Semblance Hypothesis

Objective: To understand how first-person inner sensations of higher brain functions occur either independently or concurrent with the third-person observed behavioral motor actions.

Mother Nature's most secret plot?

Without sleep, there is no system! An explanation

Perception from a first-person frame of reference

Internal sensation - A comparison with electromagnetism

Why do we need a first-person neuroscience?

In simple words, what is semblance hypothesis? Systems in the body are being studied by observing them from outside (e.g. pumping of heart, filtering by kidneys, structure of DNA and synthesis of proteins). Third-person approaches are suitable for their studies. In contrast, functions of the nervous system such as perception, memory and consciousness are first-person inner sensations to which only the owner of the nervous system has access. However, we have been studying these functions by examining the nervous system from outside by third-person approaches at various levels (biochemical, cellular, systems, electrophysiological, imaging, and behavioral) and trying to find correlations between these findings with an aim to understand the system. By these approaches, the first-person internal sensations of all the higher brain functions remain unexplored. The reality is that the examiner should become an insider in a subject's nervous system (and become part of the system) to sense the first-person internal sensations! This is not practically possible. This means we are facing a “frame of reference” problem in our current approaches to understand its operations. This can be overcome by undertaking a theoretical approach. Since it is a universal operational mechanism, we should be able to find it without much difficulty if we are in the right path. We had no previous experience of examining for a biological mechanism that gives rise to virtual inner sensations. This should not hinder our examination in any way. In fact, we must prepare ourselves to look for a unique mechanism that has the ability to evade our attention! By keeping these in mind, a theoretical examination was carried out to arrive at a specific location where such a unique mechanism can be expected to take place. Further examination of this location has enabled identification of a set of unique features necessary for a feasible operational mechanism whereby the system can generate units of inner sensations at specific conditions (that are physiologically present). This mechanism is expected to interconnect all the findings made by third-person approaches at different levels. Until now, the results using this observation are able to explain and interconnect several findings from different levels. Pathological changes of the expected cellular mechanism can explain several neurological and psychiatric disorders. Predictions made by this hypothesis are testable.                                                                                      

There are several unsolved problems in neuroscience (Adolphs, 2015) and they have been observed from different levels (Edelman 2012; Gallistel & Balsam 2014; Sejnowski et al., 2014). The challenges in understanding the nervous system can be viewed in different ways as follows. The complex puzzle of the nervous system involves functions at different levels. They are being examined by different faculties of science - biochemistry, cell biology, electrophysiology, systems neuroscience, psychology and consciousness studies. It is similar to a puzzle lying in multiple dimensions. Solving it requires finding the correct pieces of the puzzle at the right level with the right operational function so that it can be used to build the system from which formation of all the functions can be explained. Understanding these operational units is also required to troubleshoot the system, for example to treat psychiatric disorders. If we examine only one or a few levels of the system, we might design pieces of the puzzle with features that might seem fitting together, but only for those few levels. Features of the unexamined levels may remain unexplainable and we won't reach at the solution for the system. The diverse nature of different functions strongly indicate that the solution is going to be a very unique one. At the same time, it is also expected to be a simple one. To find the correct operational units that can explain functions occurring at all the levels, it is necessary to examine as many functions as possible that span across different faculties of brain sciences at the same time. A strategy to simultaneously examine major findings from as many faculties as possible to include representative functions from different levels is a plausible approach.

    A second view of the problem can be described as follows. It begins by examining the following situation: The heart pumps the blood and the kidneys filter the waste materials from the blood; these functions are observed by experimenters from a third-person perspective. We understood their functions quite well as evidenced by our ability to develop methods to replace their functions - using artificial heart and dialysis. What functions does the nervous system carry out? It creates an inner sense of the external world during perception, stores sensory information by associative learning and later produces the internal sensation of retrieved memories of the learned item when the associatively learned cue stimulus arrives at the nervous system, induces thought process to connect different items from different sets of learning for solving problems – all of which are first-person properties that cannot be accessed by others, the third-persons. The only sensory stimuli from the owner of the nervous system that are available to a third-person are from the surrogate markers consisting of motor activity - specifically, speech and behavior. Therefore, the pieces of the puzzle mentioned in the above paragraph should be capable of explaining both first- and third-person detectable functions.


