In “On Intelligence”, Jeff Hawkins makes an apt metaphor for the complexity of the brain:

The brain is incredibly complex, a vast and daunting tangle of cells. At first glance it looks like a stadium full of cooked spaghetti.

neurons through an optical microscope

neurons through an optical microscope


Let’s explore this comparison. Do the proportions hold? Incredibly, they do! Take a human brain 20 cm in length and blow it up to the size of the Yankee stadium – 200 m in length. In this magnified world, axons and dendrites indeed will approximate the sizes of common varieties of pasta from thick noodles at the axon hillock to thinnest capellini in dendritic arbors. Dendritic spines will appear as barely visible bristles along the dendrites. Neuronal soma will approximate golf balls in size or, more appropriately, rather large meatballs.

Wait a minute!

Flying Spaghetti Monster
The spaghetti bowl theory of the brain lends added credence to Pastafarianism, a belief system that describes the Creator of the Universe, Supreme Being, or Higher Consciousness in similar culinary terms.

Coincidence?

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A while ago, I asked several coworkers, separately, whether they thought animals had souls. The two Mormons among them claimed that all living things all the way to prokaryotes and viruses had eternal spirits along with their physical bodies. The two Catholics argued that humans alone possessed minds and souls. All of them seemed somewhat confident in their responses so I thought I could generalize these respective beliefs to all Mormons and Catholics. Does any other faith stand elsewhere on the continuum between the all-inclusive Mormons and the soul-grudging Catholics? Do any creeds proclaim, for example, that only mammals have souls, but not reptiles and plants? — I think I could provide a few neurophysiological arguments to justify that position. Dog owners, for example, whatever their faith, will vouch for the existence of their best friend’s soul. Thus we make a testable prediction: any Catholic will disavow her faith after getting a puppy. I realize Catholics have grown quite diverse in their beliefs post-Vatican II. I must have simply run into the non-dog-owning kind — sampling error again.

Finally, who has the correct answer?

To answer these questions, I consult the preeminent objective source on all things spiritual and scientific, the Conservapedia. In its current article on the brain, Conservapedia cites the work of one René Descartes and his conclusion that the etherial soul controls the physical brain through the pineal gland. Conservapedia’s authors express doubts about the more modern and less satisfying descriptions of the function of the brain and the pineal gland in particular as they do not specifically provide room for free will and the eternal soul. The answer becomes clear: creatures that have a pineal gland also have souls while those that don’t, don’t.

Then let’s simply enumerate all animals that have a pineal gland and those that don’t. It turns out, all chordates have a form of the pineal gland or epiphysis and it contains cells homologous to retinal cells specific to chordates. Human embryos, clearly, don’t have a pineal gland and do not have souls, until at least the time when the epiphysis begins to develop in the fetus around the seventh week of gestation.

Ah, it feels great to finally have the answers — lampreys, fish, mice, and sheep have souls whereas bananas, insects, octopuses, and human embryos don’t. Next topic!