Confusing cortical columns

from 2005 and 2008 so may be outdated

Although the anatomical and functional columnarity of the neocortex has never been in doubt, the size, cell composition, synaptic organization, expression of signaling molecules, and function of various types of ‘‘columns’’ are dramatically different. Columns could be defined by cell constellation, pattern of connectivity, myelin content, staining property, magnitude of gene expression, or functional properties.

The cortical column: a structure without a function

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I remember reading these papers years ago. I can’t recall the details, but I do recall being unconvinced. Again, not recalling these papers in particular, there are two main arguments against Mountcastle’s proposal.

  1. We haven’t figured out what a column does, so maybe it doesn’t do anything.
  2. We find anatomical, physiological, etc. differences between columns, suggesting they don’t share common function.

That may be a bit of a simplification, but not too much. The second point is the only one worth debating. The amount of commonality between columns, imo, overwhelms the differences. Nothing I have read suggests otherwise. Mountcastle, made his argument on multiple lines of evidence. Two of my favorites are…The rapid expansion of the human neocortex vs. our hominid relatives occurred very rapidly, tens of thousands of years. Not enough time to evolve substantial new function. Also, the amazing flexibility we have to learn things for which there were no evolutionary survival pressures is another.


ha… very unusual but solid argument