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[Neuroscience] Re: How many neurons are used?

Glen M. Sizemore gmsizemore2 at yahoo.com
Sun Jun 18 03:58:59 EST 2006

"Matthew Kirkcaldie" <m.kirkcaldie at removethis.unsw.edu.au> wrote in message 
news:m.kirkcaldie-1FAE7E.09415718062006 at un-2park-reader-01.sydney.pipenetworks.com...
> In article <aeu792trjo2ara5fumll5sm3hm1jfv3jp2 at 4ax.com>,
> r norman <NotMyRealEmail at _comcast.net> wrote:
>> On 16 Jun 2006 23:11:06 -0700, "chadmaester"
>> <chad.d.johnson at gmail.com> wrote:
>> >How many neurons, on average, are used to make sense of a commonly-used
>> >(i.e., well-understood) word, just in a normal conversation, and
>> >without regard to visual or auditory processing? For instance, when you
>> >hear a word it makes you think of something else. That is what I am
>> >after.
>> What you ask cannot be answered because we do not understand the steps
>> used to process sounds into words into meanings and, especially, to
>> associate one idea of something related.
>> However we do know that what you describe involves many large regions
>> of the brain so that certainly many millions of cells would be
>> involved.
>> We can count the small number of cells involved in having a sound
>> "register" in the auditory region of the brain.  However there is no
>> way even to begin to describe what is involved in producing the
>> reaction "I heard that!".
> You know, I mentally drafted a response to Chad's question and it was
> spookily, uncannily, exactly the same.  Even down to the order of the
> points, the initial "no-one knows how" and then "however".  All I would
> add is that the most accurate answer that could be given is which
> regions of the brain increase their blood supply when these kinds of
> tasks are performed.
> I must be honing my didactic skills!
> Thanks for your questions Chad - even when there is no answer it's a
> great reminder of the gulf between what we know and what we would like
> to know ... !

Despite the auto-congratulatory, arm-breaking back-patting of 
neuroscientists, we understand very, very little about how the nervous 
system mediates behavioral function. We are about at the level where we 
understand habituation of the gill-withdrawal reflex in Aplysia.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not denigrating behavioral or (rettttcccchhhh) 
"cognitive" neuroscience. I am however, being highly critical of the 
conceptualizations that have come to underlie the field (and for that we can 
"thank" mainstream psychology). For example, look at Dr. Norman's* offhand: 
"we do not understand the steps used to process sounds into words into 
meanings." What are the assumptions that are involved in this statement? 
Does it really make sense to say that "sounds are processed into words into 

 *And I am not denigrating Norman, for whom I have great respect.

>      Cheers, MK. 

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