Untangling the Brain
Aren’t neurons pretty? This video comes from the lab of Sebastian Seung at MIT. Mr. Connectome.
What does a chain of neurons look like in your imagination? What comes to mind? A series of cells arranged head to tail, nerve ending to dendrite, like segmented wires? Perhaps something like this:
Well, that’s not at all what it really looks like, as the animation up top makes clear. Our biology textbooks are lying to us a bit. If you took a chunk of brain or retina and sliced through it to look at its cross-section, it would look more like a brick of knotted spaghetti, with projections pointing to and fro in every direction and dimension, visual chaos, the kind of knot they make you solve in hell.
In some ways, at least when it comes to what it all means, we understand less about the wiring of the brain than the origin of the universe, or the geology of distant planets. First and foremost, we need a map. We may not be able to distill consciousness once that map is drawn, because it’s a map that’s constantly changing as we learn, grow and age, but we’ll be closer than ever before. Perhaps as close as we can ever be?
That’s why I love EyeWire, the game to map the brain from Seung’s lab. It enlists the power of the crowd, each donating their time and individual power to solve a problem that is greater than what any of them could solve alone. It is a network of individual units coming together, each only operating with simple instructions, and greater information emerges.