We can see in three dimensions, and (according to theories of relativity) we exist in a universe that consists of at least four dimensions. But could there be more dimensions out there, beyond our current understanding?
That's a big question, one that's difficult to wrap our minds around. But if multi-dimensional thinking is something that seems too complex to grasp, you might be selling yourself short. A mind-boggling new study by researchers at the Blue Brain Project has found mathematical evidence for multi-dimensional geometrical structures within the networks of the brain that can operate on as many as 11 dimensions, according to a recent press release.
"We found a world that we had never imagined," said neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project, "there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions."
Researchers believe that this discovery could explain why previous brain models have struggled to fully encompass the many capabilities of our minds.
"The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly," Markram said.
The key to the puzzle is algebraic topology
Unraveling the multi-dimensional aspect of our brains required a convoluted branch of mathematics known as algebraic topology, which deals with systems that occupy numerous dimensions, as well as advanced programs that can virtually model brain tissues. After analyzing this virtual tissue, Blue Brain Project researchers then performed experiments on real brain tissue to confirm the model's accuracy.
To better grasp how the three-dimensional brain that we see can operate on so many other levels that are out of sight, understand that these extra dimensions exist on abstract, mathematical levels that emerge from the behavior of groups of neurons. For instance, neural connections form "cliques" in the brain, and each neuron within a clique connects to every other neuron in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. These structures can be unfathomably intricate, and the more intricate they become, the more dimensions they can occupy, mathematically speaking.
"The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner," explained Blue Brain researcher Ran Levi. "It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1-D), then planks (2-D), then cubes (3-D), and then more complex geometries with 4-D, 5-D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates."
The discovery could help solve some of the brain's deepest mysteries, such as the question of where memories are stored. It's possible that our memories are being kept in some of these extra-dimensional cliques, for instance. Maybe the research could even begin to unweave the grandest cognitive puzzle of them all: consciousness.
It's ground-breaking research that might also eventually contribute to more advanced designs for artificial intelligence. The study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, was released with this brief video to help explain some of the profundity: