Your brain is like a pile of sand


From Disorderly genius: How chaos drives the brain

your brain operates on the edge of chaos. Though much of the time it runs in an orderly and stable way, every now and again it suddenly and unpredictably lurches into a blizzard of noise.

systems on the edge of chaos are said to be in a state of “self-organised criticality“. These systems are right on the boundary between stable, orderly behaviour – such as a swinging pendulum – and the unpredictable world of chaos, as exemplified by turbulence.

experiments have confirmed that these models accurately describe what real brain tissue does. They build on the observation that when a single neuron fires, it can trigger its neighbours to fire too, causing a cascade or avalanche of activity that can propagate across small networks of brain cells. This results in alternating periods of quiescence and activity – remarkably like the build-up and collapse of a sand pile.

Fred C Yankowski

Batavia, U.S.A.
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