Beautiful complexity

Remember the connectome, those synaptic connections and systems of neurons that scientists like Dr. Seung believe maintain the experiences defining our individuality (see post “death and the connectome” of 1/10/15). Here is a simplified picture.

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

Now imagine this: each line and each color represents the reception and production of many impulses and neurotransmitter discharge and re-uptake between and among neurons and neuronal systems. With each impulse received and produced, the lines and their colors change, indicating some change in their participation of the brain’s information processing; the systems retain some integrity of function but perform widely different processes moment by moment, a true phantasmagoria from which our personality and mind emerge. Somehow the connectome functions with coherence, integrity and usefulness. Now consider an essay by Eve Marder in PLoSBiology on 5/12/15, “Understanding Brains: Details, Intuition and Big Data”. Dr. Marder discusses the current state of our neuroscience with its tsunami of data and sophisticated data analyses and the continued, perhaps increased, importance of intuition as researchers ponder their data and theorists seek coherence, integrity, and usefulness. This work is complex and technical; I read with ignorant wonder about brain oscillations and neural integrators, etc. I read with keen interest her presentation of issues, probably of long standing, with data collection and interpreting it meaningfully over and above its reliability and validity. She says we can avoid wandering around a self-created wilderness for 40 years by staying closer to the data, that is increasingly more difficult with technological advances across many fields, biological and physical, and by maintaining some intellectual rigor in our intuitive efforts to further our understanding, especially in our modeling. This is a fine essay by a thoughtful, diligent and creative scientist of some precision. Here is the link: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002147 And here is Dr. Marder. evemarder She and her colleagues have led us to understand even more completely how complex the connectome actually is by studying lobster nervous systems. This is important for many reasons. They have shown that one input through the same system goes through myriad redundant and dynamic processes so that the output at any one time is very difficult to specify. Even in a lobster the organism determines what to make of things. The traditional method of administering a stimulus and then watching the result in order to learn the specifics of the system does not go very far in learning about the connectome; the reflex arc, the simple S-R of the good old days, is way too simple a model to be useful because the organism’s brain is too dynamic and runs its processes of its own accord. Phantasmagoria squared, ain’t it?

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