Almost Gate at the Coffee Shop

Inputs to neuron must exceed the threshold for it to send its signal

Q: What’s this idea you’re so excited about, S?

S: A second mode of thought. The Almost Gate is the term I use for this other mode. The Almost Gate allows us to ignore extraneous information, put objects in categories, and associate items by similarity.

Q: There’s only one way we think, only one way worth calling thought. Logic using facts.

S: That’s not true. When you see a fellow skeptic at the coffee shop, don’t you recognize her even if she’s clad in mountain biking gear or in office attire?

Q: Of course, only an idiot would not recognize her.

S: Despite clothes you’ve never seen before and perhaps a band aid covering a scratch from a wayward branch, you still recognize her. That’s because your brain fundamentally doesn’t demand a 100% match to recognize people.

Q: I see that both my memory of her and my seeing her are so close that they must be the same person. That’s logical deduction and accounting for the differences. That’s not a new different  thinking style.

S: No. If you could ride your thoughts, you would notice that no words travelled around in your head, before you recognized her. The words came afterwards when you tried to explain the result rather than when you formed the identification.

Q: Humph. I know that I think logically. What evidence is there that this Almost Gate exists?

S: Look here. the neural threshold explains the Almost Gate.

Inputs to neuron must exceed the threshold for it to send its signal
A typical cortical neuron has 10 thousand inputs

S: In a nutshell, if the inputs to a neuron exceed the threshold, the neuron fires its signal. It sends the same signal no matter the inputs received, as long as the threshold is surmounted. The exact input information is not sent to the receiving neurons, only the firing signal. An identical signal is delivered for further processing, despite differences in the input.

Q: Wait a second. You’re saying different data are treated the same? I don’t think like that!

S:  Certainly not, when things that are vastly different. However, let’s consider something that we only partially see, like the edge of the coffee table. From my vantage point, the saucer blocks a part of the table. But I’ve been in here many times and know the table’s wooden edge goes from one corner to the other. I have no hesitation to consider the table edge solid and complete. Although my sensory input doesn’t completely support it, it nearly does and that accords well with my memory of the table. It passes the Almost Gate test and I treat the edge henceforth as solid.

Q: I kind of see that point. Kind of interesting, but that’s just sense data, not thought.

S: That was merely the example. The Almost Gate is a feature of all neurons in the brain. Did you know that only 0.1% of all neurons are directly connected to sensory or motor receptors?The Mind within the Net (p 123).

S: The overwhelming mass of brain neurons receive their inputs from other internal neurons, not sensory receptors. All brain areas experience the consequences of Almost Gate processing. That includes enhancement and integration of the various senses into an entire picture, utilization of memory associating the current reality with past experiences and personal desires, and delivery of that augmented snapshot to the prefrontal lobes where decisions are made and from which directions are sent to motor centers to carry out our wishes. At each step of these many steps, the Almost Gate is in operation.

Discrete steps along the path of sense data to the prefrontal cortex

Q: But where decisions are made, in the prefrontal lobe, everything is logical. Just as I said.

S: I’m sorry to contradict you, but no. In the cortical prefrontal area, there are two distinct lobes. The dominant side (named so because it controls speech) uses logic and facts, such as delivered to it by the brain’s previous work. However, the non-dominant lobe uses almost matching to always have a decision ready. Depending on the direness of the situation, an effortful, deductive conclusion may be warranted, but if immediate response is required, the non-dominant solution will be taken.

Q: You’re losing me. That sounds like way more than the Almost Gate.

S: I apologize. I wandered there, but the Almost Gate is a crucial underlying fact to this Mental Construction Model of the mind. This pyramid of thinking merges two models, a 3-part brain (body basics, emotional assessments, and cognitive processing) with a 2-system model for the cognitive cap, Fast and Slow as Daniel Kahneman titled his book).

Mental Construction Model
Mental Construction Model

Almost Gate Features

S: Let me return to the immediate implications of the Almost Gate. First, as information passes through an Almost Gate, extraneous detail is ignored. This abstraction of irrelevant data allows categorization. You see a thousand doors, all of them distinct, yet they all fall into the door category.

