Sebastian Seung is a researcher in the
new field of connectomics. In this TED talk he introduces the audience to the field of connectomics – the study of how connections of neurons give rise to the functions of the brain. He starts with the hard science by showing how synaptic connections between neurons are visualised using microscopic analysis of thin sections of the brain. Later he takes us through the higher level phenomenon that he hopes to explain using this approach including insights into the stream of consciousness. Discussions about how brain wiring relates to mind are very complex and give rise to the mind-brain dichotomy although reconceptualisations may help to overcome the perceived difficulties in this area. The area of connectomics dates back many decades – to the 1950’s with the introduction of the neural network. Indeed in an effort to improve computer efficiency and learn from the human brain IBM has dedicated teams examining this very subject including Henry Markram and Dharmendhra S Modha. If Seung’s ambitions of understanding the human ‘connectome’ are realised then considerable progress will have been made in understanding the aetiology of mental illness although even here as McLaren points out it will not offer all of the answers we may be seeking.
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