Science in Focus: Vanessa A. Fitsanakis
Random Reality, Part 2
The complexity of the human central nervous system is astounding. A typical human brain has at least 10 to the 11th power neurons, 10 to the 12th-10 to the 13th glial cells, and 10 to the 15th synapses (Changeux and Ricoeur 2000). For the most part, the development of the nervous system is a well-documented process with distinct and recognizable milestones (Tau and Peterson 2010), with multiple genetic and environmental factors that tweak and refine (or disrupt) these stereotypic events (Rubenstein 2011). Given the vast opportunity for things to go wrong, it is amazing that humans end up with functioning nervous systems that detect (sense) and interpret (perceive) stimuli, much less respond. Furthermore, the majority of humans appear to have similar responses to similar sensations.
According to Hsu (2007) and Chown (2009), randomness following the Big Bang was required to provide the vast amount of information currently present in our universe. While this may be the case, the actual application of this randomness results in a limited number of responses from systems upon which the randomness acts. For example, any number of injuries (stroke, concussion, tumor, inflammation, blunt force, etc.) to the occipital lobe (the most posterior lobe of the brain that receives and interprets visual information) could result in blindness or damage to the visual system. Since the occipital lobe is responsible for vision, and not motor (movement), processing, it can only respond within the limits of its physiology. The literature is rife with examples of unique responses to varying brain trauma, particularly in the areas related to memory and the role of the thalamus and hippocampus (Squire, et al. 1989, Corkin 1984, Zola-Morgan, Squire and Amaral 1986)
It is also our exposure to random events that provides our unique personalities and development of the prefrontal cortex, among other regions. Thus, stimulation during embryonic, perinatal, and adolescent development (proceeding even throughout adulthood) continually shapes our neural circuitry, in turn fine-tuning the immense variety of our responses and our ability to be molded by further events. One might argue that without the inherent randomness of experiences, our world would be devoid of the extraordinary diversity found among the human population.
It is outside the ability of scientific tools to prove or disprove the existence of a Divine Being (just as it is difficult, if not impossible, for philosophical tools to prove or disprove basics of cellular structure). But, this does not mean that the two disciplines can't (or shouldn't) complement each other. Belief in a Creator (God) that orchestrated the exponential increase of information following a rapid inflation period (Chown 2009) does not negate the importance of the Creator's influence. Just as a poet has the ability to work within or outside of the constraints of grammatical conventions, God should be granted the ability to work within or outside the apparent constraints of the laws of physics. One could hypothesize that it is trivial to create purpose and order out of a priori purpose and order. Through faith, we acknowledge the power of God to bring order and purpose out of apparent randomness and chaos.
Vanessa A. Fitsanakis is assistant professor of biology at King College in Bristol, Tennessee.
Changeux, JP, and P Ricoeur. What Makes Us Think? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Chown, M. The Matchbox That Ate a Forty Ton Truck: What Everyday Things Tell Us about the Universe. New York: Faber and Faber, 2009.
Corkin, S. "Lasting Consdquences of Bilateral Medial Temporal Lobectomy: Clinical Course and Experimental Findings in HM." Seminar in Neurology, 1984: 249-59.
Hsu, SDH. "Information, Information Processing and Gravity." International Journal of Modern Physics, 2007: 2895-2908.
Rubenstein, JL. "Annual Research Review: Development of the Cerebral Cortex: Implications for Neurodevelopmental Disorders." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 52, no. 4 (2011): 339-55.
Squire, LR, DG Amaral, SM Zola-Morgan, M Kritchevsky, and G Press. "Description of Brain Injury in the Amnesic Patient NA based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging." Experimental Neurology, 1989: 23-35.
Tau, GZ, and BS Peterson. "Normal Development of Brain Circuits." Neuropsychopharmacology 35, no. 1 (2010): 147-68.
Zola-Morgan, S, LR Squire, and D Amaral. "Human Amnesia and the Medial Temporal Region: Enduring Memory Impairment Following a Bilateral Lesion to the CA1 Field of the Hippocampus." Journal of Neuroscience, 1986: 2950-67.
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