Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

How brains make chaos in order to make sense of the world

Christine A. Skardaa1 and Walter J. Freemana2

a1 CREA, Ecole Polytechnique, 75005 Paris, France,

a2 Departement of Physiology-Anatomy, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.94720


Recent “connectionist” models provide a new explanatory alternative to the digital computer as a model for brain function. Evidence from our EEG research on the olfactory bulb suggests that the brain may indeed use computational mechanisms like those found in connectionist models. In the present paper we discuss our data and develop a model to describe the neural dynamics responsible for odor recognition and discrimination. The results indicate the existence of sensory- and motor-specific information in the spatial dimension of EEG activity and call for new physiological metaphors and techniques of analysis. Special emphasis is placed in our model on chaotic neural activity. We hypothesize that chaotic behavior serves as the essential ground state for the neural perceptual apparatus, and we propose a mechanism for acquiring new forms of patterned activity corresponding to new learned odors. Finally, some of the implications of our neural model for behavioral theories are briefly discussed. Our research, in concert with the connectionist work, encourages a reevaluation of explanatory models that are based only on the digital computer metaphor.