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I decided to describe the evolution of scientifically plausible alien creatures and thought about how alien neurons can transmit signals to each other and is it possible in theory some mechanism that could increase the speed of thinking of my aliens (so that they think faster than us)?

Between neurons, the signal is transmitted in special structures called synapses. The transmission of information in synapses is due to the release of chemicals, that is, according to the chemical principle. While the information remains inside the nerve cell, the transmission is carried out electrically due to the fact that special electrical impulses — action potentials - propagate through the membrane of nerve cells. These are short steps of electric current, they have a roughly triangular shape and run along the membrane of dendrites, along the body of the neuron axon and eventually reach synapses. Nerve cells, in order to generate an action potential, must also have such a charge of energy, and this charge is called the resting potential. It exists, it is inherent in all nerve cells and is approximately -70 mV, that is -0.07 V, and that in our case is provided by a sodium-potassium pump penetrating the entire thickness of the membrane, which constantly pumps potassium ions into the cell, simultaneously pumping sodium ions out of it; at the same time, the movement of both ions occurs against the gradients of their concentrations. When you stimulate a neuron, it starts to pass Na+ into the cell. There is also K+ in the membrane, but it will also start coming out of the cell. If a certain threshold is reached, the cell will flood with Na+ much faster than K+ can leave, positively polarizing the cell. This results in an electrical signal. Immediately after the electrical signal is given, the cell cannot send another signal — this is a refractory period. Within 1-2 ms, the cell will not fire, even if the cell still can, and for the next signal, all chemicals will be dropped in the right direction. In order to reach the trigger threshold, several stimuli are most often required. In addition, the intensity of the signal depends on the cells, not on the stimuli. Together with the modulation of stimuli, cells react differently to each other, adding depth of information.

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    $\begingroup$ Those "special electrical impulses" are electrochemical. Their electrical manifestations cannot exist in the absence of the chemical process. If we look at them (incorrectly) as electrical phenomena they appear extreeeeeemely sloooooow. (To give an idea, nervous impulse conduction along a myelinated axon runs at about 150 meters/second, which is . . . exceedingly slow. Even a purely mechanical transmission would be several times faster.) (Ah, and nerves trasmit data. Information is something else.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ you haven't answered my question $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ No I did not. That is why it is a comment and not an answer. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ There's kind of two issues here: 1) long-distance transmission and 2) short-distance transmission. The former is in some ways easier to solve than the latter. Speed of thought is mainly governed by latency of relatively short distances, not long distances, whereas many of the current answers to the question appear to be focused on long-distance transmission. $\endgroup$
    – TLW
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 20:22

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Use electromagnetic transmissions, like microwaves or radio. These move at literally the speed of light, and I might add that some animals are known to emit EM radiation under certain stimuli to add weight to this idea. if you apply this system to the brain, then this could potentially allow for scientifically possible telepathy between individuals of this species, but i’m getting sidetracked. I would suggest microwaves, as animals are known to emit these on earth, rather than radio.

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    $\begingroup$ "These move at literally the speed of light" -> only in a vacuum. Speed of light in a dielectric is nowhere near c. Of course, it's still very fast compared to chemical effects. $\endgroup$
    – TLW
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really fix the problem, however. The main issue is not the speed of the signal itself, it's the speed of relaying said signal. $\endgroup$
    – TLW
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ The amount of microwave radiation generated by animals is so low that it is negligible. However, adult humans can easily radiate 100 watts of infrared radiation just by being alive. I would suggest IR rather than MW. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9 at 3:14
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Electrical Capacitors with Bismuth based Dielectrodes

A synapse builds up an electrical charge until chemicals are released to physically cross the Synaptic Cleft. In Electronics, capacitors have a very similar function, one electrode builds up charge until there is enough potential, and then it crosses the the dielectric gap as an electrical pulse instead of a chemical one. Capacitors allow you to pulse a signal much much faster than chemical synapses; so, if an organism COULD use electrical pulses, they would.

