Intelligent Design

NIH Director: Each Neuron is Different

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In his blog post this week on the neuroscience research of Columbia’s Sean Escola, NIH Director Francis Collins makes the obvious, yet too often overlooked point that each of the hundred billion or so neurons in the human brain is different. In our profound ignorance it is easy to view the brain like a pile of pudding, achieving its fantastic abilities through a lucky mixture of the right chemicals. But of course, nothing could be farther from the truth and Collins’ observations helps to disabuse us of such folly. If you have ever wired up a machine you will understand. It is not just a pile of wires that somehow happen to get it right. Each wire has its own, unique function, attaching to two specific connectors. Things are astronomically more complicated in the brain, as its “wires” are not merely a conduit of electrical charge but an incredibly complex cell called a neuron. And each neuron does not merely attach to two distant connectors, but rather to hundreds or thousands of connectors. And each connection is nothing like a simple soldering attachment. In the brain they are called synapses and with thousands of molecular-scale switches researchers compare them to microprocessors.  Read more

16 Replies to “NIH Director: Each Neuron is Different

  1. 1
    Box says:

    C.Hunter:

    But on top of all that, each neuron is different. A hundred billion different, unique neurons, each having a different, unique function. Each forming a different, unique set of synapses. We have not even begun to understand all of this neural circuitry, let alone how to design or build anything like it. And yet we insist it all must have arisen spontaneously, as a result of random mutations. That is not science, that is absurdity.

    Where does the information for hundred billion different Baupläne come from? Where is it stored?
    And where does the information for the overall scheme of coordination come from?

    I’m just asking ….

  2. 2
    cantor says:

    1 Box July 11, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    Where does the information for hundred billion different Baupläne come from? Where is it stored?
    And where does the information for the overall scheme of coordination come from?

    I’m just asking

    In science, as in life, it’s OK to answer “We don’t know”

    ~

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    What is “information” in this case?

  4. 4
    Virgil Cain says:

    The same as the information required to build cars, computers, jets…

  5. 5
    Mapou says:

    Depending on where a neuron is, there are simple rules that govern how connections are made. For example, you could have a rule that says, if input synapse A contributes to the firing of its target neuron x number of times, make it permanent. You’d be amazed how powerful such simple rules can be.

    Some connections are determined strictly genetically. An axon is programmed to search for the specific mRNA markers of its target neuron. But most connections in the cortex are made using simple learning rules.

  6. 6
    Box says:

    Mapou: there are simple rules that govern how connections are made.

    Some simple rules build neurons and the brain? Is that your explanation?

  7. 7
    Mapou says:

    By the way, most of the complexity of a neuron is due to the fact that a neuron is living tissue with all kinds of nutritional, metabolic and other biochemical requirements. Even the firing of a neuron requires a lot more complexity than would be needed to fire a simulated neuron. One reason is that a neuron is both hardware and software in one package.

    So I don’t think one should point to the complexity of a neuron as a valid argument against the possibility of building an equally intelligent machine. The complexity requirements for machine intelligence are orders of magnitude less than the requirements for biological intelligence.

    That being said, brain complexity is an impossible challenge for Darwinian evolution.

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    Virgil Cain @ 4

    The same as the information required to build cars, computers, jets…

    That information originates with a purpose conceived in the mind of a designer. It comprises abstractions and symbols used to represent and model the thing to be designed. It is expressed in the form of computer models, design schematics, blueprints, etc, all of which can be found quite separate from the thing being designed.

    In the case of living organs like the brain, we have no unambiguous evidence of a designer, no models, design schematics or blueprints and the only modeling languages we have for such things are those we have devised after the event for ourselves.

  9. 9
    Virgil Cain says:

    Seversky:

    That information originates with a purpose conceived in the mind of a designer.

    Captain Obvious strikes again.

    In the case of living organs like the brain, we have no unambiguous evidence of a designer,

    Of course we do. You just don’t know how to assess the evidence.

