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Your absent-mindedness is business as usual, shows new research

19 February 2021, 08:11

Are you often absent-minded, feeling that your thoughts are meandering away unpredictably? Now there is a scientific explanation. New research from Lund University and RISE, Research Institutes of Sweden, in Sweden shows that the brain’s nerve cells are completely reliable—in their unreliability. This is revealed by a new mathematical method and experimental measurements.

- The findings are significant for our fundamental grasp of the brain’s function, which is important not only for understanding disorders of the brain, but also for the growth of AI technology and machine learning which are increasingly inspired by biology, says associate professor Martin Nilsson at RISE. 

Martin Nilsson and professor Henrik Jörntell at Lund University carried out the study published in the scientific journal Physical Review E. The scientists suggest that the difficulty of treating brain disorders today depends to a great degree on our lack of knowledge of the brain’s function, but that the findings may lift us to a new level of understanding.

- How our nerve cells create the electrical signals for mutual communication is one of the most crucial questions for our understanding of the brain’s function, which can be identified with the flow of electrical signals in the huge networks formed by nerve cells. The better our understanding of these fundamental mechanisms, the better the possibilities to treat the disorders that the brain suffers, explains Henrik Jörntell.

- The technical breakthrough was when we discovered a new mathematical method for solving the equations describing the nerve cell. Whereas these equations were previously considered very hard to solve, we can now solve them instantly. This has enabled us to correct and perfect the neuron model by analysing large amounts of experimental data, says Martin Nilsson.

The results show that the nerve cells unavoidably display a regulated randomness controlled by the molecular mechanisms generating the electrical signals. This randomness may contribute to absent-mindedness, but probably also allows the brain to work more flexibly and creatively with problem solving—and paradoxically enough, it also enables the brain to express itself more precisely by allowing vagueness when called for.

Please see the article:  Channel current fluctuations conclusively explain neuronal encoding of internal potential into spike trains, Physical Review E, 17. February 2021

For more information contact:

Martin Nilsson, mathematical physicist, associate professor, RISE
+46 70 775 1574
martin.nilsson@ri.se

Henrik Jörntell, professor of neurophysiology at Lund University
+46 46 222 7764 or +46 70 537 8967
henrik.jorntell@med.lu.se