We are all a little zombie

14.07.2004

14.07.2004


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Most people with the word "zombie" is currently busy wizards corpse, mindlessly and meekly performs the orders from the master. This image have created Hollywood movies. In the real world, zombies are much easier to find — just look around. For the zombies look like you and me. More precisely, we are the zombies, though, of course, is not at 100%.

Life on Autopilot

Let's not take offense — we really zombies, but only in the sense that a huge part of our life is like outside of consciousness. Scientists have long debated about our conscious and subconscious — and philosophers, and psychologists. Let us recall the Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. And now it is increasingly involved and the people of exact science. Consciousness is stubbornly remains a mystery of mysteries. Even Nobel laureate Francis Crick, who spent more than two decades on the "transcript" of the human genome, calls consciousness "major unsolved problem of biology."

Crick and his colleague, neuroscientist Christof Koch of the Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said that all the work of the brain is based on the physical and chemical processes. Even the awareness of oneself is only a consequence of harmonious work of countless neurons, sensory cells and various physiological systems. Everything we think, say and do can be explained biologically, claim Crick and Koch. With that not everyone agrees, but has already set an ambitious goal: to find the "neural correlates of consciousness." It was then that "the underground" and left a zombie …

People talk without thinking. In the literal sense of the word. Are we thinking about the pre-order offers, the cases, prepositional agreement and so forth, before saying the phrase? Far from it. But we're talking, talking, talking. And the words flow like as if by themselves, add up to the design with the correct syntax. Anyway, it is preferably precisely so. This, in the deepest sense of the word, is "unconscious" aspect of behavior. This is a mental operation that is not related directly to the conscious sensations or memory.

The same thing happens in many other life forms. We brush our teeth, tie his shoes, or pedaling a bicycle wheel of a car, without solving the complex mental tasks. No, we do it all exactly like zombies or robots — unconsciously, automatically, without controlling their every move. And often do not even remember how we all did.

We neurobiologists have to do this a term — "the behavior of a zombie."

Koch argues that the brain operates on the basis of specialized sensory-motor processes, which he calls "zombie agents". And there are quite reasonable explanation is that they allow us to be myself. All aspects of behavior have one thing in common: almost all actions are performed quickly and routinely. In many cases, they resemble reflexes. We involuntarily blink when a mote in the eye falls. We sneeze if something tickles your nose. We wince when they heard a sharp sound. Other manifestations of zombies are less visible, but they allow us to keep the body upright walking, balancing, deviating or changing the pitch when we make our way through the crowd.

And that's because the thing: if we start to think about every movement and every step, we will be pretty hard to do something that has long been familiar. It will take a lot of time, and in fact sometimes in a dangerous situation, even a fraction of a second and very important for survival. Thank you to our "inner zombie": the brain receives external signals and sends orders to the body almost overnight, without wasting time. "This, in particular, is a fundamental advantage of specialized" zombie agents "- says Koch.

And, in fact. We will automatically grab a pencil before, as we shall see, he slipped on the edge of the table. And pulls his hand from a gas burner even before the palpable heat. And this is very important: the movement is only a spinal reflex, it does not require the participation of the brain itself. For a man the existence of "zombie agents" is also important because it released large areas of the brain, which can be used for other important things. Cortical areas are necessary, for example, for higher cognitive goals — learning, memory, solving new tasks of life, etc.

In other animals — mice, or, say, monkeys — also partly have almost all these abilities. However, the human cerebral cortex is significantly more important than, the language more complex, deeper insight, self-awareness thinner. We are much more flexible than animals because we can apply the learned information not only in one particular context (like bees, "dancing" with the transfer of their fellow information about where to eat nectar), and in many other cases and situations.

Scientists hope that by thoroughly studying the biological basis of "zombie behavior", we will be able to learn more about the mind. But this is not an easy task, because in a large number of cases are difficult to distinguish conscious from unconscious.

When the zombies come and go?

Here, for example, a dog wags its tail. Or the baby smiles. It consciously or unconsciously?
But the fact of the matter is that human consciousness is easily penetrates and even interfere with "the behavior of a zombie." Yes, we automatically tie his shoes, but at any moment we can realize that we are doing just that. And so it happens all the time, thousands of times a day. Consciousness as it carries a secret and discreet surveillance and control. And at some point, we notice it, yes, my actions conducted internal monitoring. However, in the brain, "zombie action" is so closely intertwined with the knowledge that they are difficult to separate one from the other. For us, this is not essential, but for scientists — is even.

One of the areas of science, where it matters most, is engaged in the study of people suffering from serious diseases due to inadequate sensory reaction.

Visual agnosia, for example — a relatively rare disease, but these patients are not able to determine what kind of thing they see. From the sound of keys zvyaknuvshih people immediately understand that these are the keys, but when he saw them, did not know what it is. However, let us explain with an example.

