FILLING IN THE BLANKS
Of Data Loss and Instinctive Invention
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
- Mark Twain, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
SO, THE good news is, despite the decidedly separate nature of our makeup, our systems are constantly kicking off processes to cross the gaps, converting electricity to neurotransmitters and sending them into the void, allowing our senses to perceive and our actions to respond. Whether we’re consciously aware or not, we are in constant entangled interaction with the world around us, always detecting information, always decoding it, always deciding what to do with it, on a physical and subconscious level.
Electricity spikes. Ions start to move. Gates open. Chemicals pour into spaces and act on other chemicals. Electricity builds up again and then travels on. Information makes its way from the tips of our toes to the base of our brains, from all our senses to our central nervous system, and then our brains and minds decide what to do with it. Even when we don’t overtly act on incoming information, we still respond to it in some way, though we can’t detect because it’s so subtle, so automatic. And this happens countless times each moment we’re alive.
It happens on a massive scale across trillions of interconnected junctions, yet it’s such a fundamental part of who and what we are, we don’t even need to think about it. Our bodies figure out for themselves whether our hearts should beat faster, when we can slow down our breathing, or if we should pull away from a sudden sharp pain. Countless snap decisions get made based on input we can’t even consciously detect, as do myriad intentional choices. Even though our “wiring” is riddled with infinitesimal gaps, we’re continuously closing the distance between ourselves and the world around us in order to get closer contact.
It’s not a simple matter of information making the trip, however. As mentioned earlier, despite the veritable flood of sensory data we take in, not all of it gets where it’s going. Electrical impulses degrade along unmyelinated sections of nerve. Neurotransmitters get lost as they diffuse across the synaptic cleft. Or they get sucked back into the bouton where they originated. They can get consumed by nearby glial cells or transformed by interactions with other chemicals in the space between axon and dendrite. Or they can fail to match up to the receptors waiting for them. Maybe the receptors don’t open. Or maybe the neurochemicals just miss the mark and bounce off the fatty wall of the post-synaptic dendrite. Bottom line, they don’t always survive the journey.