    A third view of the problem become evident when examined from the view point of a builder. Here, the job is to replicate the nervous system in an engineered system. The real problems in solving the system will become very clear by taking this approach. Since intentionality to feed and carry out all the actions for survival and reproduction are present even in the members of the lower level animal species, a robust evolutionarily conserved circuit mechanism for generating internal sensations is expected to be present in all the nervous systems. Therefore, replicating nervous systems of the members of lower level animal species should be able to provide proof. Since the first-person properties cannot be accessed from a third-person approach, they cannot be studied using biological systems. It is required to build engineered system for its testing. These systems need to be built to provide readouts for the first-person internal sensations that can be accessed by the third-persons. This method provides the gold standard for understanding the system. As a builder, we need to know how all the different functions operate. Most importantly, the mechanism should be able to explain the formation of internal sensations at physiological time-scales. Before building the system, we need to make sure that we can draw a sketch of the systems operations for all the functions.


A fourth view becomes possible when we observe the “loss of function” states of the system occurring at various levels. Mother Nature has provided us with this excellent toolset of “loss of function” states that can help understanding the nature of the pieces of the puzzle. Early years of genetics research have gained valuable information from inborn errors of metabolism that provided guidance to understand the alleles of genes. In this context, examining the neurological and psychiatric disorders can help understanding the nature of the operational mechanism. Since the exact pathological features of many of these diseases are not yet known, it is expected that the loss of function of the operational units that induce both the first- and third-person features should be able to provide information about the nature of their pathologies from which the function can be deduced.


Based on the above challenges, a conclusion can be arrived that findings from different fields of neuroscience research should agree with each other to provide an operational mechanism that can explain both third- and first-person properties. In this regard, a theoretical approach is the most efficient way of finding the solution. This led to the development of the semblance hypothesis. Of the different higher brain functions, memory has a special advantage in that it can be tested at various levels (induction, storage, maintenance, and retrieval at the structural and functional levels). Studies were carried out by examining how the first-person internal sensation of memory is formed at physiological time-scales using electro-physiologically operated cell biological mechanisms. Further examinations were carried out to test whether the same mechanism or its derived operations can explain findings from different faculties of neuroscience, especially those that appear challenging and unsolvable when examined from the third-person observations. A hypothesis was published first as a short book in 2007 (a copy is uploaded in the Publications section). Revised editions were published in 2008 and 2010.

Large amount of experimental data is available in the field of memory research. Retrieved memories are represented by surrogate behavioral motor changes such as spoken language or motor activity occurring at the time of memory retrieval. Since molecular or electro-physiological changes are not observed during memory retrieval, studies are limited to examining changes taking place at the time of associative learning. Due to the lack of a mechanism for the retrieval of memories, it has not been possible to understand its true nature. It is not feasible to make assumptions that either the mechanism of retrieval or the nature of the working, short- or long-term memories that are retrieved or both occur through separate mechanisms. It has only been possible to examine the time-dependent molecular changes occurring after associative learning and, based on this, memories were classified into working, short-term and long-term memories. What if the retrieval process in different types of memories occurs through a common mechanism and similarly a common cellular mechanism is induced at the time of associative learning? Then, long-term storage of memories can be viewed as a function of activated mechanisms that maintain the changes induced during associative learning for a long period of time. To address these, the following questions were asked - Can we directly examine the memories themselves instead of examining the surrogate motor activity at the time of memory retrieval and the slow molecular changes occurring after the associative learning? In this context, it is necessary to re-examine the question: "What are memories?" Memories are first-person virtual internal sensations induced within the nervous system in response to a cue stimulus. Can we study the virtual sensory qualities of the first-person internal sensations of memory? For the first time, the present work put forward a mechanism by examining possible basic units of the internal sensations of memory at the time of its retrieval, hypothesized re-activatible cellular changes from which they can occur, and traced the locations of these cellular changes back to the time of associative learning for feasible a operational mechanism. Structural and electro-physiological changes that are expected to occur from these changes were explained using experimental results from different laboratories.

