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Part 1 here:
Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 1: Skeleton

This question is about a complete rebuild of the nervous system. The question as proposed here: Improving human reaction time has only answers concerning upgrading current nervous system.

One of the common tropes of super-soldiers is a faster brain so you can see things in slow-motion and extremely fast reflexes, often dozens of times faster than what normal human nerves would be capable off. But how would you go about making a nervous system that is actually capable of such feats?

For this question, I'm assuming important secondary nerve functions can be performed by glands or "normal" nerve-ends that are attached to the super-nervous system at intervals.

I'm also asking for a biological nervous system that the body can maintain and repair when necessary. For clarity: These soldiers would supplement robotic and cyberneticly enhanced soldiers mostly as canonfodder. The goal would be to split the resource requirement between more rare materials+fuel sources and humanoids that use biological compounds and food instead of fuel.

For the nerves there's two things that can improve their ability. First is thinner nerves, as that would allow more muslce-fibers to be directly actuated by a nerve, second is a faster signal propogation.

I'm thinking about biological optical fibers, but don't know if that's possible. Alternatives could be extremely long myelin sheeths, but I'm not sure if those would be possible or what kind of speed you would gain from it. What's left would be biological electrical wires.

Does anyone have an idea what would be a feasible soft-science nerve? Preferably with the potential propogationspeed of a signal added.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with "seeing things in slow motion" -- which is nonsese, the super-soldier will still see 1 second of life in 1 second of time; I suppose that you mean having a higher threshold of motion blur, so that for example the supersoldier would see each frame of a cinema movie individually -- is not the processing speed of the brain, but rather the limited bandwidth available on the optical nerve, and the speed of recovery of the light receptors in the eye. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 19 '18 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Improving human reaction time $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Mar 19 '18 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I know that slow-motion is a bullshit trope. I've read about instances where your average human will start seeing in slowmotion in extreme situations. For example a police officer in a shootout who was wondering why tomatosoup cans were slowly dropping to the ground as if they were flying through honey, only to realize later that his partner was firing a shotgun and that the soupcans were actually shotgun shells. Which shows exactly the drawback of using the brain's slowmotion settings: Your brain shortcirquits thinkingprocesses so that you can do things faster, but you'll make mistakes $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Mar 19 '18 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ That's called perceptual time dilation. It's a psychological rather than a physiological effect. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 19 '18 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thicker, not thinner nerves would get signals travel faster. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Mar 19 '18 at 16:47
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A possible soft science answer may be to use the skeletal structure modified with the same crystalline structure on the surface of the bones found in the scales of a butterfly wing that would use bio-luminescent glands to transfer data to muscles without the normally slow neuro-transmitters in the normal nervous system. the biological nature of the scales would mean that they could be self-regenerating.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if this has potential. Why would you place this on the Skeleton? Wouldn't they work better as nerves running through your body? And from what I know about them, these structures only let through blue light (unless made wet with Alcohol for example, then it becomes green), and if you look from a different angle the colour changes. Wouldn't that have a large effect on the signals? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Mar 22 '18 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ The use of the skeletal structure appeared to meet your request for a secondary nervous system to transfer information and the bio-crystals should be able to be tuned like a lens to transmit at whatever frequency you would set..Incorporating the crystals into the skeletons would reduce the possibility for damage in a battle scenario $\endgroup$ Mar 22 '18 at 14:50
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Per Hypertextbook nerve impulse speeds vary between 0.61 m/s (pain), 76 m/s (touch), and 191 m/s (muscle firing). It also, in the case of reflex, can fire multiple signals and register-but-ignore the late arriving ones.

If you were to thread the nervous system with fibers doped with some material at the active sites that converted sodium and potassium surges to an electrical impulse, then had an additional diode-like material to convert that electrical impulse to light, passed the impulse down the fiber, then repeated that process in reverse to stimulate either muscles are excite a nerve cluster, the signal speed would be much closer to the speed of light (300,000,000 m/s). For a 2 meter tall person you would only be shaving 0.01 seconds ( $2 meters \over 200 m/s$) off reaction time.

I have an old equation for aiming time. I don't remember the origin, but it was measured by asking subjects to click on a circle with a mouse. $ t = B + a \log({2\pi\over D})$ where D is target diameter in meters and B and a are experimentally determined values. B = 0.5 seconds and a = 0.45 seconds in the test subjects. There is an initial reaction time, but then your brain is engaged in a feedback loop moving towards the target, assessing progress, and moving again.

