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McTaggart metaphysics to theorize cell time

by Richard Meckien - published Mar 17, 2016 06:50 PM - - last modified Jun 04, 2019 11:40 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Sylvia Miguel.

Kazuhiko Kume

Neuroscientist Kazuhiko Kume, from the Nagoya City University.

Researcher in neuroscience and molecular biology, Kazuhiko Kume, from the Department of Neuropharmacology of the Nagoya City University, spoke to the participants of the Intercontinental Academia as one of the pioneers to introduce the study of neuroethics in Japan. "Time in the brain" was the theme of the lecture given during the Biology Workshop, on March 8.

Kume studies sleep patterns and the molecular interaction in the circadian cycle, and calls himself a "weekend philosopher". This is how he has introduced his vision on the relationship between the brain and the cells over time.

The professor showed an image that, when stared at, makes the viewer have the illusion that it moves. "If your brain sees the movement, this happens by the time the brain takes to produce movement. So your brain produces time to a static figure," he said.

Kume initially addressed some concepts of neuroscience and bioethics, which he introduced in Japan from a textbook produced in 2006. In the original sense of the word it means "the ethics of neuroscience" or the behaviour that defines what is good or bad in the study of the brain." For example, is the erasure of negative memories or the improvement of cognitive activity through the use of drugs good or bad?," he pointed out.

Bioethics can also be seen as the neuroscience of ethics. "For example, there is a difference in individual decisions on ethics because of structural differences in the brain." Or: "Can you tell who would say yes or no in a moral dilemma just by looking at the structure of the person's brain?," he asked. Discussing the brain and the mind incites some very common questions such as "What is mind or consciousness?" or "Do I really know why I want a certain thing?"

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According to Kume, philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650) proposed the idea of a center in the brain where the spirit (mind) would dwell; a kind of home to the soul or the thought. He believed that this center would be in the pineal body (or pineal gland), since it is a unique structure located in the central area of the brain. It is as if our mind stayed there, as if sitting in a theater watching us and deciding what we should do. As if there was a person inside the brain. But this would be impossible, Kume said, because it leads to an endless definition that within that person there would be another center inhabited by another person and so on.

Thus, the arguments against the beliefs of Descartes show that no region is particularly essential to consciousness, for any part can be deleted without the loss of consciousness. However, there are exceptions in the case of major head injuries. On the other hand, the disconnection through sleep or anesthesia induces a reversible loss of consciousness. The brain and the body continue to work, but without consciousness. Furthermore, it is philosophically impossible to conceive the "center of the human being" as this would lead to an endless recursive redefinition, according to Kume.

When two brains of different people share the same feelings, perceptions and emotions then the idea gets a bit more complicated. Kume brought this issue up by showing twins connected by the brain. They have identical genes but different tastes and personalities. They can control their own hands and often fight with each other but they have connections that provide them with the same sensations. One does not like broccoli while the other one eats it and makes the first feel the taste. They also have the ability to communicate without talking out loud. For example, moving towards a particular direction or decide to watch TV.

"We can assume a human being as a set of different personalities. In the contemporary view, it is as if there were several dwarves acting within the brain," he said. Hence Kume's view of what the mind is: like a government without a president in which the mouth is the spokesman representing the government but does not decide and does not know everything. It is like a place of many ministries, each of which is headed by a minister who decides and executes different projects, and reports to the spokesman. In this logic, not even the minister knows everything that is done in their ministry, as each ministry is made of many parts, he compared.

Kume proposes an analysis of the brain from the time classification created by English metaphysicist John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart (1866 - 1925), plus Naoki Nomura's view on the author. (read the article below)

Nomura uses the temporal structure of McTaggart and adds a new time series to the theory, the E-series, based on the synchronization and communication between agents. This series emerges when there is a synchronization between the objective time and the subjective time.

Kume showed that there are different times which vary depending on the instrument used to measure them. The clock, a programmed series, the seasons of the year, the calendar, the period of digestion, the menstrual period, the lunar period, breathing, the heart beat, eye blinking. All these are measures that give a notion of biological time. In this type of time, synchronization is important. For a tadpole to become a frog, for example, a specific objective time is not required, but rather an optimal temperature for the growth of the body and the atrophy of the tail, he exemplified.

