The gamma wave brain filter

Could this be the  cause of schizophrenia?

Distracting thoughts are everywhere. You’re trying to focus on something and suddenly you’re aware of that DIY job you’ve been planning, or that project you’ve been working on at the office. And sometimes it’s a job to try and keep focused – again and again, your mind wanders, seduced by some wayward thoughts about something you’d rather just leave on the back burner.

Brain research at Norwegian University
of Science and Technology

Research at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for the Biology of Memory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) tends to suggest that we have a very sophisticated switching system in our brains. It allows us to focus our attention on one thing at a time, and stops any interference occurring either from outside sources or memories. Their results are reported in 19 November 2009 issue of Nature.

The way it works is very much like a radio with pre-set stations. Simply by jabbing a button on a radio you can instantly get the station you want. All the other stations are disallowed, or deselected. The radio manages this by focusing on a single wavelength.

In the human brain, a similar result is achieved by gamma waves. Gamma waves are the carrier waves, it seems, of other brain waves –

“The lower frequencies are used to transmit memories of past experiences, and the higher frequencies are used to convey what is happening where you are right now,”

says researcher Laura Colgin.

The gamma wave ‘switch’

It appears there are certain cells that can switch between different wavelengths instantly, thus ‘tuning into’ specific ‘channels’.

“The cells can rapidly switch their activity to tune in to the slow waves or the fast waves,” Colgin says, “but it seems as though they cannot listen to both at the exact same time”.

This does away with the ‘interference’ that we would encounter if we were aware of the two things at the same time, just as when we’re trying to focus on something on the radio, but two different stations are coming through together.

 

And just to make it more amazing, these cells appear to be able to switch from one wavelength to another at a rate of several times a second. Our brains, therefore, do seem to be equipped with some mighty hardware, and easily compete with anything the computer world can put up against it. And a single cell can ‘listen in’ to a particular wavelength among the thousands that connect to it. This ‘gamma switch’ appears to be in use throughout the brain to control communication between different regions of the brain.

Could this explain schizophrenia?

woman hearing unwanted voices in her head - schizophrenia?

Could this brain ‘switch’ be the cause of schizophrenia?

And what if the switch goes ‘on the blink’? We all know, from using computers, that no matter how amazing the hardware, once something goes wrong, some very strange things start happening. Sometimes it can be sorted by the old trick of ‘turning it off and on again” … and sometimes we end up having to do a full reinstall!

Researches think this situation (the ‘switch’ going wrong) might explain why some people (those with schizophrenic disorder), hear voices in their heads and really cannot distinguish them from reality. It’s possible this is just a simple switching failure in the great signal box that is the brain.

“Schizophrenics’ perceptions of the world around them are mixed up, like a radio stuck between stations”, Colgin says.

It’s a sobering thought that a simple ‘mechanical’ fault in the brain could be responsible for what can be such a disabling condition.

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