You can shave the 'a' try-assess-correct loop (0.45 seconds) by training and building muscle memory. However, this is available to normal humans and super humans both.

If I remember correctly the initial reaction time 'B' did vary between subjects. There are studies indicating that stimulants could drop initial reaction time by 100 milliseconds (20%). Some combination of stimulants and focus enhancers may be able to achieve greater effect. But overclocking reaction time results in the nervous stereotype of someone overstimulated.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, I would like some more information about speeding up the brain as well. These articles cite: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9572238 du.ahk.nl/people/carolien/papers/reactiontime.htm, connections between neurons go slower and could be sped up. If the velocity of a reaction really is 191m/s including synaptic connections, it would mean that a single neuron in a single-synaptic sensor-motor neuron feedbackloop would already take 99,76% of the total latency on itself. Dendrites might be a problem (0,5m/s), and it seems impossible to find synaptic gap velocities. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Mar 27 '18 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ I read that synaptic gap velocities are no greater than normal diffusion, which is about 1x10-9 meters-squared per second for Calcium. Converting that into meters/second requires getting the derivative of $A = 4 \pi r^2$ -> $dA = 8 \pi r dr$ ... $ dr = {dA \over (8 \pi r)}$. For a synaptic gap (r) of 20 nanometers and a diffusion rate (dA) of 1x10-9 m2/s, then dr = 0.0119 m/s, but that would be instantaneous velocity at the other end of the gap. Average velocity across the gap would be half that radius and 0.0238 m/s. $\endgroup$ Mar 28 '18 at 1:04
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Optical synapse

The synapse is still an important step in the signal process, allowing for a lot of information modification. To keep this information modification, I would propose an optic synapse. The idea is simple. instead of chemicals, light is shone via a bioluminant lamp in the synapse gap. On the other end, photo-receptors will get agitated, releasing the chemicals into the nerve cell to activate.

The gap itself can be modulated by chemicals that reduce the light, reducing the signal. The chemicals are then in turn modulated by reuptake chemicals, which are also present in a normal synapse. Hormones would affect the functionality of the bio luminescent lamp, making it activate longer or shorter. Possibly also more intensely or weaker. That way we have all normal synapse functions covered, namely duration and intensity. In the meantime we're decreasing the time of the synapse as it isn't relying on slow chemicals but fast light.

Fibre-optic nerves

A synaptic gap where we transform electricity into the light seems inefficient. I would skip electricity altogether and make the whole neuron a fibre-optic. The neuron will fire into a biological fibre . As long as the fibre isn't bent too much, the signal should arrive without problems nor appreciable deterioration. This will be quicker than electricity and saves the step of having the electricity transform into an optical signal. It is also quicker than electricity, a goal many here on the site want. The neuron will simply fire with a bio luminescent lamp into the fibre and it'll arrive at the other side. The fibre will terminate at the dendrite, where it'll have a small hollow with room for the modulating chemicals, making it an enclosed system.

replacing the nervous system

Will you be able to replace the whole nervous system with this? Nearly. Depending on the neuron, the axon will branch out at the last moment to several dendrites. Either the light should be enough to flood the fibre and it'll distribute itself at the branches, or there would need to be a "distribution neuron". The first neuron will fire all along the axon fibre, which will terminate at the distribution neuron. This neuron will activate, firing light over several axon fibres instead of one, ensuring every neuron will get the message. That does mean a slowdown of the signal in most cases, but with the much faster synapse still a huge net gain.

Higher efficiency

Fibre-optics have some great advantages. Information travels with the speed of light, literally. The signal is clear and won't deteriorate quickly. Many signals can be send over a signal optic.

This last one is both less impressive than you might think as well as game changing. You're not likely to send the information of 20 neurons over one line, having the distribution neuron understand what information needs to be send over what fibre and do it for you. However, you can separate the normal signals that go over the line. Neurons often pull double, if not triple or more duties. For example, although pain pathways are partly separated, they do use existing neuron pathways to transfer information. A neuron that fires for pain can't be used for anything else at that moment, but much like a computer it can switch between the signals fast enough that you'll not notice. Still it represent a loss in signal. Fibre-optic nerves might skip that problem. They can send different light wavelengths down the optic, be received by different photo-receptors that release the chemicals so the correct wavelengths are passed on. A few highway roads can use more wavelengths to pour a ton of information through and with different wavelength diffusers/blockers you can moderate the information, but most likely you'll use it for a single neuron to allow for moderation of the signal.

There is also the option to go two ways with fibre-optics. Electrical neurons can only fire one way. Light however can be send both ways at the same time without interference, allowing for further merging of neuron lines/higher density of information.