Living beings are not exactly governed by a clock, but by a daily metabolic cycle that establishes the so-called circadian cycle. The circadian clock or circadian cycle is the period of approximately 24 hours, which is the base of the life cycle of almost all living beings. So it is a cycle influenced by variations of light, temperature, tides and winds, day and night.

According to Kume, there is a central region in the brain that regulates the mechanism, but experiments show that only a cell or a neuron can acquire the ability to complete the circadian cycle. Thus, the keyword is synchrony between cells. Likewise, considering the body as a whole, each cell operates at a different rhythm (an imperfect synchronism). The final result, however, is a perfect sync.


Metronomes adjust the beat and the time by synchronizing their movements

To illustrate this phenomenon, Kume used a video showing the beating of 32 metronomes that after being placed on a movable table at different rhythms end up getting in sync after one minute and 45 seconds. The same example was used by Professor Nomura.

For Kume, the reasoning of the E-series refers to the Integrated Information Theory (ITT), proposed by Giulio Tononi. A comatose patient regains consciousness when parts of the brain gradually connect the information of the environment, integrating them fully to the brain. Likewise, living beings adjust to the rhythm of the physical environment.

E-Series of Nomura, a new approach to McTaggart

Cultural anthropologist Naoki Nomura, a professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Nagoya City University, talked about his study on assumptions developed by McTaggart about time.

"It is still an ongoing work and therefore what I bring here is unfinished, but still a good view of McTaggart's time," he said. A part of Nomura's study is available online in the article "E-series Time As Prolegomena to McTaggart’s A- and B-series Time", which he signs with Koichiro Matsuno, from the Nagaoka University of Technology.

"The Unreality of Time" is the best-known philosophical work by McTaggart, originally published in 1908 in the journal "Mind". The author presents arguments to demonstrate the unreality of time. For McTaggart, the descriptions we know about time are either contradictory, circular or insufficient.

Naoki Nomura

Cultural anthropologist Naoki Nomura speaks about the synchrony of biological time and physical time.

McTaggart basically proposes three time series to describe time. The A-Series is temporal and represents the subjective, psychological time, consisting of past, present and future. The B-Series is timeless. It is the objective, physical time, characterized by events occurred "earlier than" and "later than" another event. The C-series and the D-Series also have static temporal characteristics.

"The A-Series is a very important division for us because it represents the subjective or psychological time. But when we look at the clock we realize that it marks the hours and not whether it is past, present or future. The B-Series means the time without the division past-present-future, representing the objective time. In the B-Series the clock functions as a global timer or a common device that synchronizes the clocks of the world," Nomura said.

The C-Series is a sequence without order, with static temporal characteristics. The calendar may be viewed as a sequence of numbers and the clock as a mechanism that rotates around its axis. So these time objects can be viewed as a still image, a painting, a drawing of time, he said. "The musical score also marks the time, but we see it as a painting," he compared.

"But the biological clock does not seem to fit into any of these series. So my question is where the biological clock would fit under these descriptions," Nomura said.

For the scientist, the answer lies between the A-Series and B-Series. Or in their communication. This combination results in the E-Series, which he created and characterized by synchronization or communication between different times. To illustrate the idea, Nomura showed what happened to the 32 metronomes.

"Their movement allowed them to fit together, all coming to the same rhythm. We see that material bodies may have an openness, interacting with each other and coordinating time. The synchronization of the metronomes happens due to the mutual adjusting movement and the displacement on the table. Where does the measure of time disappear? All come to a constant adjustment by trial and error until the time matches the beat. The communication between them makes the difference," Nomura said.

Similarly, Nomura says, it is possible to think that the flow of materials between cells occurs in the communication between them. The balance, therefore, is by synchronization. They enter a preset rhythm following the pulse of the rhythm given by walking, dancing, speaking. Thus, the synchronization establishes a kind of time which is different from the clock time.