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Signal Traces - Sept. 2013 Vitorino RamosPhoto – Signal traces, September 2013, Vitorino Ramos.

[…] While pheromone reinforcement plays a role as system’s memory, evaporation allows the system to adapt and dynamically decide, without any type of centralized or hierarchical control […], below.

“[…] whereas signals tends to be conspicuous, since natural selection has shaped signals to be strong and effective displays, information transfer via cues is often more subtle and based on incidental stimuli in an organism’s social environment […]”, Seeley, T.D., “The Honey Bee Colony as a Super-Organism”, American Scientist, 77, pp.546-553, 1989.

[…] If an ant colony on his cyclic way from the nest to a food source (and back again), has only two possible branches around an obstacle, one bigger and the other smaller (the bridge experiment [7,52]), pheromone will accumulate – as times passes – on the shorter path, simple because any ant that sets out on that path will return sooner, passing the same points more frequently, and via that way, reinforcing the signal of that precise branch. Even if as we know, the pheromone evaporation rate is the same in both branches, the longer branch will faster vanish his pheromone, since there is not enough critical mass of individuals to keep it. On the other hand – in what appears to be a vastly pedagogic trick of Mother Nature – evaporation plays a critical role on the society. Without it, the final global decision or the phase transition will never happen. Moreover, without it, the whole colony can never adapt if the environment suddenly changes (e.g., the appearance of a third even shorter branch). While pheromone reinforcement plays a role as system’s memory, evaporation allows the system to adapt and dynamically decide, without any type of centralized or hierarchical control. […], in “Social Cognitive Maps, Swarm Collective Perception and Distributed Search on Dynamic Landscapes“, V. Ramos et al., available as pre-print on arXiV, 2005.

[…] There is some degree of communication among the ants, just enough to keep them from wandering of completely at random. By this minimal communication they can remind each other that they are not alone but are cooperating with team-mates. It takes a large number of ants, all reinforcing each other this way, to sustain any activity – such as trail building – for any length of time. Now my very hazy understanding of the operation of brain leads me to believe that something similar pertains to the firing of neurons… […] in, p. 316, Hofstadter, D.R., “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid“, New York: Basic Books, 1979).

[…] Since in Self-Organized (SO) systems their organization arises entirely from multiple interactions, it is of critical importance to question how organisms acquire and act upon information [9]. Basically through two forms: a) information gathered from one’s neighbours, and b) information gathered from work in progress, that is, stigmergy. In the case of animal groups, these internal interactions typically involve information transfers between individuals. Biologists have recently recognized that information can flow within groups via two distinct pathways – signals and cues. Signals are stimuli shaped by natural selection specifically to convey information, whereas cues are stimuli that convey information only incidentally [9]. The distinction between signals and cues is illustrated by the difference on ant and deer trails. The chemical trail deposited by ants as they return from a desirable food source is a signal. Over evolutionary time such trails have been moulded by natural selection for the purpose of sharing with nest mates information about the location of rich food sources. In contrast, the rutted trails made by deer walking through the woods is a cue, not shaped by natural selection for communication among deer but are a simple by-product of animals walking along the same path. SO systems are based on both, but whereas signals tends to be conspicuous, since natural selection has shaped signals to be strong and effective displays, information transfer via cues is often more subtle and based on incidental stimuli in an organism’s social environment [45] […], in “Social Cognitive Maps, Swarm Collective Perception and Distributed Search on Dynamic Landscapes“, V. Ramos et al., available as pre-print on arXiV, 2005.

Time-lapse imaging in live zebrafish embryos reveals that cerebellar granule cells migrate in chain-like structures as discovered by a recent article [1] [Köster et al., PLoS, Nov. 2009]. Figure above – Granule cells taken from the cerebellum of a pigeon (above, B) are shown in this 1899 drawing by legendary neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

Did talk about sticky objects and self-organization in the past,  how positive and negative feedback’s  stigmergic-like agents integrated could promote changes and learning over a complex system.  Same happens to bacteria as also ants. On the other hand, we do know memes are also sticky (e.g. Chip Heath, Dan Heath, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die“, Random House, ISBN 978-1-4000-6428-1, January 2007). What’s new however, is that there are increasing proofs that our own brains my follow similar mechanisms (as Douglas Hofstadter in the past did made some analogies with how brains could work and how ant colonies raid different environments). In this recent new study, Köster and colleagues [1] [PLoS, Nov. 2009] reveal crucial pieces of this puzzle, showing how (neuronal) cells orient themselves to migrate together (like bacteria, above). The team studied zebrafish, one of the workhorses of developmental neurobiology, because its transparent body allows researchers to track movements of cells inside of it. As explained by Mason Inman [2]:

[…] Neurons in the developing brain complete their own self-organized waltz, coordinating with their neighbors to migrate to the right spots to form the cerebellum, visual cortex, or other parts of the brain. In this issue of PLoS Biology, Reinhard Köster and colleagues show that some of these brain cells behave much like slime molds, coordinating with other cells of the same type to migrate in a herd. They found that one particular protein called Cadherin-2 is crucial in allowing the cells to adhere to their neighbors so they can coordinate their movements and all wind up in the right spot. […] Slime molds provide a textbook example of self-organization. They live as single cells until food becomes scarce. Then, they broadcast chemical signals that trigger their mass assembly into a fruiting body, with some cells forming a stalk and others turning into spores that cast about in the winds to spread far and wide. […] Neurons in the developing brain complete their own self-organized waltz, coordinating with their neighbors to migrate to the right spots to form the cerebellum, visual cortex, or other parts of the brain. In this issue of PLoS Biology, Reinhard Köster and colleagues show that some of these brain cells behave much like slime molds, coordinating with other cells of the same type to migrate in a herd. They found that one particular protein called Cadherin-2 is crucial in allowing the cells to adhere to their neighbors so they can coordinate their movements and all wind up in the right spot.[…]

[…] But the mechanisms behind this coordinated movement – in particular, how each cell adjusts its inner workings to move to the right place at the right time – are only now starting to be revealed, using imaging that tracks these cells in live animals as they develop. […] To figure out what triggers the cells to line up and move together, the authors looked at what other kinds of cells were in the neighborhood. Many studies have shown that support cells, known as glial cells, often help guide neurons during these kinds of migrations. But during the first few days of the zebrafish embryo’s development, Köster and colleagues found, there were no glial cells along the granular cells’ migration route. That means these cells must go it alone, the team reasoned, with their own mechanism for signaling between each other to line up into chains and make their move. […] Although the study focused on just one type of brain cell, the findings could explain how many types of neurons find their way to their proper spots as the brain develops. There are still some pieces of the puzzle missing, however. While the findings explain how the granule cells are able to coordinate and follow their neighbors, it’s still not clear how the first few cells to head out on the journey – those at the front of the “conga line” – get oriented in the right direction. This suggests there must be some kind of signal from surrounding cells to get them headed in the right direction, the authors argue – yet another level of organization. […] , in Mason Inman (Nov., 2009) Migrating Brain Cells Stick Together, PloS. [2]

[1] Rieger S, Senghaas N, Walch A, Köster RW (Nov., 2009) Cadherin-2 Controls Directional Chain Migration of Cerebellar Granule Neurons. PLoS Biology.
[2] Mason Inman (Nov., 2009) Migrating Brain Cells Stick Together, PloS Biology.

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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