Also the refraction times. Normal electrical neurons work in pulses with a waiting period right after each pulse. This is to prevent noise as well as over stimulation of the neuron. Optical nerves might not need that. They can work on a continuous scale, or with shorter refraction times, as it's easier to start and stop the light wave. This allows again higher (to insane levels) of information density.

Other improvements are that fibres potentially use less space than electrical axons, the fibre might break and still work, and are immune to electrical interference.

This last one is important. There might be a maximum of neurons you might pack together if they're electrical. They will eventually start producing noise on lines closeby, making the data less useful. Fibre-optic nerves might prevent this fully, allowing you to stuff the brains full with nerves.

Solvable problems

Now we have a working system of optical nerves. Still there are some problems. Bending of fibre-optics isn't good for the signal and it can bounce back. Luckily the spine seems okay, but many joints in the extremities can move and make too sharp bends. To circumvent this, all neurons must have a electrical bridge between these parts. A neuron in front of the bend will fire electricity, which will excite the lamp on the other side of the bend to fire down the fibre.

The "distribution neuron" can take up space required for neurons, making it more crowded than normal. The higher efficiency might reduce the amount of neurons needed, so this wouldn't be an issue.

In the brain the fibres might make more bends that aren't suitable for the light to travel through. That is not a problem, as the fibres are stationary. They don't have to follow the normal fibre-optic procedure and can grow in a wholly different way, simply reflecting the light around a bend. That way all neurons in the brain can be optical as well.

There is no difference with meyeline sheaths, which can help with the importance of signals. The meyeline speeds up normal electrical based neurons, making it not only faster and clearer, but also more important most of the time. This will be lost. Fortunately that is where the modulation can come in handy. They can have brighter lights and with all other advantages it shouldn't be a problem to identify important stuff still.

Potential problems

Although the above sounds very nice in theory, practice might be quite difficult. The bioluminescence as well as the photo-receptors might cost a lot of energy. Despite it seeming cool in nature, constant use might still warm up neurons just enough that it'll interfere with enzymes for example. The light given off might also be too little to be reliably picked up by photo-receptors. They might never receive enough light to give off enough chemicals to stimulate the next neuron.

Conclusion

If it works, it would reduce the normal synapse to much less than half or the original. One side of of the synapse is skipped altogether, as well as instead of chemicals slowly moving over the gap it'll go with the speed of light. The only slowing down of a signal is now in the translation of the light signal into chemicals to stimulate the next neuron. Moreover, the nerves themselves are also sped up as they use light instead of lightning. There is a potential for a higher density of information, both ways on a neuron pair, as well as on multiple wavelengths at a time. This is of course theoretical, but with high potential. You don't stop building a Hyperloop because it's theoretical.

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  • $\begingroup$ Its interesting with great potential, but overall nerves aren't straight. Is there perhaps a method to avoid problems with signal degradation? Isn't internet fiber optics resistant to movement? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    May 11 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan fiberoptics are designed that they can bend a certain amount before it becomes a problem. They don't require to be straight by design. Bending shouldn't be an issue except in some places in the body, which I explained how to fix those. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    May 16 at 17:10
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You can always go down the synthetic human path. A brain made from billions of tiny individual machines that for a network with each other. The connections are non existent because they can communicate trough subspace or some shit. Each such machine would be equivalent to a processor from our time but many times smaller, the size of a neuron and there will be billions of them. They can act as any part of a computer like storage, processor etc. One problem would be the high energy demands of such a rig or the heat from it. Heat resistant synthetic neurons and powered by a fusion reactor in the heart somewhere. The excess heat could be use as a weapon maybe. Firebending synthetic super-soldiers. That would be cool.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'll stress that it needs to be a biological creature, I've expanded my question to better reflect it, $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Mar 19 '18 at 15:17
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Perhaps a distributed nervous system may help, with individual automatic functions in nerve clusters directly adjacent (or at least closer) to organs they need to control. Cuts down distance at least.

Another interesting thing is using a similar brain architecture to intelligent birds. Birds like crows and parrots pack a lot of brainpower into a very small brain, and the way they do this is by having clusters of tiny neurons (which take up little space but can't bridge large distances) connected by larger neurons to link the clusters together. Expand that structure into a brain the size of a human's and you could leverage a phenomenal amount of processing power. Not sure how well that would affect raw reaction times, but it might allow for faster prediction of potential circumstances allowing for reactions to happen before an actual event has taken place.

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