[Neuroscience] Re: How many neurons are used?

r norman NotMyRealEmail at _comcast.net
Sun Jun 18 06:03:50 EST 2006

On Sun, 18 Jun 2006 04:58:59 -0400, "Glen M. Sizemore"
<gmsizemore2 at yahoo.com> wrote:

>"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.

I do understand what you are saying about my comments and I agree
entirely with you except that I would guess that even the Aplysia
gill-withdrawal still has a number of surprises for us.  Still, the
original poster posed a question and it is necessary to use words to
answer that question.  We do speak of language in terms of "words" and
"meanings".  Whether these abstract concepts have any place inside the
brain is another story.  Still, something is going on up there to make
us believe (whatever THAT means) that there do exist words with
meanings.  And we truly do not even have a clue what is going on
except that membrane channels open and ions go in and out.

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