    The genetic code is a real code just as Morse code is a real code. There is only one source for codes and Captain Obvious knows what that is.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    As to Box at 1:

    But on top of all that, each neuron is different. A hundred billion different, unique neurons, each having a different, unique function. Each forming a different, unique set of synapses. We have not even begun to understand all of this neural circuitry, let alone how to design or build anything like it. And yet we insist it all must have arisen spontaneously, as a result of random mutations. That is not science, that is absurdity.

    Where does the information for hundred billion different Baupläne come from? Where is it stored?
    And where does the information for the overall scheme of coordination come from?
    I’m just asking ….

    That is a very good question Box. The common neo-Darwinian belief is that all the information that is needed for a body plan resides within the DNA of the egg of an organism. And that that information simply unfolds into the body plan of an organism during embryo-genesis.
    But as the ‘beyond belief’ complexity of the human brain makes clear, that ‘knee-jerk’ answer from neo-Darwinists, as to where the information for body plans resides, i.e. in DNA, is far from a satisfactory answer.

    Stephen Meyer states part of the problem this way:

    ‘Now one more problem as far as the generation of information. It turns out that you don’t only need information to build genes and proteins, it turns out to build Body-Plans you need higher levels of information; Higher order assembly instructions. DNA codes for the building of proteins, but proteins must be arranged into distinctive circuitry to form distinctive cell types. Cell types have to be arranged into tissues. Tissues have to be arranged into organs. Organs and tissues must be specifically arranged to generate whole new Body-Plans, distinctive arrangements of those body parts. We now know that DNA alone is not responsible for those higher orders of organization. DNA codes for proteins, but by itself it does not insure that proteins, cell types, tissues, organs, will all be arranged in the body. And what that means is that the Body-Plan morphogenesis, as it is called, depends upon information that is not encoded on DNA. Which means you can mutate DNA indefinitely. 80 million years, 100 million years, til the cows come home. It doesn’t matter, because in the best case you are just going to find a new protein some place out there in that vast combinatorial sequence space. You are not, by mutating DNA alone, going to generate higher order structures that are necessary to building a body plan. So what we can conclude from that is that the neo-Darwinian mechanism is grossly inadequate to explain the origin of information necessary to build new genes and proteins, and it is also grossly inadequate to explain the origination of novel biological form.’
    Stephen Meyer – (excerpt taken from Meyer/Sternberg vs. Shermer/Prothero debate – 2009) (52:57 minute mark)
    https://youtu.be/7yqqlZ29gcU?t=3177

    Jonathan Wells has done much work clearly illustrating that the information for an organism is not completely specified in the DNA of an organism’s egg as is presupposed in neo-Darwinism:

    Peer-Reviewed Paper: Development Needs Ontogenetic Information that Cannot Arise from Neo-Darwinian Mechanisms – Casey Luskin – June 2, 2014
    Excerpt: Jonathan Wells has published a new peer-reviewed scientific paper in the journal BIO-Complexity, “Membrane Patterns Carry Ontogenetic Information That Is Specified Independently of DNA.” With over 400 citations to the technical literature, this well-researched and well-documented article shows that embryogenesis depends on crucial sources of information that exist outside of the DNA.
    This ontogenetic information guides the development of an organism, but because it is derived from sources outside of the DNA, it cannot be produced by mutations in DNA. Wells concludes that because the neo-Darwinian model of evolution claims that variation is produced by DNA mutations, neo-Darwinism cannot account for the origin of epigenetic and ontogenetic information that exists outside of DNA. (Read more here:)
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....86201.html

    And while falsifying the reductive materialistic framework of neo-Darwinism, in regards to explaining body plans, is all fine and well as far as science is concerned, it still does not specifically answer our question as to where does the information reside that is building that ‘beyond belief’ complexity in the human brain (as well as in the rest of the human body).

