Reality Synthesis….

synth

I’ve thought of a good analogy for the brain, and how drugs or illness can lead to altered perception.

To create a sound with a modular synth, a basic signal is fed in before being routed via cables thought a series of modular processing units. Each module is able to alter the sound, changing the frequency, volume, decay level etc, and by adding effects such as reverb, flanger, chorus etc.  Millions of permutations can be made by altering the positions of the cables, and each repositioning will create a unique sound (indeed, even the order in which the signal passes through the modules will change the effect), which leaves the synth at the other end and is routed to an amplifier, which enables us to hear the finished sound.

Now, think of our brains as a modular analogue synthesizer. An event, be it stimuli via our senses, or created within our minds as thought, is fed in from the left to be processed before going through a series of modular processing units, and out the other side as our perception of that event.

Imagine that each module is capable of being turned on or off by a switch. A sound (or thought) which usually passes through a particular switched-on module may be heard (or perceived) as a flute, but if that same module is switched off, the same sound is heard as a violin. Re-route the cables, and you can distort the violin. In fact, by tinkering with activation of the modules and re-routing the cables, that sound can become pretty much anything you want it to.

People sometimes think of illnesses or drugs as having some kind of magical, ethereal quality. I’d suggest that their effects on perception are merely the result of a similar mechanism to the one described above. The part of the brain concerned with perception is a series of modules, each capable of being activated or deactivated. I suggest that these processing modules are activated via blood flow, and the switch is the neurotransmitter serotonin. Compounds which alter perception have no intrinsic power or magic of their own – all they’re doing is tinkering with the electronics, as it were. For example, a drug may selectively bind to or activate a receptor, effectively activating or deactivating that particular module of perception. Depending on the particular compound, a different set of modules may be activated or deactivated, giving rise to the myriad of different effects experienced. Similarly, illnesses characterised by altered perception are probably the result of disrupted blood flow, although, again, the nature of the symptoms experienced can vary according to the specific modules affected.

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Of course, some of these modules will serve purposes other than data processing. Some will be concerned, via the same mechanism, with switching on or off other “functions” within the body. For example, a message may be sent to the gut for the blood vessels lining it to dilate,  removing more water from the waste, or to the kidneys to process more of that waste water. The key to these functions, both locally and centrally, is the serotonin, which facilitates the opening and closing of blood vessels via its effects on blood vessel tone. That is perhaps why the relative sledgehammer approach of even selective reuptake inhibition comes with such disparate side effects.

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~ by funnyinthehead on May 13, 2013.

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