James Brody
November 28th, 2004, 07:39 PM

Brody, J.F., (2004) Bipolar disorder: emergent, self-interested networks, obsessions, and mood swings. In Malcomb Brown (Ed.) Trends in Bipolar Disorder Research. Hauppage, NY: Nova Science Biomedical Series.

Bipolar disorder (BPD) devastates its carriers and their families while puzzling employers and resisting the best efforts of health care practitioners and law enforcement officials. There has been, however, little progress in treating BPD since the introduction of lithium. Statistical physics offers dynamic models for oscillators, phase transitions, and emergent networks that parallel the mood changes and obsessions that we observe in BPD.

Emergent networks are formed widely in nature, including those within living cells and neural communities. The human brain consists of neurons that connect not only under genetic guidance but also according to network patterns. Driven thoughts and cycling moods fit nicely into emergent networks that are consistent with but more detailed than earlier schema developed by Hebb or Edelman.

We can expect networks and their components to vary in dominance from moment to moment as we dream, play, strive, or procreate. Networked sequences of thought and action that contribute to our survival and reproductive success become liabilities when they take complete charge of us. We take on expansive goals or we unload them as we become elated or despondent. In either state, we neglect the small clustered tasks of daily living.

Emergent networks, oscillatory phenomena, and phase transitions are closely linked in mathematics and in many biological organizations. Pendulums, Josephson junctions, and even crickets satisfy the Kuramoto model for the synchronization of independent oscillators: (1) there must be a fundamental on-off pattern, (2) the oscillators must be weakly linked, and (3) the oscillators must be very similar to each other. Clumps of neurons also satisfy the Kuramoto assumptions. Bipolar cycling appears to be almost inevitable and the challenge may be to discover not why it occurs but why it doesn?t. It is also likely that any one expression of BPD may arise from infection, genetic variation, trauma, or some mix of the three.

It is entirely possible for a neural assembly to assume living properties that meet its own needs rather than those of its carrier. Living organizations accomplish work, reproduce, and arrange environments to suit their own interests. Natural selection occurs when neural organizations compete within their carrier for limited attention, time, and wealth: the most active suppresses the less active and gains influence. We have seen "selfish" effects with genes, we should expect them in mental organizations. The conscious impact can be that of an invader that takes over the mind of its host, commandeers resources, and resists suppression or dispersal while it grows and reproduces.

These ideas are discussed in non-technical language with special reference to BPD but could apply to obsessive compulsive disorder, panic, eating disorders, hypochondria, depression, drug dependency, personality disorders, and even hypnotic states, love, religious ecstasy, or scientific insights. There are implications from network theory for both medicinal and cognitive-behavior interventions.

KEYWORDS: Bipolar disorder, mania, depression, emergent networks, CNS organization, human evolution, psychological adaptations, delusions.