The astonishing discovery helps explain why even cutting-edge technologies like functional MRIs have such a hard time explaining what is going on inside our noggins. In a functional MRI, brain activity is monitored and represented as a three-dimensional image that changes over time. However, if the brain is actually working in 11 dimensions, looking at a 3D functional MRI and saying that it explains brain activity would be like looking at the shadow of a head of a pin and saying that it explains the entire universe, plus a multitude of other dimensions.
The team of scientists led by a group from Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland detected the previously unknown complexities of the brain while working on the Blue Brain Project. The project’s goal is to create a biologically accurate recreation of the human brain.
During their research, the scientists created simulations of the brain and applied an advanced form of mathematics, called algebraic topology, to their computer-generated models.
“Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures — the trees in the forest — and see the empty spaces — the clearings — all at the same time,” said study author Kathryn Hess.
What Hess and her colleagues found was that the brain processes visual information by creating multi-dimensional neurological structures, called cliques, which disintegrate the instant they are understood, according to Newsweek who first reported on the research that was published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.
The cliques have up to 11 different dimensions and form in holes of space, called cavities. Once the brain understands the visual information, both the clique and cavity disappear.
“The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner,” said researcher Ran Levi.
“It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates,” he said.
Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project, explained just how momentous a discovery the multi-dimensional structures could be.
“The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly,” he said.
“We found a world that we had never imagined. There are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions.”
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