Scientists closer to solving the mystery of how a person thinks

One of the most fundamental questions in neuroscience: how do people think? Until recently, we were far from conclusive, but in their study, the researchers offer a new view on this issue and pay attention to the navigation system of our brain.

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When moving in space in the brain active are two important types of cells. By placing some cells in the hippocampus (part of limbic system in the brain, which is involved in the mechanisms of memory consolidation), and the other is in the neighboring entorhinal cortex, the brain forms a schema that allows a person to navigate. A group of scientists headed by Christian Diller (Christian Doeller) suggests that the same system can be a key to thinking, and our knowledge, as they appear to be organized in a spatial way. The results of their study published in the journal Science.

“If I think about the machines can be based, for example, their capacity and the weight of the engine. So we get the idea of racing cars with a strong engine and low weight, as well as on caravans with weak engine and more weight — and even all the combinations together. In the same way we can think about our family and friends: for example, on the basis of their growth, a sense of humor or income, perceiving them as tall or short, funny or unfunny, more or less wealthy,” says Deller.

In his assumption Deller and his team combine the knowledge about the brain to form a theory of human thinking. The theory starts with the Nobel the discovery of two types of cells in the brain of rodents that were subsequently discovered in humans. Both types of cells exhibit similar activity that generates the sense of self of the animal in space — for example, when eating. It turned out that joint activity of these cells allows to form a mental map of the space around, which is saved and is resumed in the subsequent actions.

A similar pattern of work cells can be observed in humans, and what is important, not only when navigating in space. The same cells are active when learning new concepts, as evidenced by a study of 2016. In this work, the volunteers learned to associate pictures of birds, which differed only for the length of their neck and legs, with different symbols, such as a tree or a bell. A bird with a long neck and short legs was tied to a tree, and a bird with a short neck and long legs belonged to bell. Thus, the particular combination of bodily characteristics became a symbol.

In the subsequent memory test, the volunteers indicated whether birds with one of the characters. Interestingly, entorhinal cortex, was activated in much the same way as during navigation, providing our minds a certain system of coordinates. This allows scientists to claim that the human mind can be seen as a way to different mental dimensions.

“These processes are particularly useful for behavior in situations in which we never were. For example, if a person had met with a tiger, lion or Panther, but I’ve never seen a leopard, it would define it in terms of the concept of “big cat”, as it is already saved on his mental map,” says Jacob Belland (Jacob Bellmund), co-author of the study.