We know that each of us is unique, but science has struggled to pinpoint where, precisely, our uniqueness resides. Is it in our genes? The structure of our brains? Our genome may determine our eye color and even aspects of our personality. But our friendships, failures, and passions also shape who we are. The question is: how?
Sebastian Seung, a dynamic professor at MIT, is on a quest to discover the biological basis of identity. He believes it lies in the pattern of connections between the brain’s neurons, which change slowly over time as we learn and grow. The connectome, as it’s called, is where our genetic inheritance intersects with our life experience. It’s where nature meets nurture.
Seung introduces us to the dedicated researchers who are mapping the brain’s connections, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse. It is a monumental undertaking - the scientific equivalent of climbing Mount Everest - but if they succeed, it could reveal the basis of personality, intelligence, memory, and perhaps even mental disorders. Many scientists speculate that people with anorexia, autism, and schizophrenia are “wired differently,” but nobody knows for sure. The brain’s wiring has never been seen clearly.
.In sparklingly clear prose, Seung reveals the amazing technological advances that will soon help us map connectomes. He also examines the evidence that these maps will someday allow humans to “upload” their minds into computers, achieving a kind of immortality.
Connectome is a mind-bending adventure story, told with great passion and authority. It presents a daring scientific and technological vision for at last understanding what makes us who we are. Welcome to the future of neuroscience.
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- Marc Dierckx
Ad meioram Reductionism gloriam
It is indeed stunning how evolution has been able to shape such splendid complex structures as human brains. It is even more astonishing that so few flaws are happening during the construction and that every neuron cel seems to understand the uniqueness of its type and its place in the whole connectcome so that even deviations from the masterplan often result in an even better construct: the distance between genious and incapable looks like just a 'quantum jump'.
Sebastian Seung leads us through the complexity of the construction of the brain and promotes the idea that knowing its intimate details will reveal much about ourselves. In spite of his arguments he seems to forget that the ultimate goal of his complete knowledge will never be more than a snapshot of the constantly evolving brain. The knowledge would wane with every second that provides a new data influx to the brain and will reshape our neural structures.
Maybe in the end, this is what consciousness is all about: the sum of the past and future events that the brain stores and the perception that the stored events are influenced by other events.
Thanks to Sebastian Seung for this good overview of the state of neuroscience. It is certainly a good reading for somebody who wants to continue to wire andd rewire his own brain.