The Explosive Brain

By Neuroskeptic | March 22, 2014 5:59 am

A few months ago, I blogged about The Hydraulic Brain – an unorthodox theory which proposed that brain function is not electrical, but mechanical. On this view, neuroscientists have it all wrong, because nerve impulses are in fact physical waves of pressure that travel down neurons as if the brain were made up of billions of little water pipes.

That was wacky. But I’ve just come across a hypothesis so bizarre, it makes the hydraulic brain look positively down to earth. Here’s the paper, just published in Medical Hypotheses: Percussion circuits and brain function

explosive_brainAccording to author D. S. Robertson, neuronal firing is, well, literally firing: sensory neurons contain highly unstable explosive compounds, the detonation of which creates pressure waves that transmit neural signals:

It is proposed that percussion decomposition of peroxynitrate compounds occurs in the intracellular fluids of the sensory organ and brain cells. Peroxynitrates are highly unstable and are advanced as undergoing very rapid, self-propagating decomposition (detonation decomposition) producing a charged betaine and a precipitate.

The reaction liberates heat and results in the development of a sudden and rapid rise in pressure of any gas produced by the reaction or any gas present in the reaction zone. The pressure effect is transmitted as a high speed percussion pulse (detonation pulse).

Lends a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘head explodes’. There is, needless to say, no evidence for this.

Robertson goes on to say that most neurons do not contain explosives of their own. Rather, they relay the percussion pulses that originate from detonations in the eyes, ears, nose etc:

It is proposed that neurons contain no percussion compound and act as junctions for percussion pulse reception, distribution and redistribution… Pulses from sensory organs pass through the intercellular fluid and enter closely situated neurons. Within a neuron a percussion pulse also moves in all directions and exits through both the neuron axon and dendrites and in the former case passing to other neurons and cell membranes through the synapsis.

As if that wasn’t enough, Robertson says that recall of a memory involves some kind of a reversal of this process, culminating in the actual re-emission of the remembered sensory stimulus. So when you remember the sight of something, your eyes actually emit whatever light you saw at the time – and so on:

Memory percussion pulses result in the production of energy from the sensory organ cells… For example the emission of light from eye cells by memory pulses is generated by piezoluminescence through the increase in cell pressure from the percussion reaction initiated in the sensory cells by the memory pulse [22]. In taste and scent sensory organs some of the original activating chemicals are preserved by being absorbed into the [cell]… The memory percussion pulse initiates the same chemical reactions and same scent or taste is reproduced briefly in the cells.

Finally, Robertson notes that people who abruptly stop taking certain medications (namely SSRI antidepressants) sometimes feel “brain shocks“, a kind of jolting sensation. He explains this as being due to the buildup of explosive compounds over the course of the drug treatment, which are prone to detonate when the drug treatment is ended.

As I said, I now have more respect for the ‘hydraulic brain’ theorists, whose ideas, while radical, are at least grounded in reality to some degree. And they had the decency to admit that there was no positive evidence for their hypothesis, whereas Robertson advances things like those “brain shocks” as ‘supporting evidence’.

ResearchBlogging.orgRobertson DS (2014). Percussion circuits and brain function – A hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses PMID: 24629354

CATEGORIZED UNDER: bad neuroscience, papers, select, Top Posts, woo
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  • tesla3090

    Would you say this theory… Blew your mind? :)

    • Neuroskeptic

      Well… if they made a movie based on this paper it would be a “box-office bomb”.

      • Guest


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  • Great Grandmas Cat

    All I can say is scientists these days are so clueless and anxious to put something into print they make things up.

    I’ve been around for a very long time and have found that 99.9% of those theories have been proven to be bogus which makes the public unwilling to believe anything they say without actual proof that can be replicated.

    • Hominid

      Kookery is not science. When you say “those” theories, to which are you referring?

      • Joe Blowski

        those 99.9 percent of all scientific theories that have obviously been proven wrong.

        • Wouter

          In most scientific fields, including neuroscience, there is no proving right or wrong. It’s about finding the model that best suits and explains observations of all sorts. So 99.9% of scientific theories proven wrong? Those don’t exist.
          On a side note, explosions in brain will probably not provide a sustainable model of any kind. But I don’t mind low probability theories being put forward. All theories need to be considered in the end.

        • Interrupting ReplyBot 2012.1

          Ha ha. Next time you want to turn a light on with electricity, take an antibiotic to halt an infection, or go on the internet to get info from halfway around the world, try just wishing it were true, or praying for it instead.

  • Buddy199

    I say cerebro-goblins, evidence to follow.

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  • Bob Blaskiewicz

    I honestly thought this was going to be about this study of glioma cells:

  • Michael Dickinson

    I find myself hoping in some fashion that this is a test paper to see who will be fooled by scientifically-worded rubbish.

  • PeterJ42

    It sounds like we’re guessing. The problem is that this is being passed off as science when it is the worst of pseudoscience.

  • David Peterson

    We owe the hydraulic brain model to the French philosopher René
    Descartes (1596-1650). He believed that the
    bodily mechanisms involved in the reflex arc, sensing, and voluntary action
    were hydraulic systems. Rumor has it
    that René got his ideas from observing the fountains in the gardens at

  • Nosca Khalid

    weirdly sensible and yea! it partly blew my mind and if turns out to be right – it will fully-micro-blow my mind :-)

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No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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