Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate

By Walter J. Freeman | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Nerve Energy and Neuroactivity

For the wayward sceptic ... will discard the dogma which an introspective critic might be tempted to think self-evident, namely that he himself lives and thinks. That he must do so is true; but to establish that truth he must appeal to animal faith. If he is too proud for that, and simply stares at the datum, the last thing he will see is himself.

George Santayana ( 1923)

The revolution in the 17th century with the emergence of dynamics as the science of change was truly comprehensive, owing to the abstractness that accompanied the use of equations. Euclid's geometry was one thing; calculus was quite another. The equations required novel concepts of space, time, and causality; brought much higher standards of numerical precision in describing and predicting phenomena; and forced scientists to define more carefully that which changes. In order for us to understand the assumptions on which modern neuroscience is based, we have to see them from the historical perspective of how they evolved into their present form, with emphasis on that which changes.


2.1 Dynamics and Descartes

Zeno's paradox in ancient times held that for an arrow to reach its target it had to cover half the distance, but half of that first, and so forth. By infinite regression it was inferred never to have started at all. This paradox was resolved in the 17th century with the invention by Leibniz and Newton of the calculus of infinitesimals ( McLaughlin 1994). As the distance of travel decreased, so also did the time needed to cross it. In the limit, as the distance and time increments both approached zero, their ratio approached a finite value, the velocity. This brilliant innovation opened the development of dynamics to supercede the static physics of the ancient world.

The acceptance and success of this new way of thinking was solidly grounded in the new precision of prediction. The modeling of the solar system and the tides ( Peterson 1993) was

-27-

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Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Societies of Brains - A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Prologue 1
  • Chapter 1 - Brains and Minds 9
  • Chapter 2 - Nerve Energy and Neuroactivity 27
  • Chapter 3 - Sensation and Perception 44
  • Chapter 4 - Intention and Movement 68
  • Chapter 5 - Intentional Structure and Thought 93
  • Chapter 6 - Learning and Unlearning 111
  • Chapter 7 - Self and Society 135
  • Epilogue 155
  • Notes 159
  • References 177
  • Index 197
  • Glossary of Terms Used with Special Meanings [page] 203
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