Large number of features observed by different faculties of neuroscience and psychology are required to be explained by a solution for the system (Table 1). Since these features are very diverse, only a unique cellular mechanism will be able to explain all of them. This unique mechanism is expected to be a unique structure-function mechanism occurring at the intersection between the third-person observed features and first-person properties. In other words, it is a structural feature that can provide the basic units of first-person internal sensations of different higher brain functions. Since the large number of features in Table 1 are being studied by different specialized faculties within the large fields of neuroscience and psychology, a theoretical solution is required to reach out and interconnect all the findings from these different faculties. Since our current research efforts in each field are moving towards more specialized and super-specialized areas, finding the unique solution requires an effort in the opposite direction - to connect large number of findings from different fields (to put the pieces of the puzzle together). Anticipating this is the most important requirement for solving the system. Either synaptic connectivity between the presynaptic and postsynaptic terminals or the synaptially-connected neural networks have not yet succeeded in explaining a) how information is processed and b) how to interconnect the brain functions occurring at different levels such as - a mechanism that directs potentials to induce internal sensation concurrent with the activation of motor neurons at physiological time-scales (inter-connecting central mechanism), dendritic spine changes, long-term potentiation, place cell firing, consolidation of memory, and association of memory with a feasible framework for consciousness. In this context, the present work has examined weather any undiscovered connections and mechanisms are involved in addition to the synaptic connections. In summary, the present work has used freedom to seek a theoretically feasible unique mechanism that can explain how first-person internal sensations are formed that also interconnect findings from different levels. This led to the derivation of a crucial mechanism that can explain and interconnect most of the findings made by different faculties of brain research.


What is to be explained?

Nervous system is made of synaptically-connected neuronal circuitry Mechanism should operate in synchrony with synaptically-connected neuronal circuitry

Internal sensation of retrieved memories takes place at physiological time scales

A mechanism that uses learning-induced change at the time of memory retrieval at physiological time scales

Absence of cellular changes during memory retrieval

A passive reactivation of the changes that occurred during learning should be getting used at the time of memory retrieval to induce units of internal sensations    

Operate at a certain range of frequency of extracellularly recorded oscillating potentials

Expected mechanism to provide vector components of the oscillating potentials

Storage of very large number of memories

Since neurons and its processes are finite in number, a specific cue stimulus is expected to induce a specific memory using a combination of unitary mechanisms              

Instant access to very large memory stores

Reactivation of large number of combinations of learning-induced changes in response to large number of cue stimuli should be able to induce specific memories at physiological time-scales

Motivation promotes learning

Role of a specific factor and a specific action on the induction of units of internal sensations

Retrieval of memories very long period of time after the learning

A feasible mechanism for long-term maintenance of learning induced change

Internal sensation of memory is cue specific

How cue features can induce specific features for the internal sensation

Internal sensations of working, short and long-term memories have similar qualia

A mechanism to retain learning induced change for different lengths of time

Ability to store new memories without needing to overwrite the old ones

How specific features of different memories can be maintained by retaining previous learning-induced changes or an equivalent mechanism

Consolidation of memory

How gradual transfer of locations from which memories can be induced can occur

Mechanism to use schemas inter-changeably

How one learning-induced changes are shared by another learning event and how these shared changes are used at the time of memory retrieval

Framework of a mechanism to generate hypothesis by the system

How two internal sensations produce internal sensation of a relationship between them        

Place cell firing in response to specific spatial stimulus

How internal sensation of memory for a location is linked with firing of a CA1 neuron

System needs an unconscious state of sleep for nearly one third of its operational duration

Substantive nature of sleep in the operation of the system. In other words, explain that “there is no system without sleep”

Firing of an ensemble of neurons during a higher brain function

The mechanism should be able to explain this observation

Mechanism for innate behavior that enables survival

Heritable change for a mechanism to explain innate behavior in response to a stimulus

Firing of a set of neurons during a specific higher brain function (for example, during both learning and memory retrieval)

How both learning and induction of internal sensation of memory are associated with firing of a set of neurons

Memory is induced consciously and eventually becomes sub-conscious after repeated retrievals

Must be able to explain at least as a framework of a mechanism

LTP has several correlations with behavior associated with memory

The mechanism behind these correlations

Loss of dendritic spines after kindling

Specific reason for spine loss

Seizures and memory problems by herpes simplex viral (HSV) encephalitis

Mechanistic explanation for both these features can also provide some information about the relationship between these two features