    To get a better grasp of the question before us, Stephen Talbott puts the profound enigma like this:

    HOW BIOLOGISTS LOST SIGHT OF THE MEANING OF LIFE — AND ARE NOW STARING IT IN THE FACE – Stephen L. Talbott – May 2012
    Excerpt: “If you think air traffic controllers have a tough job guiding planes into major airports or across a crowded continental airspace, consider the challenge facing a human cell trying to position its proteins”. A given cell, he notes, may make more than 10,000 different proteins, and typically contains more than a billion protein molecules at any one time. “Somehow a cell must get all its proteins to their correct destinations — and equally important, keep these molecules out of the wrong places”. And further: “It’s almost as if every mRNA [an intermediate between a gene and a corresponding protein] coming out of the nucleus knows where it’s going” (Travis 2011),,,
    Further, the billion protein molecules in a cell are virtually all capable of interacting with each other to one degree or another; they are subject to getting misfolded or “all balled up with one another”; they are critically modified through the attachment or detachment of molecular subunits, often in rapid order and with immediate implications for changing function; they can wind up inside large-capacity “transport vehicles” headed in any number of directions; they can be sidetracked by diverse processes of degradation and recycling… and so on without end. Yet the coherence of the whole is maintained.
    The question is indeed, then, “How does the organism meaningfully dispose of all its molecules, getting them to the right places and into the right interactions?”
    The same sort of question can be asked of cells, for example in the growing embryo, where literal streams of cells are flowing to their appointed places, differentiating themselves into different types as they go, and adjusting themselves to all sorts of unpredictable perturbations — even to the degree of responding appropriately when a lab technician excises a clump of them from one location in a young embryo and puts them in another, where they may proceed to adapt themselves in an entirely different and proper way to the new environment. It is hard to quibble with the immediate impression that form (which is more idea-like than thing-like) is primary, and the material particulars subsidiary.
    Two systems biologists, one from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Germany and one from Harvard Medical School, frame one part of the problem this way:
    “The human body is formed by trillions of individual cells. These cells work together with remarkable precision, first forming an adult organism out of a single fertilized egg, and then keeping the organism alive and functional for decades. To achieve this precision, one would assume that each individual cell reacts in a reliable, reproducible way to a given input, faithfully executing the required task. However, a growing number of studies investigating cellular processes on the level of single cells revealed large heterogeneity even among genetically identical cells of the same cell type. (Loewer and Lahav 2011)”,,,
    And then we hear that all this meaningful activity is, somehow, meaningless or a product of meaninglessness. This, I believe, is the real issue troubling the majority of the American populace when they are asked about their belief in evolution. They see one thing and then are told, more or less directly, that they are really seeing its denial. Yet no one has ever explained to them how you get meaning from meaninglessness — a difficult enough task once you realize that we cannot articulate any knowledge of the world at all except in the language of meaning.,,,
    http://www.netfuture.org/2012/May1012_184.html#2

    The insurmountable problem of ‘form/shape’, that Dr. Talbott illustrated, for the bottom up materialistic explanations of neo-Darwinism, goes down to a very deep level.
    For instance, we find the ‘form/shape’ of many proteins is determined, not by its sequential information, as is presupposed in neo-Darwinism, but its form/shape is determined by the overall context in which the protein is residing:

    The Gene Myth, Part II – August 2010
    Excerpt: “It was long believed that a protein molecule’s three-dimensional shape, on which its function depends, is uniquely determined by its amino acid sequence. But we now know that this is not always true – the rate at which a protein is synthesized, which depends on factors internal and external to the cell, affects the order in which its different portions fold. So even with the same sequence a given protein can have different shapes and functions. Furthermore, many proteins have no intrinsic shape, (intrinsically disoredered proteins), taking on different roles in different molecular contexts. So even though genes specify protein sequences they have only a tenuous (very weak or slight) influence over their functions.
    ,,,,So, to reiterate, the genes do not uniquely determine what is in the cell, but what is in the cell determines how the genes get used. Only if the pie were to rise up, take hold of the recipe book and rewrite the instructions for its own production, would this popular analogy for the role of genes be pertinent.
    Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D. – Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy
    per Darwin’s God

