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question: job of a neuron

Richard Norman rsnorman at mediaone.net
Thu Sep 6 19:27:31 EST 2001


On Thu, 06 Sep 2001 22:31:52 GMT, "Tyler Sherkin"
<t_sherkin at hotmail.com> wrote:

>*looks at previous posts in thread*
>
>Oh boy do I feel like I'm about to open a big can of worms...
>
>Since you all seem so happy to answer this question, I have a basic question
>of my own.
>
>First, I have absolutely no base in neuroscience whatsover, just to set the
>tone.
>
>What is it about neurons (or the structure of a neural network) that allows
>all of these neurons working together to produce a greater effect than just
>the single neuron?
>
>How are they working together, and are there any other organs/structures
>involved?
>
>Thanks,
>
>Tyler
>
>PS - High school biology does not cover this, but I'm interested. Thanks
>again, beforehand.
>

The concept is that of "emergent properties".  That is, the whole is
greater than the sum of the parts.

A good example is a negative feedback regulatory system -- the classic
example is the heating/air conditioninig system in your house.  It
keeps the temperature inside quite constant regardless of how hot or
how cold it gets outside.  The combined action of the system --
thermostat with temperature sensor, set point, and error calculator,
plus the machinery of the furnace and the air conditioner, results in
maintaining a constant temperature -- regulation.  This is something
that no component alone can do. 

The system is actually greater than the sum of the parts.  It is the
sum of the parts combined with the specific way they interact with
each other.  Changing the pattern of interaction without changing any
of the parts can convert the negative feedback to positive, resulting
in catastrophically hot or cold conditions.

In mathematics, a set of coupled or linked equations has a behavior
that is determined by its "characteristic values" or "eigenvalues".
These are properties of the ensemble of equations, not of any one
specific equation.  Again, the behavior of the system can be very
different from the behavior of all of the separate pieces.




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