Marcus Raichle, who had initially discovered the default brain network, has a new review article in TICS, that argues that brain activity should be understood as primarily an intrinsic and proactive process rather than a reflexive or reactive process.
He bases this argument on the fact that resting brain consumes 20 % of body’s energy requirements , but this is the consumption of default mode network within the brain. If the brain is engaged in some task than energy consumption does not increase by more than 5 %. thus the meat of the brain energy is consumed for DMN and is used for intrinsic functions , not directly related to task demands.
In an experimental setting, it is very easy to be lured by the task related fMRI activity or ERP’s as they reflect responses of brain to carefully controlled variables in lab settings; however one should not lose sight of the fact that the apparent noise and random intrinsic activity is there for a purpose and may sound mysterious as it may be correlated more to spontaneous activity rather than directly mappable to measurable environmental variables.
Another argument Raichle gives relates to the visual system. Here the input from Retina is highly degraded (from 10 to the power of 10 bits per sec to 100 bits per sec that is supposed to be bandwidth for conscious processing) and Marcus argues that the anatomy of cortex with may feedback connection from higher cortical areas suggests that much of the activity is predictive in nature trying to fit the reduced environmental input to a rich internal representation. Of course Jeff Hawkins and others have been similarly arguing for a more predictive role of the entire cortex, rather than a reactive and information processing role as is traditionally assumed.
He then goes on to argue that the coherence observed in the spontaneous fluctuations in fMRI BOLD signals , especially in the DMN are reflective of more than daydreaming or mind wandering and this intrinsic activity needs investigation as it is present even in non-conscious states. He also posits that these spontaneous fluctuations representing intrinsic activity lead to behavioral variability and I am somehow reminded of Bjorn Brembs (@brembs) paper on flies and how they showed spontaneous behavioral fluctuations…if only one could identify the DMN in flies and monitor its fluctuations using an fMRI machine:-) , one would have hard data to prove Rachelle’s claim.
He does relate spontaneous fluctuations in BOLD signal to slow cortical potentials (SCP) and the SCP’s to cortical excitability and stakes a claim that thus spontaneous fluctuations measure the degree to which cortical neurons are ready to be fired. this provides a handle by which we can investigate how and what function the intrinsic activity serves (answer: the phase of SCPs codes and predicts the most probable signal timing from the external world). the brain is in a constant flux between trying to predict and looking for novel stuff.
That brings me to Linas and his book I of the Vortex. I have only read it partially but was fairly impressed by its argument for the primacy of motoricity. I encourage readers to read that book for an alternative view from the sensory and perception driven psychology and neuroscience mainstream approach. I firmly believe that we re primarily motor creatures rather than sensory ones and more clues could be found about us suing the motor approach to cognition/ consciousness/ whatever.
M. Raichle (2010). Two Views of Brain function Trends in Cognitive Sciences DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.01.008