Neuron communication according to “Publius”

Here’s a press release on Science Daily with the whimsical headline “Neurons found to be similar to US Electoral College.”  The key paragraph, both in summarizing the research and in explaining the analogy, is this:

In this model, each dendritic branch of a neuron receives and integrates thousands of electrical inputs, deciding on just one signal to send to the axon. The axon then receives signals from all the dendrites, much like electoral votes coming in from state elections, and a final decision is made. The result could be an output in the form of an impulse, or action potential, or no action at all.

In consequence,

Output from each branch, rather than each synapse, is sent to the axon. This design of the neuron implies that local integration is very important to the cell. After information is integrated locally within a branch, there is a global integration within the axon.

Of course the comparison with the Electoral College is far-fetched, but it might be fruitful nonetheless.  After all, defenders of federalist political structures like that laid out in the US Constitution like to argue that they respect and defend the integrity of small-scale communities that might lose their character under a centralized system.  The integrity of those communities is supposed to allow for face-to-face human interaction, as opposed to the depersonalization of mass society.  So every time we find a process elsewhere in nature where a larger structure depends on local integration, federalists have another analogy from which to argue.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi! We’ve met on Alison Bechdel’s blog, do you study Italian? I’ve thought so reading your reply to my message! Your blog is very intersting!
    Read you soon,
    Simone

  2. acilius

     /  September 16, 2009

    Buon giorno, Simone! I haven’t spoken Italian since 1993, so I’m awfully rusty in it. I remember enough of it that I was able to read your blog posting about FUN HOME. Very interesting review! In bocca al lupo!

  3. Crepi and thanks for your compliments!
    If you want, or need, some help to improve your Italian or anything else about it, ask as you like. On my blog there is also a translator to English and French! See you soon!

  4. acilius

     /  September 17, 2009

    Grazie mille!

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