    Biology’s Quiet Revolution – Jonathan Wells – September 8, 2014
    Excerpt: In 1996, biologists discovered a protein that does not fold into a unique shape but can assume different shapes when it interacts with other molecules. Since then, many such proteins have been found; they are called “intrinsically disordered proteins,” or IDPs. IDPs are surprisingly common, and their disordered regions play important functional roles.,,,
    So it is not true that biologists know all the basic features of living cells and are merely filling in the details. Nor is it true that Darwinian evolution is a settled scientific “fact,” as its defenders claim. Huge unanswered questions remain, and they will only be answered by going beyond the discredited myth that “DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....89651.html

    podcast – Dr. Jonathan Wells: Biology’s Quiet Revolution – September 17, 2014
    “We are talking about 1/3 of the proteins in our body, (could be Intrinsically Disordered Proteins)” – Jonathan Wells
    http://www.discovery.org/multi.....evolution/

    As well, RNA molecules also lack a correspondence between sequence and shape:

    The Strange Inevitability of Evolution – Philip Ball – Jan. 2015
    Excerpt: Naively, you might expect RNAs with a similar shape, and thus presumably phenotype, to share a similar sequence, so that a map of the possible sequences—the sequence space, which can be represented as a many-dimensional space where each grid point corresponds to a particular sequence—is divided up into various “shape kingdoms” (See Not a Patch, a). But that wasn’t what Schuster found. Instead, RNAs with the same shape could vary very widely in sequence: You could get the same shape, and therefore potentially the same kind of catalytic function, from very different sequences.
    http://nautil.us/issue/20/crea.....-evolution

    In the following video, Dr. Meyer states that the sequencing of DNA is independent of chemistry:

    Dr. Stephen Meyer: Chemistry/RNA World/crystal formation can’t explain genetic information – video
    Excerpt 5:00 minute mark: “If there is no chemical interaction here (in the DNA molecule) you can’t invoke chemistry to explain sequencing”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLeWh8Df3k8

    In the following article, Dr. Wells comments that, ‘It’s the organism controlling the DNA, not the DNA controlling the organism.’.

    Ask an Embryologist: Genomic Mosaicism – Jonathan Wells – February 23, 2015
    Excerpt: humans have a “few thousand” different cell types. Here is my simple question: Does the DNA sequence in one cell type differ from the sequence in another cell type in the same person?,,,
    The simple answer is: We now know that there is considerable variation in DNA sequences among tissues, and even among cells in the same tissue. It’s called genomic mosaicism.
    In the early days of developmental genetics, some people thought that parts of the embryo became different from each other because they acquired different pieces of the DNA from the fertilized egg. That theory was abandoned,,,
    ,,,(then) “genomic equivalence” — the idea that all the cells of an organism (with a few exceptions, such as cells of the immune system) contain the same DNA — became the accepted view.
    I taught genomic equivalence for many years. A few years ago, however, everything changed. With the development of more sophisticated techniques and the sampling of more tissues and cells, it became clear that genetic mosaicism is common.
    I now know as an embryologist,,,Tissues and cells, as they differentiate, modify their DNA to suit their needs. It’s the organism controlling the DNA, not the DNA controlling the organism.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....93851.html

    Here is an article that strongly supports Dr. Wells’s contention that, ‘It’s the organism controlling the DNA, not the DNA controlling the organism.’.

