An Embodiment of Some Vertebrate Command and Control Principles

[+] Author and Article Information
W. K. Kilmer

Department of Electrical Engineering, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich; Massachusetts Institute of Technology Instrumentation Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass.

W. S. McCulloch

Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology Instrumentation Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass.

J. Blum

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Instrumentation Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass.

J. Basic Eng 91(2), 295-304 (Jun 01, 1969) (10 pages) doi:10.1115/1.3571100 History: Received August 01, 1968; Online November 03, 2011


Throughout the life of the vertebrates, the core of the central nervous system, the reticular formation, has retained the power to commit the whole animal to one mode of behavior rather than another. Its anatomy, or wiring diagram, is fairly well known, but to date no theory of its circuit action has been proposed that could possibly account for its known performance. Its basic structure is that of a string of similar modules, wide but shallow in computation everywhere, and connected not merely from module to adjacent module, but by long jumpers between distant modules. Analysis of its circuit actions heretofore proposed in terms of finite automata or coupled nonlinear oscillators has failed. We propose a set of nonlinear, probabilistic, hybrid computer concepts as guidelines for specifying the operational schemata of the foregoing modules. Using the smallest numbers and greatest simplifications possible, we arrive at a reticular formation model consisting of 12 anastomatically coupled modules stacked in columnar array. A simulation test of its behavior shows that despite its 800-line complexity, it still behaves as an integral unit, rolling over from stable mode to stable mode as directed by its succession of input 60-tuples.

Copyright © 1969 by ASME
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