Q: A barn door doesn’t look at all like the door to my condo. That gives the lie to your Almost Gate.

S: No, no, no, it doesn’t. There are different levels of category detail in our minds. At the level of visual distinction, the two doors are easily distinguishable. They do not follow the same sequence of Almost Gates to the same immediate category, but as they get processed with memories, goals, and possibilities, the separate door categories lose specificity. Their commonality rises and for certain purposes they reside in the same category, albeit at a higher level of abstraction. In fact, you have just led me to explain a very important second implication of Almost Gates—association. As items in categories increase in abstraction, other items distinct at lower levels of categorization, follow similar paths in the brain. From ancient times, thinkers have noticed that our minds associate items that are different. The items come to our attention and we sometimes substitute distinct members of the same higher-level category when we are making decisions.

Q: That’s not logical. No one thinks that way. If they do, they realize they are illogical and reject the thought.

S: Let me explain further by quoting Aristotle in De Poetica. The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.  The Almost Gate allows categorization, then supports association of similars. It is the source of induction and metaphor. With the Almost Gate, we can progress from incomplete knowledge to new knowledge.

Q: Substituting something that isn’t for something that is, That’s not the path to truth. That’s the path to errors, mistakes, and wrong-headed logic.

Implications of Inexact Matching

S: I readily concede that errors and mistakes can occur when we rely on our prefrontal cortex’s Almost Gate, pattern-matching feature. On wrong-headed logic, I demur. Logic is itself an improper measure. When insufficient time or facts are available for the logical, verbal, deductive prefrontal lobe to complete its processing, the Almost Gate is ready with decisions or choices, although they may be suboptimal or even sometimes just plain wrong. However, non-verbal processing by the Almost Gate supports decisions when the dominant lobe isn’t ready.

Q: And makes errors that hasty actions make us pay for the rest of our lives.

S: And makes mostly good decisions that lets us live for another moment, allowing one to lament about the perfect choices that we couldn’t decide upon at the time.

Q: I suppose there is something to that, but still logic is better than holding one’s nose and taking a shot at a faulty guess.

S: In my view, you are overlooking that we never have the complete picture of the world to provide the basic for exhaustive deduction. The Almost Gate supports generating novel conclusions and new insights into how our world operates, thus expanding our knowledge. Another shortcoming of deductive logic is that it can only reveal what is included in its facts and premises. Its premises are limited to our current understanding of the world, which restricts its conclusions. New ideas and new solutions rely on Almost Gate processing, to suggest using similarities that deduction rejects.

Q: So we should just throw our logic! That doesn’t seem wise.

S: I agree with you. That would not be wise, but it is also not wise to ignore novel suggestions that arise from non-exact matches. Our brain uses both, deductive logic and inductive generalization. We exchange information between the dominant and non-dominant lobes many, many times as they each send their information forward toward their respective prefrontal lobe. Comparison of each lobe’s evaluation occurs repeatedly along the neural pathways linked by the corpus callosum.


Q: I just thought of something. What about emotions? You’ve ignored them. That’s a big hole in  your theory.

S: Mental Construction doesn’t ignore emotions. They just weren’t the focus of this discussion about thought. Emotions arise deeper in the brain. Not in the cortex, but in the limbic system. These brain structures rigorously rely on Almost Gate operations. The limbic system provides emotional weighting of memories and situations to both lobes of the cortex. Our emotions are an amalgam of our biological 3S imperatives merged with our personal experiences as triggered by the potentialities and dangers of the current situation.

Q: I see your cup is almost empty. Your throat must be dry after so much talking. Let me buy you a cup of your favorite. Then, when I return, I want to talk about my latest interest.

Related Posts
Intuition’s Source the Almost Gate
Corpus Callosum connecting the cortical hemispheres from senses through memories to timely decision-making

Image Sources
Personal diagrams

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.