The Machinery of the Neuron

©Fernando Caracena 2020

One of the big quests of modern technology is the development and construction of nano machines that is, on a very tiny scale (10−9 meters). At this scale, the intent is to push construction of machines into the scale of large organic molecules that operate within cells. At this scale, we see living processes already involving nano scale machinery and operating as combinations of mechanical, electrical, and chemical processes. The cell parts are mechanisms that assist in forming large molecular structures such as proteins. (See Wikipedia article.)

The great physicist, Richard Feynman gave an interesting lecture on this subject, "Tiny Machines" Nanotechnology Lecture - aka "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom", which popularized the subject of nano technology and gave a boost to research in this area. Listening to this lecture, I sense that Feynman was aware of a lot of the sub cellular structure and dynamics of proteins and microtubules, as well as that of cell membranes. This is an advantage of being based at a university.


Microtubules are polymers of tubulin that form part of the cytoskeleton and provide structure and shape to eukaryotic cells.--Wikipedia

Fig.1 A depiction of a microtubule and cross section by Thomas Splettstoesser ( 16 June 2015. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Microtubules are identified by molecular biologists as polymers that form the major part of of the skeleton of a cell, the cytoskeleton. They are elongated, hollow structures: having a diameter of about 25±2 nm and lengths up to 50 μ. [A nanometer (nm) is 10-9 m and a micron (μ) is 10-6 m.] Their inner diameter is about 13±2 nm. Their polymer structure consistis of repeating pairs of non-covalently bonded globular proteins: alpha and beta tublins forming dimer units.

Microtubules play not only support large-scale cell structure, but they also play important roles in internal cellular processes. Their hollow structures act as pipes that deliver various nutrients to specific sites within a cell. They also are part of the machinery involved in cell division, in the process of which they generate electromagnetic signals. In fact, microtubules may be the connection between mind and matter. This cuts the Gordian knot posed by materialistic philosophers: "What is matter? Never mind!; What is mind? It doesn't matter!"

Mind is something that we experience subjectively, but nobody can share directly in that experience. We can to some extent share that experience through language, logic, and that arts. Today, Beethoven conveys something of his feelings in musical compositions. His genius in conveying his feelings through a musical composition on the piano is discussed by Pianist Aleck Karis's in his analysis of Beethoven's Sonata Opus 110.

Materialists would like to make the study of the mind reducible to a study of matter in complex motion in time and space; however, the human mind may simply be a structure that cannot be analyzed in terms of matter, time, and space. That does not mean that the mind is not real. What it means is that we cannot perceive all of reality. As Shakespeare wrote,

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

In this sense, physicists do not tend to be materialistic. They stand prepared to add more dimensions as needed to understand new phenomena, as in string theory for example.

Although the human mind itself is not an object that we can analyze directly, we see its operation reflected in various brain processes, which occur in time and space on several different levels. In the past, it became possible to see that neurons forming various connections that could in some way correspond to the operation of the mind. Today, we have evidence that the mental operation runs deeper than that. There are operations within the neurons themselves that suggest mental operations on a deeper level.

To get a quick idea of how the cell membrane is constructed and how it functions look at the following video:

The a current model of the function of the brain is called the Feynman Machine.

A recent discovery about neurons is that they can perform functions previously seen only in entire neural networks.

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