    Neurons constantly rewrite their DNA – Apr. 27, 2015
    Excerpt: They (neurons) use minor “DNA surgeries” to toggle their activity levels all day, every day.,,,
    “We used to think that once a cell reaches full maturation, its DNA is totally stable, including the molecular tags attached to it to control its genes and maintain the cell’s identity,” says Hongjun Song, Ph.D.,, “This research shows that some cells actually alter their DNA all the time, just to perform everyday functions.”,,,
    ,,, recent studies had turned up evidence that mammals’ brains exhibit highly dynamic DNA modification activity—more than in any other area of the body,,,
    http://medicalxpress.com/news/.....e-dna.html

  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    Here is another fascinating method by which it was clearly demonstrated that form/shape is not reducible to the ‘bottom up’ materialistic explanations of neo-Darwinism:

    What Do Organisms Mean? Stephen L. Talbott – Winter 2011
    Excerpt: Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin once described how you can excise the developing limb bud from an amphibian embryo, shake the cells loose from each other, allow them to reaggregate into a random lump, and then replace the lump in the embryo. A normal leg develops. Somehow the form of the limb as a whole is the ruling factor, redefining the parts according to the larger pattern. Lewontin went on to remark: “Unlike a machine whose totality is created by the juxtaposition of bits and pieces with different functions and properties, the bits and pieces of a developing organism seem to come into existence as a consequence of their spatial position at critical moments in the embryo’s development. Such an object is less like a machine than it is like a language whose elements… take unique meaning from their context.[3]“,,,
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....nisms-mean

    So where is the information coming from for the form/shape of an organism since it is not being derived from a ‘bottom up’ source?

    Well, as shocking as it may be to some people’s atheistic/materialistic worldview, we now have very good empirical evidence that the primary ‘form/shape’ of proteins and DNA, and thus of the organism itself, is being determined by a non-local, beyond space and time, cause. A ‘non-local’, beyond space and time, cause that at the very least involves the secondary cause of quantum computation if not the primary cause of God Himself:

    I just wrote a short piece on the subject yesterday outlining how quantum computation must be involved in protein folding:

    Not only is there quantum information/entanglement involved in how molecular machines operate, but there is also now found to be quantum information/entanglement involved in how proteins fold and operate and how DNA repairs itself and operates.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-571700

  12. 12
    Popperian says:

    If you have ever wired up a machine you will understand. It is not just a pile of wires that somehow happen to get it right.

    Funny that you should mention that in particular. Because, for the most part, that’s exactly what happens.

    The Blue Brain project identified key principles that determine how neurons connect by virtually reconstructing them in a simulation and comparing them with an actually mammalian sample.

    From this article..

    This means that neurons grow as independently of each other as physically possible and mostly form synapses at the locations where they randomly bump into each other.

    A few exceptions were also discovered, pointing out special cases where signals are used by neurons to change the statistical connectivity. By taking these exceptions into account, the Blue Brain team can now make a near perfect prediction of the locations of all the synapses formed inside the circuit.

    They discovered that the differences in neurons was a key factor in how connectivity formed in this random manner.

    They went on to discover that the synapses’ positions are only robust as long as the morphology (form) of each neuron is slightly different from each other, explaining another mystery in the brain — why neurons are not all identical in shape. “It’s the diversity in the morphology of neurons that makes brain circuits of a particular species basically the same and highly robust,” says Hill.

  13. 13
    Box says:

    Popperian: This means that neurons grow as independently of each other as physically possible and mostly form synapses at the locations where they randomly bump into each other.

    And then it’s all somehow functionally coordinated, says our ‘critical rationalist’.

  14. 14
    Mapou says:

    Popperian @12,

    The Blue Brain project is a complete failure because, after 5 years, millions of dollars and countless man-hours, we still have no understanding of the cortex. They were supposedly trying to simulate a single cortical column. Guess what? Go ask Henry Markram “what is the function of a cortical column?” and you’ll get a blank stare. Why? Because he is just as clueless now as he was when he was first placed in charge of the project at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

  15. 15
    Breckmin says:

    so often times the reductive materialist is looking at “results” and wrongfully believing they are causes.

  16. 16
    Popperian says:

    @mapou

    It’s unclear how the Blur Brain project is complete failure, given the referenced paper, even if that was the only progress it made. But that is far from the case. I only mentioned this particular finding as it clarifies the misleading quote from the referenced article.

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