34-year-old female patient DF, whose brain is irreparably damaged due to carbon monoxide poisoning, survived, but lost the ability to visually identify the majority of subjects. No, she's not blind. See colors, easy steps over the obstacle in the way, it will catch the thrown ball, draw from memory what I saw.

But what she found, or that it was painted, the woman does not know. Do not know, in a horizontal or vertical position it is visible pencil, square or triangle her show. It automatically inserts the card into the slot exactly, even if during the movement of her hands off the light. But she can not do it consciously, can not intentionally coordinate movement of the arm relative to the slot position. It is able to do only what responsible "agents of zombies."
Many similar experiments conducted with patients suffering from epilepsy, sleepwalking (somnambulism), etc. As a result, it seems that the brain operates on the principle of two separate systems, as do the two parallel computing processor. That is, the neural activity in certain regions of the brain controls "behavior zombie" while others — those responses to sensory stimuli which require deliberate response. Or, the same "computer network" in the brain operates in two different (but simultaneously) modes.

Stage of cortical "processor" sensory data pass "through", not stopping until the person lacks the stereotypical, unconscious actions. And just at the moment when sensory signals become weak, ephemeral, subtle, included "processing" of data. That is, consciousness.

At this stage, it is necessary to recognize that only an idea that is likely to occur in the brain. The study of his work using techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging provides a glimpse into the brain deeper and find out exactly which parts are working at any given moment — in real time. But there is still a long way to go. We talk about the mind, but not really explain it until you can. It would seem that if the "zombie agents" to cope with the most vital tasks, so why do we mind?

Yes, it is a property of the function of some highly developed organs of the human body, but that's not all. For example, the walls of our intestines vysteleny more than 100 million neurons, but we do not have conscious access to their work. It is, however, true for most of the body. A consciousness gives a person something that goes beyond the unconscious functioning of the body — the ability to instantly process the huge amount of information and to reduce it to a few basic facts and draw the appropriate conclusions. The lion roars and pounces on a deer. And so it is for centuries. A man comes up with a spear.
Consciousness — it is like the executive government capable to weigh all the possible solutions and choose the best. In other words, it acts as an interface between sensory perception and mental planning. In reality, of course, is something elusive. How trudnoulovim and zombies inside us. But it's there. Its function is only expand as we learn to something — to dance or climb a mountain. Or play the piano without thinking about every single key.

Now, however, scientists face a different problem: how to make zombie action reproducible "to order"? It's not as easy as it seems. And we are talking about using immobilized, paralyzed people. And the more we fight, we explode, destroy and all that, the more people with disabilities. And the greater the problem.

The next step — the neuro-prostheses

In this case, we need an interface between brain and machine. Simply put, we want to ensure that the brain is a helpless invalid controlled robot. And so the robot will do everything necessary — will give a glass of water, turn on the TV, will write a letter to wash, move the wheelchair to a window or balcony, etc. In technical terms, this means that the brain paralyzed should give signals that control external devices, that is, for example, a robotic arm. All devices of this type can be described in one word — neuro-prostheses. And, admittedly, much along the way has already been done. Anyway, it is shown that the creation of neuro-prostheses, in principle, possible.

The first step in this direction have been experiments with monkeys in the head who "sewed" the beam electrodes. The monkey quickly learned how to make a robotic arm to grab bananas meals and doing some other simple movement, though the robot can be located at a distance from the monkey or in a different room. The next step — the electrodes are not embedded in the brain, but only imposed on the skull. And the third step — non-contact control. In this issue includes several components and sub-tasks, hence the issues. Can the human mind remotely affect the inert matter, ie on the car? Which forces must be sent pulses so that the machine could take them, strengthen and translate into the mechanism?

These, then, issues and now a group of American scientists at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. The leaders, neuroscientists Dennis Turner and Miguel Nicolelis. The present results of their work are published in the July (2004) issue of the journal "Neurosurgery» («Neurosurgery»). The team also includes a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Parag Patil Jose Carmena. All four of them have a degree of Doctor of Science. Support the work of the National Institutes of Health and the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Ministry of Defense. The latter is not surprising: after all, it is among the ex-combatants especially a lot of people with disabilities.

We actually rarely think about how little we know your brain. This mysterious and complex "computer" weighing about half a kilogram laced hundred billion neurons. How do you know which ones are necessary for my needs?

The current research is based on work carried out previously in the laboratory Nicolelis. It was there that the monkeys learned to operate a hand-robot with signals of the brain. Patil and his colleagues are working with patients who have Parkinson's disease, severe tremors of hands, etc. Routine procedure has long been mastered: the patient surgically implanted into the brain 32 of the microelectrode, and then encourage them weak current to relieve the symptoms of the disease. Patients thus are fully conscious, and neurosurgeons recorded their brain signals to determine the optimal placement of the electrodes.

