Physics has worked to discover the best feasible explanations for the behavior of matter and energy in the physical universe at all scales of space and time. Modern physics is full of complicated notions and ideas that have transformed our understanding of the cosmos (and how we don’t perceive it). Physicists who explore into non-intuitive, invisible worlds involving the subatomic, quantum, and cosmic realms are progressively revealing the secrets of the physical universe. But how do advanced physicists’ minds accomplish this feat of imagining worlds that cannot be experienced?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a technique to decipher the brain activity linked with individual abstract scientific ideas relating to matter and energy, such as fermion or dark matter, in an article just published in npj: Science of Learning.

CMU’s Robert Mason, senior research associate, Reinhard Schumacher, professor of physics, and Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to record the thought processes of their fellow physics faculty members regarding advanced physics concepts (fMRI).

Unlike many previous brain imaging-based neuroscience research, this one wasn’t looking for “the region in the brain” where sophisticated scientific notions dwell. Rather, the objective of this research was to figure out how the brain organizes very abstract scientific notions. How does a physicist’s brain arrange information? An encyclopedia organizes knowledge alphabetically, a library organizes it according to something like the Dewey Decimal System, but how does a physicist’s brain organize knowledge?

The researchers wanted to see if the activation patterns elicited by distinct physics ideas might be categorized based on concept characteristics. One of the most surprising discoveries was that the physicists’ minds categorized the notions into those that were quantifiable and those that were immeasurable in size. For the most part, everything tangible on Earth can be measured with the appropriate ruler, scale, or radar gun. However, other ideas, like as dark matter, neutrinos, and the multiverse, are incomprehensible to physicists. The measureable and immeasurable ideas are arranged independently in the minds of physicists.

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Of course, certain aspects of the physics professors’ brain structure mirrored those of physics students’ brains, such as ideas with a periodic character. Although light, radio waves, and gamma rays are periodic, notions like as buoyancy and the multiverse are not.

But how can the validity of this interpretation of the brain activity data be determined? The researchers devised a method for predicting the activation patterns of each of the ideas. But how can dark matter-induced activation be predicted? On a scale of 1 to 7, the team gathered an independent group of physics professors to assess each proposal on each of the postulated organizational dimensions. A notion like “duality,” for example, is likely to be evaluated as immeasurable (i.e., low on the measureable magnitude scale). The relationship between ratings and activation patterns for all of the ideas but one was then established using a computational model, which was then utilized to predict the activation of the left-out concept. This model had an average accuracy of 70%, which was much higher than the chance rate of 50%. This shows that the underlying structure is well known. In the following graphic, this approach is shown for the activation related with the notion of dark matter.

Thought Creativity

Post-Newtonian physicists revolutionized our knowledge of space, time, matter, energy, and subatomic particles around the turn of the twentieth century. The new ideas emerged from the human brain’s creative powers, not from their perceptual experience. How did this happen?

The neurons in the human brain have a wide range of computational skills, and experience dictates which of those capabilities are used in diverse combinations with other brain areas to execute certain cognitive tasks. Every healthy brain, for example, is ready to acquire the sounds of spoken language, but an infant’s exposure to a specific linguistic environment influences which phonemes of which language are learnt.

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The brilliance of civilization has been the development of new talents and knowledge using these brain capacities. The flexibility of the human brain is what allows all of this to happen. We may think about new notions using our ancient brains, which are structured along new, fundamental dimensions. “Immeasurability” (a feature of dark matter, for example) is an example of a “new” physics dimension important in twentieth-century post-Newtonian physics, which contrasts with the “measurability” of classical physics ideas (such as torque or velocity). This new dimension can be found in the minds of all university physics professors who have been tested. The increased capacities of human brains were used to build scientific advancements in physics.

Another remarkable discovery was the high degree of similarity in how physicists encoded concepts in their brains. The brain representations of the physicists were comparable despite the fact that they were taught in various institutions, languages, and cultures. Because the brain system that naturally comes into play for processing a particular sort of information is intrinsically best suited to that processing, there is a similarity in conceptual representations. Consider how the parts of one’s body that come into play to complete a job are the most suited: to catch a tennis ball, a closing hand, rather than a pair of knees, a mouth, or an armpit, immediately comes into action. When physicists analyze information regarding oscillation, the brain circuit that is activated is the same one that is used to interpret rhythmic phenomena like dance moves or pond ripples. And this is where people’s similarities come from. To process a particular notion, everyone’s brain areas are activated in the same way.

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So, as civilization has progressed, the key to teaching old brains new tricks is to enable creative minds to generate new understandings and innovations by expanding on or reusing the human brain’s natural information processing capabilities. By transmitting these freshly formed thoughts to others, they will be rooted in the same information processing capacities of the receivers’ brains that the creators utilized. The advancements may be spread to whole populations through mass communication and education. As a result, the most powerful entity on Earth, the human brain, continues to propel science, technology, and civilization forward.

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