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Cartesian Complexity

October 19, 2009

Torah Kachur

Descartes is way too complicated.

I think, therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum. I think I'm smart, I think you are awesome for reading this... I think, therefore I am. 5 words, simple, straightforward, a catch phrase for generations. But those 5 words are way too complicated.

Thoughts define us, they make us human, they make us individuals and they make us real.

But, what is a thought?

Neurons in our brain make thoughts, transmit feelings and express ideas. Those signals are transmitted down neurons as an action potential. Action potentials follow a simple formula: sodium channels open, potassium channels open, sodium channels close, potassium channels close. Repeat.

That is it. No grand fireworks complexity: sodium channels open - Romeo and Juliet, potassium channels open - quantum mechanics, sodium channels close - structure of DNA, potassium channels close - the Sistine Chapel.

How do we get thought from that simple formula? Complex interactions between neurons, criss-crossing across our brain through speech centers, taste centers, memory centers. Incredible numbers of neurons connect in the most complicated network imaginable - but it all comes down to: sodium channels open, potassium channels open, sodium channels close, potassium channels close. Repeat.

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