“The same rules of physics that govern molecules as they condense from gas to liquid, or freeze from liquid to solid, also apply to the activity patterns of neurons in the human brain. University of Chicago mathematician Jack Cowan offered this and related insights on the physics of brain activity last week in Boston during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Structures built from a very large number of units can exhibit sharp transitions from one state to another state, which physicists call phase transitions,’ said Cowan, a Professor in Mathematics and Neurology at Chicago, before the meeting.
‘Strange and interesting things happen in the neighborhood of a phase transition.’ When liquids undergo phase transitions, they evaporate into gas or freeze into ice. When the brain undergoes a phase transition, it moves from random to patterned activity. ‘The brain at rest produces random activity,’ Cowan said, or what physicists call ‘Brownian motion.’ Although the bulk of his work involves deriving equations, Cowan’s findings mesh well with laboratory data generated on the cerebral cortex and electroencephalograms. His latest findings show that the same mathematical tools physicists use to describe the behavior of subatomic particles and the dynamics of liquids and solids can now be applied to understanding how the brain generates its various rhythms.”
(via Alternative Approaches)