Sebastian Seung has a new book out, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, that documents current research into "mapping out our neural connections in our brains might be the key to understanding the basis of things like personality, memory, perception and ideas, as well as illnesses that happen in the brain, like autism and schizophrenia."
Seung gave a TED Talk at Oxford in 2010:
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. Seung is a leader in the new field of connectomics, currently the hottest space in neuroscience, which studies, in once-impossible detail, the wiring of the brain.
Over the last month or so, Seung and the Human Connectome Project have been getting a lot of press. Below are four of the more prominent articles.
This article comes from Scientific American (follow the link in the title to see the whole article).
February 27, 2012
In 1949, a Canadian psychologist named Donald Hebb penned the following revolutionary words in his pioneering work, The Organization of Behavior:
“Let us assume that the persistence or repetition of a reverberatory activity (or ‘trace’) tends to induce lasting cellular changes that add to its stability… When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite a cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased.”Or, to put it more bluntly: “Cells that fire together, wire together.”
Hebb’s ideas have influenced many a modern neuroscientist, notably in the area of brain mapping. To date, most brain mapping efforts have been on more of a macroscale: identifying which parts of the brain are affiliated with specific functions, for example, or staining single neurons to track them in the mass of brain tissue, or looking at thicker “wiring” that connects different parts of the brain. Ideally, neuroscientists would like to trace the actual “wiring” of the brain: the dendrites and axons that form the synaptic connections between neurons.
All the cool kids call this the “connectome.” So does MIT’s Sebastian Seung, — in fact, he has a new book out (his first) called Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. Jen-Luc Piquant devoured it and pronounces it a terrific read. She now has Seung’s TED talk on a never-ending loop playing in her pixelated brain. Such a fangirl.
I heard Seung speak a few years ago at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, and was thoroughly riveted; I wasn’t the least surprised when he was tapped for TED. He came to neuroscience by way of condensed matter physics theory, working on artificial neural networks (ANNs).
This article comes from CNN (follow the link in the title to see the whole article).
The Human Connectome Project is giving neuroscientists a new perspective on the connections in the brain and how they communicate with each other.
Copyright Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA and Randy Buckner, PhD. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, MGH.
(CNN) -- The complex architecture of the human brain and how its billions of nerve cells communicate has baffled the greatest minds for centuries.STORY HIGHLIGHTS
- Emerging field of "Connectomics" aims to uncover the complex secrets of the brain
- Human Connectome Project shedding new light on connectivity and function
- New advances could pave the way for treatments of brain disorders like autism
But now, new technology is allowing neuroscientists to map the brain's connections in ever-greater detail.The creation of a map, or "connectome" as it has been dubbed, is raising hopes that brain disorders like autism and schizophrenia will be better understood in the future, perhaps cured.The Human Connectome Project (HCP), a U.S. government-funded scheme, recently began trials on healthy volunteers with a state-of-the-art diffusion-imaging scanner.Built by German engineering company Siemens, it works by tracking the passage of water molecules through nerve fibers, giving a more accurate picture of the brain's structure and its neuronal pathways, scientists say."The diffusion image is a map of the water diffusion which we then convert into a marker for the fiber pathways," says Van Wedeen, director of Connectomics at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)."We then reconstruct it through computer algorithms that explain the water diffusion that we have observed."
Finally, The Dana Foundation recently posted their review of a debate between Seung and J. Anthony Movshon, director of the Center for Neural Science at NYU and a Dana Alliance member. Movshoin thinks resources would be better spent elsewhere. The debate was moderated by Carl Zimmer (Discover, The New York Times) and Robert Krulwich (NPR). Follow the title link to see the whole (tto short) review of the debate. This debate was also reviewed by The Beautiful Brain.
Last night’s debate at Columbia University between neuroscientists Sebastian Seung and J. Anthony Movshon was billed as a heavyweight fight. In his welcoming address, in front of a packed house, Stuart Firestein referred to the participants as gladiators and the moderators as referees. And while he ended by saying “Let’s get ready to rumble!” the debate was rather temperate. The event, moderated by Carl Zimmer (Discover, The New York Times) and Robert Krulwich (NPR), was presented by NeuWrite and sponsored by the Dana Foundation.
From The Beautiful Brain:
As eager attendees packed Columbia University’s Havemayer Hall on Monday evening and another three hundred watched a simulcast from a nearby room, two things were immediately clear: there is a hunger for a true debate about the brain, one that moves the conversations usually held behind closed doors at scientific conferences and over late-night beers to the public sphere, and Sebastian Seung is wearing gold sneakers.
It was clear from the opening statements at Monday’s debate that Movshon and Seung represent two different schools of thought, but their conversation ended up being less a “brain brawl” and more a respectful airing of differences. Seung believes neuroscience is stuck in a traditional mode of research, where the necessity to publish the next paper and get the next grant corrals scientists into overly-specific, limited fields of view of the whole system they’re studying. As a result, Seung argued, “neuroscientists can be very short-sighted.” Seung’s own plan of attack is one he’s elaborated in his popular TED talk and documented thoroughly (and very accessibly) in his new book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. On Monday, he reiterated this philosophy: the best way to understand perception, memory, and the basis of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and autism, Seung believes, is to study the brain at the level of the synapse—to trace all the connections between all the neurons in a brain. By generating a map of the whole system, we may be able to finally see engrams for memories and perceptions, as well as what might be going wrong with these networks in the aforementioned disorders, perhaps due to various problems in the ways neurons are wired up, which Seung calls “connectopathies.”