This piece of research discusses the way the brain has bastardised existing evolutionary neural circuits and repurposed them to allow us to deal with the process of reading:
"we are not born with brain circuits dedicated to reading. After all, we did not invent writing until relatively recently in our evolutionary history, around the fourth millennium B.C. So the human brain improvises a brand-new circuit for reading by weaving together various regions of neural tissue devoted to other abilities, such as spoken language, motor coordination and vision"
This piece of research discusses "place cells" and "grid cells" and there importance in terms of navigating our environment.
"Important clues have come from work honored by today’s Nobel. Half of the prize went to John O’Keefe, a neuroscientist at University College London, for the discovery of “place cells.” In the early 1970s, O’Keefe used hair-thin electrodes to record the electrical activity of neurons in the hippocampus of rats as they ran around an enclosure. Place cells, as their name suggests, fire only when the rat passes through a particular place. The other half of the Nobel went to May-Britt and Edvard Moser, neuroscientists at the Norwiegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim for the more recent discovery of “grid cells” in 2005. These cells fire at regular intervals as a rat moves through space, marking out an imaginary grid."
Similar studies done on rats in a virtual and a real world environment. Showed a big difference in the amount of place cells firing in the brain. These showed a significant reduction in navigation due to lack of external stimuli.
"The rats were then immersed within a virtual-reality screen picturing a room with walls decorated in different blue and green shapes. They then ran around said virtual room atop the treadmill ball."... ..."Later, the researchers repeated the same experiment within a visually identical actual room, 10 feet by 10 feet in size. The results? About 60 percent of the place cells that fired in the rats' brains inside the actual room, with all its sensory stimuli, were inactive in the virtual space. Which means all of that other stuff – the equivalent, for humans, of a subway grate underfoot, or the smell of Lake Michigan to your East – seems to matter a great deal."
In reading these separate pieces of research, I have been asking the question has the ability to reconfigure brain circuits been used to understand how to navigate an online space? Could the grid cells be used to map the online environment and the place cells be used to understand that environment and allow us to figure out where things should be.
For example: On a webpage, do you drop these grid cells around around the page and when you see a logo in the top left corner, does the brain use place cells to tell you where that should be?
Could we be reaffirming these place cells everytime we visit a site and does this explain in part why these conventions arise.
Could we use this theory to alter how we navigate?