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Medicine Science

The Future of the Most Important Human Brain 252 252

mattnyc99 writes "About a year ago, we watched live as neuroanatomist Jacopo Annese sliced the brain of Memento-style patient Henry Molaison (aka H.M.) into 2,401 pieces. Since even before then, writer Luke Dittrich — whose grandfather happened to be the surgeon to accidentally slice open the H.M. skull in the first place — has been tracking Annese and a new revolution in brain science. From the article in Esquire: 'If Korbinian Brodmann created the mind's Rand McNally, Jacopo Annese is creating its Google Maps. ... With his Brain Observatory, Annese is setting out to create not the world's largest but the world's most useful collection of brains. ... For the first time, we'll be able to meaningfully and easily compare large numbers of brains, perhaps finally understanding why one brain might be less empathetic or better at calculus or likelier to develop Alzheimer's than another. The Brain Observatory promises to revolutionize our understanding of how these three-pound hunks of tissue inside our skulls do what they do, which means, of course, that it promises to revolutionize our understanding of ourselves.'"
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The Future of the Most Important Human Brain

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  • An odd approach... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rival (14861) on Monday October 25, 2010 @08:11PM (#34019694) Homepage Journal

    While I have no wish to demean their efforts, this approach still seems somewhat brutal to me. I'm no neurologist, but isn't this still a rather macro-level view of things, with the cutting process still causing damage to the fine structures they want to study?

    It seems likely to me that future scientists will look back at this in not too long with stifled laugher and perhaps a little shock at the approach.

  • by metrix007 (200091) on Monday October 25, 2010 @08:17PM (#34019744)

    This is as misguided as studying Einstein's brain.

    It is very unlikely that a boost in intelligence or a unique way of thinking is due to a physical brain property.

    Brains are just brains, an organ, and most are not that different -- certainly the differences are not the cause of the vast personality and thinking differences and intelligence disparities we have.

    No, someone's intelligence or outlook on the world is a combination of upbringing, willpower and education. Anyone could be as intelligent and knowledgeable as they wanted to be, if they wanted to be.

    Think bog standard PC's, that can all run different OS's on the same hardware, each with different behaviors.

  • by metrix007 (200091) on Monday October 25, 2010 @09:29PM (#34020278)

    Wait, a simpler analogy.

    If you buy a new car and there is a problem with cruise control, does that mean it is correct to infer that there may be cars of the same model that have significantly better cruise control?

    That is the leap you are making, and it is not supported, either logically or with our observations.

  • by Whomp-Ass (135351) on Monday October 25, 2010 @09:46PM (#34020380)

    The major problem is that at the point of death (or at least, brain-death) is that the dendrites of the neurons detach from the axons of the surrounding neurons at about a rate that is the square of the of the difference over time of the inverse of temperature loss...meaning, by the time you slice-and-dice, the important bit (that is, the bits, rather...the connections and pathways that make you...well, you...are gone).

  • Re:A tad overrated (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RockoTDF (1042780) on Monday October 25, 2010 @09:52PM (#34020420) Homepage
    Except there are LOTS of things rats can't learn, or that we can't ask them (...which is everything since they don't speak!). Not at all open and shut.
  • by npuzzle (1875242) on Monday October 25, 2010 @09:55PM (#34020456)

    The same applies to the dissection of other organs as well. For instance, any dissection of the heart is inherently biased towards the cutting planes defined by the dissector (source [ctsnetjournals.org]). The true arrangement of muscle fibers in the left ventricle of the heart (more precisely the existence of sheet structure) is still a subject of hot debate because of this. Obviously, one might think that by now, we should be able to just pick an organ and throw it into the best relevant imaging scanner (CT, MRI, PET, etc.). The truth is, there is still anatomical information that even state-of-the-art medical imaging modalities cannot reliably reveal.

    As an example, consider DT-MRI [wikipedia.org] that measures the diffusion of water molecules along the tissue fibers in an organ. The discretization in the data is such that only the local average orientation of the diffusion of water is known at any given location. To obtain more useful anatomical information, the full fiber pathway in a region needs to be reconstructed, a task called fiber tractography. Different computational methods based on different anatomical assumptions lead to results that are often contradictory (as is the case in the heart models described in the article cited above) and since there is no ground truth (remember that the dissection is biased), we currently hit a dead-end.

    Hopefully, as more dissections (like this one) are performed and the data is made available publicly, we will eventually be able to faithfully reconcile pieces of what we observe in medical conditions, in medical scanners, and on the dissection table.

  • by fractoid (1076465) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @01:32AM (#34021524) Homepage

    Let me try that again: Some people don't really give a shit about how much money, power, knowledge or fame they get. If someone finds physics interesting, that doesn't mean they're going to become a rocket scientist, or have any desire to do so.

    The GGP was stating that there are distinct physiological differences between people, which result in profound differences in ability. You seem to be supporting the GP's assertion that a person's intellectual ability is purely a product of their environment, and also claiming that people who don't achieve much fail to do so because of lack of motivation, not because of lack of intelligence.

    If you've ever tried to teach a complex skill (programming, mathematics, music) to a group of people, you'll know that intrinsic human aptitude for a given task varies dramatically from person to person. Some people understand intricate systems effortlessly, while others will never 'get' systems above a certain level of complexity. All of us hit the wall somewhere, but that 'somewhere' ranges from 'ability to understand why maxing out your credit card is bad' to 'some of the finer points of quantum physics'.

Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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