Now, in the experiments described in the journal «Neurosurgery», patients were given a simple task. While there is a record brain signals via implanted electrodes, each of the 11 human volunteers should conduct a video game that is usually a remote control panel. At the same time, researchers recorded which part of the brain that is activated when. Analyzing the data, they found that the signals contained enough information to predict the movement of the hand. After all these signals and are required for the reliable control of external devices-robots. For each patient data were recorded only for five minutes, but even these experiments showed that the task is set quite real. The patient was trained to such actions in just one to two minutes. To implant electrodes for a long time, you can achieve human interaction with the device, which would help to solve many of life's everyday problems.

It is clear that the more complex the task, the more varied and numerous to be parts of the brain in which electrodes are implanted, ie should increase their number. But it is important, and more — to get to the "zombies."

Why is it important to plumb the depths of the brain? Because, as we have said, the signals that control motor functions, are a kind of filtering is in the deep structures of the brain, and only then reach the surface layers of the cortex. Says Nicolelis, a person electrodes implanted deeper than the monkey — including in the subcortical structures. That is, neural information can be extracted not only from the crust, but from subcortical. And subcortical denser layers, so that a small part of the information can be removed with a relatively large number of cells. This means that in the future, you can create quite complex prosthetic device.

Will it be possible to get on with the zombies?

Physicians, of course, need help engineers and technicians. Together they are developing a prototype of neuro-prosthesis that will include (Warning) wireless interface between the patient and the device-robot.

Turner says that the most exemplary embodiment of such a device is, of course, a kind of "remote hand" paralyzed. But other options are planned. For example, one of the systems must provide neural control of a wheelchair-gurney, the other — the neuronal control of the keyboard, the output of which will be either written text or voiced speech. And by the way, some researchers have already made that the person develops through implanted electrodes control the cursor on the computer screen. After all help is needed not only paralyzed, but also those who have lost the ability to speak — because of a stroke, damage to the throat, etc.

A key question for the future is here what: everyone to be able to "get used" appliances such as to fit them into a "scheme" of their communication with the outside world, but now at the neuronal level. In other words, whether these processes are carried out as a subliminal, as is the case with the child's learning, for example, riding a bicycle. Bike "embedded" in the pattern of behavior, and motor functions are performed is not consciousness but sitting in our "inner zombie". Will it be possible to do the same in the management of neuro-prostheses?

That no one can say for sure. But we already know that when asked to imagine a certain paralyzed movement of the hand in his brain are activated precisely those centers, which in this case it would be needed. Hence, there are "zombies", that is, their neurons will be served just such a team and the car.

That planned to do now? The next three to five years will go to implant experiments electrodes in the brain completely paralyzed people and the creation of a variety of neuro-prostheses.

However, researchers are still debating whether to go the way of implanting electrodes. After all, any surgical intervention — is the risk of infection. Most scientists prefer external electrodes that transmit impulses to the brain without. Better yet, these pulses are not set in motion the robot, and the patient's arm. And in Austria technicians have managed to create a system that converts human thought in his actions. Paralyzed person can, for example, raise your hand, take a glass and drink.

According to the head of the research team Hertha Pfurtshellera that arise in one's mind mental images of a minor cause, it would seem, the changes in brain activity. Slight changes in the electrical potential are enhanced by a specially designed computer interface and transformed into binary signals. Then the surface electrodes attached to the patient's left forearm, hand stimulate the muscles, so the traffic, or vice versa, is achieved muscle relaxation. Pfurtsheller emphasizes that the patient should be very accurately and vividly imagine the action you want to perform, whether movement of the fingers, hand, or arm lift. Alas, the simplest actions mindlessly committed to our internal "zombie" require huge stress on the immobilized patient when he has to mentally control equipment. Thomas Schweiger, for example, 27-year-old quadriplegic patient spent several months in constant training to learn how to perform basic movements — take a piece of bread or a glass of beer.

So there are real complexities of the tasks that we set?

Yes. Fortunately, we have ceased to believe many fairy tales about the contents of his cranium. We, of course, do not use 3% of their brain, or even 10% — it works the whole, entirely. And we already know that, contrary to popular belief, the nerve cells can be re-formed, even in the adult. Fortunately, the brain is remarkably plastic. It is designed in such a way that the mobility change, rearrange, forming a new "path", "track", and even entire "line", ie add new "maps". Especially, if a person persistently trains your brain. It is also known that the brain and the immune system is constantly sending signals to each other, so much depends on the mental attitude of the patient's morale. All this gives hope that the goals will certainly be achieved. And the more successful the faster ally and supporter patient will be his "inner zombie".

Vera Hoffmann

On the face of impossible 11 (342), 2004

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