction with whatever object has been perceived. To perceive a chair means to know how to act, and to be ready to act on this chair.

6. What is the function of various homeostatic mechanisms (including the mechanisms of neural adaptation and sensitization)?

Short answer: These mechanisms are much more important than what has been traditionally assumed. These mechanisms lay in the heart of our cognitive processes. To think is to adapt.

7. Where are concepts located in the brain?

Short answer: Concepts are stored in the rules on how to quickly adapt to certain stimuli. According to practopoiesis, these rules are learned by slow adaptation mechanisms; every neuron slowly learns how to quickly adapt to stimuli.

8. What does it mean to “understand” something as opposed to just memorize a fact by rote?

Short answer: Understanding emerges from application of anapoiesis, which is in fact the application of fast adaptation processes.

9. What is the difference between being aware of something as opposed to merely representing information about that something?

Short answer: Representation is static, like storing information in a drawer (and creating the danger of forgetting about it when it is needed). In contrast, during awareness, various fast adaption mechanisms affect each other through perpetual execution of practopoietic loop of causation. This produces a global workspace across the entire nervous system. As a result, information remains in awareness as it affects actions globally, the effect being most strong exactly at the moment when the information is most needed.

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