The Human Brain

November 8, 2010by

It’s interesting how often philosophers of ages past are invoked to illustrate or frame the issues facing humans today. No matter what advances are made in the development and explanatory power of human understanding, the greatest questions grow anew in every curious mind; and the answers are no easier to find.

The following three researchers, each in their own way, take us deeply into the house of the human mind: the brain. Along the way they show us some stunning new vistas, and at the same time, set up camp under some very old trees.

Insights & Abnormalities

Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran identifies the mechanisms of the brain by looking at its abnormalities. “By working with those who have very specific mental disabilities caused by brain injury or stroke, he can map functions of the mind to physical structures of the brain. […] His investigations into phantom limb pain, synesthesia and other brain disorders allow him to explore (and begin to answer) the most basic philosophical questions about the nature of self and human consciousness.”

The Connectome

Sebastian Seung is mapping a massively ambitious new model of the brain that focuses on the connections between each neuron. He calls it our “connectome,” and it’s as individual as our genome — and understanding it could open a new way to understand our brains and our minds.”

The Computer Model

Henry Markram of the Blue Brain Project says the mysteries of the human mind can be solved by looking at a computational model of the brain. “Mental illness, memory, perception: they’re made of neurons and electric signals, and he plans to find them with a supercomputer that models all the brain’s 100,000,000,000,000 synapses.” “Though the aim of Blue Brain research is mainly biomedical, it has been edging up on some deep, contentious philosophical questions about the mind — “Can a robot think?” and “Can consciousness be reduced to mechanical components?””

Citations via TED