Human mental chaotic metastates – the Brain is Anglican!

This is just cool. Apparently there’s a recent study that finds that human mind (biologically speaking) functions by existing in a meta-stable equilibrium state that is just bordering between total chaos and organization.

The equilibrium state is a critical phenomenon! (I know it as a regime of phase transition very very close to the boundary between one phase and another, which was the area of my doctoral research.)

According to a report:

“Self-organized criticality (where systems spontaneously organize themselves to operate at a critical point between order and randomness), can emerge from complex interactions in many different physical systems, including avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, and heartbeat rhythms.

According to this study, conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge, the Medical Research Council Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, and the GlaxoSmithKline Clinical Unit Cambridge, the dynamics of human brain networks have something important in common with some superficially very different systems in nature. Computational networks showing these characteristics have also been shown to have optimal memory (data storage) and information-processing capacity. In particular, critical systems are able to respond very rapidly and extensively to minor changes in their inputs.

‘Due to these characteristics, self-organized criticality is intuitively attractive as a model for brain functions such as perception and action, because it would allow us to switch quickly between mental states in order to respond to changing environmental conditions,’ says co-author Manfred Kitzbichler.”

Read the full article here.

What I find most evocative about this is that our minds are constantly teetering on the edge of being one or the other state. If it should spin into one or the other and lose it’s delicate balancing it no longer functions.

Reminds me of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church. We intentionally and (frustratingly to many) insist on walking a tightrope between opposing views. It’s a rather draining way to live. But if we decide to hop down off the rope, we’d lose what it is that makes us so able to muddle on somehow.

Actually – it’s no such much a muddle as it is a lose-tight sort of ability to respond to random shocks to the system. (The Internet has a similar ability.) A friend of mine remarked once, many a hammer has been worn out on the anvil of Anglicanism.

Maybe this willingness to live in the tension is why. It’s not a sign of lack of fortitude. It’s a survival strategy.

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...