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A Fascinating Read: Sebastian Seung’s Quest to Map the Human Brain

July 31, 2015

Excerpt.

But when a little girl learns a word, for example, her brain makes a record by altering the connections themselves. When she learns to ride a bike or sing “Happy Birthday,” a new constellation of connections takes shape. As she grows, every memory — a friend’s name, the feel of skis on virgin powder, a Beethoven sonata — is recorded this way. Taken together, these connections constitute her connectome, the brain’s permanent record of her personality, talents, intelligence, memories: the sum of all that constitutes her “self.” Even after the cold arrested Bagenholm’s heart and hushed her crackling neuronal net to a whisper, the connectome endured.

What makes the connectome’s relationship to our identity so difficult to understand, Seung told me, is that we associate our “self” with motion. We walk. We sing. We experience thoughts and feelings that bloom into consciousness and then fade. “Psyche” is derived from the Greek “to blow,” evoking the vital breath that defines life. “It seems like a fallacy to talk about our self as some wiring diagram that doesn’t change very quickly,” Seung said. “The connectome is just meat, and people rebel at that.”

Seung told me to imagine a river, the roiling waters of the Colorado. That, he said, is our experience from moment to moment. Over time, the water leaves its mark on the riverbed, widening bends, tracing patterns in the rock and soil. In a sense, the Grand Canyon is a memory of where the Colorado has been. And of course, that riverbed shapes the flow of the waters today. There are two selves then, river and riverbed. The river is all tumult and drama. The river demands attention. Yet it’s the riverbed that Seung wants to know. NYT.

via Dubious Quality.

And the game EyeWire that they are using to map a connectome.

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2 Comments
  1. July 31, 2015 9:14 pm

    And speaking of brains, here is an example of someone who doesn’t have one. It is actually more prevalent than you would think (but can be witnessed by all the “Likes”).

    http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2015/07/31/animal-psychic-contacts-cecil-the-lion-his-profound-response-moved-her-to-tears/

  2. July 31, 2015 10:41 pm

    And in contrast to that last comment, here is an example of someone WITH brains.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2015/07/16/becky-hammon-interview-spurs-summer-league/30270355/

    The Spurs have this culture of “we” over “me,” and Popovich gravitates toward people who are over themselves. So as all this attention has come your way, how have you handled that dynamic?

    “I just have to be me, and that’s what I’m most responsible for. Pop gave me the job because of who I am, and my brain, my personality, and what I can bring to the table. That’s ultimately why I got the job. I think if he were to hire me and I wasn’t qualified, what a disaster it would be, or if I didn’t fit in. It could end up really hurting women, so it has to be the right person. Throw the gender thing out, and it has to be the right person, it has to be the right fit. You have to be knowledgeable. The last reason I want to be hired is because of my gender. I want to be hired because you trust me, because of my potential, because you believe that I know basketball, and we go and we build from there. I think those are things that Pop acknowledged in me and recognized in me.”

    Until hiring a woman isn’t a surprise or something that elicits a double-take, this is the way every woman should answer that kind of question. Very impressive person.

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