Publication 4141

Cariani P. (2015) Outline of a cybernetic theory of brain function based on neural timing nets. Kybernetes 44(8/9): 1219–1232.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to outline an integrative, high-level, neurocomputational theory of brain function based on temporal codes, neural timing nets, and active regeneration of temporal patterns of spikes within recurrent neural circuits that provides a time-domain alternative to connectionist approaches. Design/methodology/approach – This conceptual-theoretical paper draws from cybernetics, theoretical biology, neurophysiology, integrative and computational neuroscience, psychology, and consciousness studies. Findings: The high-level functional organization of the brain involves adaptive cybernetic, goal-seeking, switching, and steering mechanisms embedded in percept-action-environment loops. The cerebral cortex is conceived as a network of reciprocally connected, re-entrant loops within which circulate neuronal signals that build up, decay, and/or actively regenerate. The basic signals themselves are temporal patterns of spikes (temporal codes), held in the spike correlation mass-statistics of both local and global neuronal ensembles. Complex temporal codes afford multidimensional vectorial representations, multiplexing of multiple signals in spike trains, broadcast strategies of neural coordination, and mutually reinforcing, autopoiesis-like dynamics. Our working hypothesis is that complex temporal codes form multidimensional vectorial representations that interact with each other such that a few basic processes and operations may account for the vast majority of both lowand high-level neural informational functions. These operational primitives include mutual amplification/inhibition of temporal pattern vectors, extraction of common signal dimensions, formation of neural assemblies that generate new temporal pattern primitive “tags” from meaningful, recurring combinations of features (perceptual symbols), active regeneration of temporal patterns, content-addressable temporal pattern memory, and long-term storage and retrieval of temporal patterns via a common synaptic and/or molecular mechanism. The result is a relatively simplified, signal-centric view of the brain that utilizes universal coding schemes and pattern-resonance processing operations. In neurophenomenal terms, waking consciousness requires regeneration and build up of temporal pattern signals in global loops, whose form determines the contents of conscious experience at any moment. Practical implications: Understanding how brains work as informational engines has manifold long-reaching practical implications for design of autonomous, adaptive robotic systems. By proposing how new concepts might arise in brains, the theory bears potential implications for constructivist theories of mind, i.e. how observer-actors interacting with one another can self-organize and complexify. Originality/value – The theory is highly original and heterodox in its neural coding and neurocomputational assumptions. By providing a possible alternative to standard connectionist theory of brain function, it expands the scope of thinking about how brains might work as informational systems.
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