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Biotech Science

Scientists Begin Mapping the Brain 129

Raindance writes "A team at the University of Utah has unveiled a system to map and digitize brain tissue — thus fulfilling one of the long-standing holy grails of neuroscience and enabling for the first time in-depth analysis of how mammalian neural networks function. So far, maps for the entire retina and related neural networks have been released; no ETA on a full-brain digital reconstruction yet. (One of the lead authors hangs out here on Slashdot.)"
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Scientists Begin Mapping the Brain

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  • Now... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Daswolfen ( 1277224 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:08PM (#27494801)

    Maybe I can finally get that direct neural interface I have always wanted :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:21PM (#27494969)

    Once they have it mapped, they can warehouse the data, and come along in a few hundred years and run it in a simulation.


    There's certain schools of thought that subscribe to the view that if you can save a complete state of the brain, there's no reason why, with exponentially increasing compute, you couldn't come along later and start it running again...

    If you are going to start talking about the inevitable result, you need to think about patterning consciousness, and some big philosophical issues...

  • by thepotoo ( 829391 ) <[thepotoospam] [at] []> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:26PM (#27495053)

    Bullshit. A complete map of a brain of someone with and someone without gene XYZ will tell us about the role played by gene XYZ without the ethical or temporal problems associated with creating an XYZ knockout. A neural network running a simulation of a human brain would be a Turing-complete strong AI. Throw a evolutionary algorithm onto this, and you can start looking at where different types of selective breeding could take humans, or the long-term effects drugs could have on personality.

    That's off the top of my head; there'll be a million and one uses for this eventually (ever wanted to live forever inside a computer?). Besides, this is in the preliminary stages, they are still doing stuff like classifying synapses by hand. By the time this is workable, we may already know what consciousness is.

  • by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:27PM (#27495071)

    There's certain schools of thought that subscribe to the view that if you can save a complete state of the brain, there's no reason why, with exponentially increasing compute, you couldn't come along later and start it running again

    That would be determinism, and would require precise measurements for future reproducibility - the further into the future you go, the more precise they would have to be to remain accurate to reality. And it in no way accounts for stimuli, the very things of which one is conscious. So maybe you could restart a simulation, and it could last a short time, but it would not remain accurate long, and would not be able to handle changes in input.

  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:32PM (#27495159)

    This may be of use for diseases, but the greatest use - understanding consciousness - is still well beyond simply mapping the brain

    A variation on the sentiment "Why bother investigating this, it's beyond our understanding and is useless," which has been posed at some point to every serious scientific inquiry. "Why study fungus, you can't do anything useful with it!" is probably something Flemming heard right before he discovered penicillin.

    Fortunately it's often wrong. In this case, it seems to me that knowing the map of a brain could have some real tangible uses

    -Understanding the sequence of wiring a brain, we know some things about the order in which brain cells develop, and we know unconnected neurons die, but beyond that I'm not sure we know anything. Is there an organization to how the brain initializes itself? Could this be one thing that goes wrong in, say, autism?

    -Better understanding of the interconnectivity of different regions of the brain. Obvious uses there for dealing with lesions to the brain, if you learn from this study that one of the areas damaged is highly connected to a distant part of the brain, you might want to watch out for effects on that other part of the brain

    -Helping us understand how or if new neurons generated in adulthood integrate into the already existing, quite complicated network

    -altering something and seeing how that affects the brain map, to study the plasticity of the brain and possibly learn how to learn better

    That's just the ones I could think up, there are undoubtedly more reasons one of the authors could fill you in on, and there are probably even more uses that even they haven't thought of, that some other researcher will.

    Anyway, since when did science ever need to have a clear use in mind before we did something? If you're anything like the typical slashdotter, you don't bother asking "What good will that do" when discussions of "Let's land on the moon or mars" come up. I would argue that this is clearly more useful than that, but that doesn't matter, it's not about knowing all that we can gain from an endeavor in advance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:40PM (#27495315)

    Problem is, you'll never live inside a computer.
    A copy of you could, of course. One can well imagine his brain mapped and 'ran' as a neural network in a computer. Nevertheless, you are still alive, and there are simply two creatures (is a human brain ran in a computer a human or a computer?) that, for a short period of time, thought exackly the same. Then, due to different stimulus and perhaps some imprecision in copying, your thought processes would slowly diverge, and the machine-you would think differently.
    You cannot live forever inside a computer. You can copy yourself to a computer and then die, but that doesnt sound so cool anymore does it.

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.