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A neurobiological theory of meaning in perception. Part 2. Spatial patterns of phase in gamma EEG from primary sensory cortices reveal the properties of mesoscopic wave packets


Domains of cooperative neural activity called 'wave packets' have been discovered in the visual, auditory, and somatomotor cortices of rabbits that were trained to discriminate conditioned stimuli in these modalities. Each domain forms by a first order state transition, which strongly resembles a phase transition from vapor to liquid. In this view, raw sense data injected into cortex by sensory axons drive cortical action potentials in swarms like water molecules in steam. The increased activity destabilizes the cortex. Within 3 to 7 milliseconds of transition onset, the activity binds together into a state resembling a scintillating rain drop, which lasts ~ 80 to 100 milliseconds, then dissolves. Wave packets form at rates of 2 to 7/second in all sensory areas, overlapping in space and time. Results of sensory information processing are seen in spatial patterns of amplitude modulation (AM) of wave packets with carrier waves in the gamma range (20 to 80 Hz in rabbits). The AM patterns correspond to categories of CSs that the rabbits can discriminate. The patterns are found in electroencephalographic (EEG) potentials generated by dendrites and recorded with high-density electrode arrays. The state transitions by which AM patterns form are manifested in the spatial pattern of phase modulation (PM), which have the radial symmetry of a cone. The apex of a PM cone marks the site of nucleation of an AM pattern. The phase gradient gives a soft boundary condition, where the axonal delay in spread gives sufficient phase dispersion to reach the half-power level. The size of the wave packets (10 to 30 mm in diameter in rabbits) is determined largely by the conduction velocities of intracortical axons through which the neural cooperation is maintained. The findings show that significant cortical activity takes the form of mesoscopic interactions of millions of neurons in broad areas of cortex, which are more clearly detected in graded dendritic potentials than in action potentials. The distinction is analogous to the difference between statistical mechanical and thermodynamic descriptions of particle behavior. Both types of neural activity show spatial and temporal discontinuities but at distinctive scales of microns and msec versus mm and tenths of a second. The aim of measurement here is to establish the wave packet as the information carrier at the mesoscopic level in brain dynamics, comparable to the role of the action potential as the information carrier at the microscopic level in neuron dynamics.

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