That said, our brains are geared far more in favor of learning and survival than just thinking fast. One of the biggest drawbacks of capacitors is that they are pretty predictable. You can keep activating one over and over again expecting the same result, but I believe the synaps beat the capacitor on our world because neurotransmitters build up and deplete effecting our ability to change our course of action when "get tired" or "of longing" for the action associated with that connection.

This is where the Bismuth comes in. Bismuth is a semiconductor which allows it to function as your resistor, but it also has a very low specific heat. This means it does not take a lot of energy flowing through it to heat it up a lot. This is important because as resisters get hotter, they become more resistive; so, your Bismuth connections would slow down the signal as it absorbs heat giving it the same sort of negative feedback loop that you get out of neurotransmitters.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, all isotopes of technetium are radioactive and therefore toxic. $\endgroup$
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Rafael toxic to earth biology, sure. But an organism that evolved under different circumstances would not have the same relationship with radioactivity that we do. But if this is a deal breaker, Bismuth would be a good second best choice. Much less radioactive. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Technetium doesn't exist in nature in any appreciable quatity, as none of its isotopes is stable or at least sufficiently long-lived; this is why it is named technetium: it was the first element to be wholly created by human art (= technê in Greek). In order for the creature to use technetium for their nerves, they must first develop nuclear technology in order to make technetium. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP That is a good point that I missed. Changing my official answer to Bismuth. Second best elemental properties I think for the desired goal, but much more accessible and safe. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 22:15
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Option 1: Electrical. Lots of biopolymers (e.g., melanin) are actually conductive. Neurons could grow fibers of conductive polymers along their axons and dendrites to send regular electrical (rather than electrochemical) signals. Electrostatic induction could even be harnessed to transmit signals across synapses.

Option 2: Optical. Lots of organisms have bioluminescence, and detecting light is easy; we can even genetically engineer animals in real life to allow us to selectively activate neurons by shining light on them. Using light for cell-internal transmission would be tricky, but not totally impossible, if axons act like optical fibers--and it would work just fine over the short distances across synaptic gaps, with luminescent molecules on one side and photosensitive molecules on the other.

A hybrid of electrical intracellular transmission and optical intercellular transmission would also work.

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    $\begingroup$ Relays of photosensitive neurons would likely be slow. Yes, the light is fast, but the chemical chain of luminescence -> photosensitive within each neuron would end up limiting the speed. $\endgroup$
    – TLW
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 20:19
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Optical neurons and synapses. Bioluminescent neurons glow. That glow encodes information that travels through fiber optic synapses. Lots of biological structures have optical properties. Different frequencies of light have different meanings, which alter the chemistry of that particular neuron so that when it glows again, it may be a different color depending on what was processed. Cemi field theory states that conciousness is held within the brainwaves, and memories in the neurons. That the constructive interference of brainwaves is literally our conciousness. Cemi field theory makes sense to me. Our brains frequency is very slow, and chemistry is even slower. It's hard to see how conciousness is neurons alone, based off how rapidly we can process lots of complex data. It may not seem like day to day life is complex, but when you go into detail on all that has to happen, it's a tall order to explain without cemi field theory.

The bioluminescent neuron optical synapse all held as a cohesive whole by constructively interfering brain waves seems plausible to me for a naturally occuring or genetically engineered organism, and it would certainly be faster and more efficient then what we've got now.

Great question. This was fun.

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We already have faster than the chemical synapses: electrical synapses.

Our brain has synapses where voltage is directly induced from one neuron to another. These synapses are much faster than the chemical ones. While chemical synapses have a delay of a few milliseconds, electrical synapses are nearly instantaneous.

Of course, we can't use them for everything. Electrical synapses have drawbacks. They can't provide any amplification - they're more like transmitting electrons along a wire. And they are symmetric. If neuron A can directly induce voltage in neuron B, then neuron B can directly induce voltage in neuron A.

But when you need raw speed, we have it!

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