Blockers of membrane fusion blocks LTP

Explain the cellular location where they act          

Induction of LTP at the CA2 area of the hippocampus becomes possible by the removal of the peri-neural net proteins chemically

Specific mechanism at the extracellular location by which the mechanism of LTP induction (that is related with natural memory) get affected

CA2 area of the hippocampus is resistant to seizures

How peri-neural net proteins can block the mechanism of seizures, which is related with kindling and HSV infection

Relationship between LTP, kindling and seizures

Need an interconnecting explanation

Mechanism of neurodegenerative disorders

How contiguous spread of pathology cause spine loss and neuronal death. Provision for the sporadic occurrence of these changes.

Dementia in neurodegenerative disorders

How loss of spines can lead to dementia – loss of internal sensation of various higher brain functions and behavior                

Perception as a first-person internal sensation

How a variant or a modification of the mechanism of induction of internal sensation for memory can explain perception

Flash lag delay, apparent location of the percept different from the actual location, homogeneity in the percept for stimuli above the flicker fusion frequency, mechanism for object borders and generation of pressure phosphenes

Matching explanations using the mechanism of induction of units of internal sensation for all these features

Framework for consciousness

A testable mechanism that is related to the frequency of oscillating extracellular potentials

Loss of consciousness by anesthetics

All the known properties of anesthetics and how they alter the framework of consciousness

Loss of consciousness during a generalized seizure and its reversal

How the explanation for seizure generation is linked with alteration of the framework for consciousness

Effect of dopamine in augmenting anesthetic action

Interconnect how dopamine augments both learning and anesthetic action 

Comparative circuitry in a remote species

Comparable features that show relationship of a mechanism that induces units of internal sensation using synaptically-connected neuronal circuitry among different species of animals  

Neurodegeneration resulting from repeated general anesthesia

How mechanism of loss of consciousness by anesthetics, if induced repeatedly, cause loss of spines and other features of neurodegeneration

Table 1. Features of the system that need to be explained independently and in an inter-connectable manner using a derived solution. Note that the listed findings are so disparate and the constraints offered by them are so strong that there should be a unique solution. The above list will help to verify whether the derived solution is correct or not.

A complete understanding of the operational mechanism leading to the first-person properties will only be achieved by carrying out the gold standard test of its replication in engineered systems. Even though replication of surrogate motor activities to produce behaviorally equivalent machines may seem adequate, the work will not be complete until first-person properties of the mind are understood. Engineering challenges in this approach include devising methods to convert the first-person accessible internal sensations to appropriate readouts. Experiments to translate theoretically feasible mechanisms of its formation both by computational and engineering methods are required. Feasibility to explain various brain functions both from first and third-person perspectives qualifies it as a testable hypothesis. Research findings from different laboratories have been examined in terms of the semblance hypothesis. The present work resulted from curiosity to understand the order behind the seemingly complex brain functions. In this attempt, I have used some freedom to seek a new basic principle in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This work wouldn't have become possible without a large amount of research work painstakingly carried out by many researchers over many years. Even though the present hypothesis is compatible with experimental data, it must be considered unproven until verified.


Video presentations

1. A testable hypothesis of brain functions

2. How to study inner sensations? Examples from mathematics

3. Neurons and Synapses

4. List of third person findings and the derivation of the solution for the nervous system

5. Constraints to work with

6. Induction of units of inner sensation

7. Why do we need to sleep?

8. A potential mechanism for neurodegeneration

9. LTP: An explanation by semblance hypothesis

10. A framework for consciousness

11. A potential mechanism of anaesthetic agents


The challenge: "What I cannot create (replicate), I do not understand" - Richard Feynman

The reality: We are being challenged to find a scientific method to study the unique function of the nervous system - i.e. how different inner sensations are being generated in the brain. We cannot directly study them using biological systems. We need to verify their generation using engineered systems.    

The expectation: We are likely able to solve the mechanism of the nervous system functions in multiple steps. First, using all the available information, it is necessary to deduce a suitable first-principle from which everything else can be explained. This can be followed by further verifications by triangulation methods and examining comparable circuitries in different animal species. Once identified and verified, we can expect to replicate the mechanism in engineered systems.

The hope: We will give everything we can. Together we will explore it!