by: Danko Nikolić
The brain is like a household appliance. You can wonder how it works. You can disassemble it to see what it consists of, and you can take the challenge of assembling it back. In brain research we disassemble, by doing experiments, and assemble back, through theories.
When reassembling an appliance, an amateur is often left with an extra screw or two, or a spring of some sort, or even with parts of unidentifiable shapes. These leftovers make one wonder whether an engineering error has been made or whether the manufacturing process went wrong when, mistakenly, unneeded components were packed into the device, which–as one has just proven–can work without them. In brain science, everyone is an assembling amateur. The theoretical process leaves us regularly with a mystifying amount of non-fitting empirical results, coming from both behavior and anatomy, and neither of which is plug-able or squeezable into the presumed mechanism of brain function.
This would be like disassembling a modern high-tech multi-functional refrigerator and putting it back into a simple bottle opener. The result may have a use of a sort, but the nearby-laying pile of the left over parts speaks a story too; Something must have gone wrong.
Understanding the brain function is difficult. No one has yet been able to make the pile of the used parts bigger than the other one made of the parts without an obvious function. In other words, any brain theory ever proposed with the ambition to explain how physical processes produce mental capabilities ignored, if not contradicted, more empirical findings than it explained.
But this situation of modern neuroscience is nothing to be afraid of or discouraged by. Actually, we live in the time of the most desirable state of affairs. Anyone who enjoys peeking and poking, thinking, puzzle solving, disassembling and assembling should be glad that the issue has not been settled yet. This way, thousands of neuroscientists around the world are given a chance to work on the most magnificent scientific problem that can be formulated by a human mind while, in the same time, doing something good for their societies and the mankind. We should enjoy the mystery while it lasts.
I have recently proposed a theory of practopoiesis, which is designed to solve the refrigerator problem. This theory should enable us understand the brain i.e., to shrink the pile of the parts without an obvious function. The size of the other, desirable pile should increase.