The Rise of a Precept
600 million years ago, all life on this planet was single celled. For
nearly 4 billion years, all that existed were microscopic organisms
living in the oceans. Then a revolution took place during the Cambrian Period. A mechanism kicked
in that allowed small groups of cells sharing the same genetic material to begin to intimately cooperate with one another.
that point, life was lifted to a new level of development. In this
realm, not all cells were islands unto
themselves. Some found that they existed in cooperatives that gave
them the opportunity to specialize. In this
situation, cells could focus on a subset of the tasks needed for
survival, leaving the rest to others of the group. Many
levels of differentiation emerged, but the most
important of these specializations was the rise of messenger cells.
These cells sent signals throughout the organism by means
of electrical conductivity. In their aggregate they gave rise to
in this differentiation process, an advantage arose from not only
employing diffuse signaling, but by providing
aggregation points. The linking of a number of messenger cells into
tightly communicating groups produced the central nervous system.
The Start of a Biological Precept
When the earliest aggregations of messenger cells emerged over 500
million years ago,
these neural centers where both small and of limited capacity. Yet for
all their limitedness, those early central nervous systems still had
to justify their existence. They had to improve, right from the
the survivability of the organisms to which they belonged. By what we
know of such systems today, there were two means by which this could be
The first mechanism was internal homeostasis.
If an organism were to get out of internal balance, electrical
conductivity could speed up the processes of recovery far faster than
diffusion of chemical messengers alone.
second mechanism for a central nervous system that would justify
existence was to allow various types of information from the
outside to be brought in and processed through a kind of parallel
logic. The output of this repetitive logic would have been wave upon
wave of signal patterns. These signal patterns would have
propagated through the organism producing specific reactions that, in
some cases, would change the organism's relationship to its
surroundings. This logic-driven behavioral mechanism could then
be programmed by natural selection. This would allow a given
species to develop, over time, actions that would better meet the
needs of the individual.
of small, straight-forward processing center offered such
significant survival value that it has persisted for more than 500
million years. Today, there are millions of species that make use
of it. One of the smallest of these systems is found in the ubiquitous mosquito.
A Biological Precept
study of life, our species has learned that there are a range of
precepts, or rules, that have been in operation in the development of these
various complex systems. The one rule that we at Core Memory Circuits
have found valuable in moving digital science forward is derived from
the study of the various types of central nervous systems.
begins by recognizing that regardless of whether it is Boolean logic
used in our silicon-based systems or biological logic found in
central nervous systems, several major points can be made about the use
of discrete logic.
when developing early expressions of computational systems,
repetitive logic is the only path to their creation. Repetitive logic
is simple, effective, and with very little resources, it gives
you big results.
regardless of the path taken, either through natural selection or human
engineering, you eventually run into the second truth about the use of
repetitive logic. There is an ultimate limit to how far it can be made
to scale. Beyond that point, it becomes too much of a power hog. As for
why it becomes a power hog, that is an in-depth discussion that will be
given at some future time. Suffice it to say,
parallel-based biological systems are superior to Boolean-based
logic systems. Consequently, IBM has initiated a major program to bring biological type processing
into human machinery. But both approaches do reach limits in their
ability to support the growth of computational systems.
If the human brain ran solely on the mechanism of
repetitive logic, it would burn itself up very quickly. Since we are
here, it is obvious that something else is at work to allow us to have
the computational capacity that we do.
then is the solution? If each of us gave this subject a few moments of
thought, it would become obvious what mechanism dominates our mental
activities. To highlight the difference between the various types of
central nervous systems, consider the two ends of the spectrum, the
flatworm and the human being.
environment, the flatworm spends most of its time moving about, looking
for the necessary nutrients to survive. As it moves, its little central nervous system never has such a thought as,
"Well, I was at this very same pebble last Thursday. And, if I remember
correctly, if I turn to the left by about 32 degrees and go 25 and 1/2
inches, I will find some very tasty food." This is not what happens in
these simple animals. Rather, they receive a wide range of
sensory inputs that are continuously monitoring such things as chemical
gradients, moisture levels, light intensity and temperature. All
of these inputs come into its aggregation of messenger cells
where continuous repetitive logic is applied to them. The ongoing
results of this computation steadily direct the organism through its
consider ourselves. We, as organisms with one of the largest central
nervous systems seen in nature, are always keeping a mental map of
where we are, both in time and space. Within this framework, we do have
thoughts such as, "Well, today is Thursday. And my favorite restaurant
is having one of their tastiest dishes on its special menu. If I turn
left at the next light, go down two blocks, cut across Fifth Street and
up that little alley, I can make it there before the dinner crowd hits at six."
the flatworms, have a very large number of inputs coming into our
central nervous system on a continuous basis. And like the flatworm,
these inputs keep us anchored to our world. But that is where the exact
comparison ends. We still find that there is a range of repetitive
logic systems taking place to filter these inputs within us.
These logic processes occur deep below the surface of our
results of these logic processes must work their way up through layers
of mental activities that make up our subconscious.
Eventually, some of these inputs, in highly modified form, do have
impact on our behavior. But unlike the flatworm, these autonomic
conclusions are not the final arbiters to our actions.
above example, the trigger for the actions might have been the result
of incoming smells from a hotdog stand combined with our internal
energy measurements. But it is not chemical gradients that direct us to
the food. That is determined by a much more powerful mechanism. That
mechanism is a form of memory. You can also notice in the above
mundane example that it was not just one memory that directed
the individual to his goal. Rather, it was a number of discrete
memories working in concert--starting with what was around the next
corner and ending with the memory of crowds--that directed and controlled the complex
brings us to one of the major precepts of modern physiological
psychology. With simple organisms, repetitive logic is the only
operation. As you move up the
animal kingdom, you find that at a certain point in the size and
intricacy, a higher-level mechanism begins to emerge. This mechanism
does not replace the more
basic mechanism. Rather, it works in conjunction
with that mechanism in order to amplify what the animal can do. As the
organism becomes ever more advanced, interactive memories become
more and more the dominant mechanism in the central nervous