Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
by Sebastian Seung. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
To truly understand how the human brain works, Massachusetts Institute of Technology computational neuroscientist Seung argues that researchers should focus on what he dubs the connectome—the set of connections among all neurons in the brain.
In Connectome, Seung argues that these maps might explain what makes us unique: revealing, for example, why two people react to the same social situation differently or why some individuals are afflicted with, for instance, schizophrenia, but others are spared.
Puzzling out the connectome would allow the fabled frontier of personalized neuroscience to become a reality. Yet with more than 100 billion neurons in the human brain, some say this mapping project is practically impossible.
Seung postulates, however, that recent technological advances have made it doable. Equipped with new devices, scientists may be able to work synapse by synapse to understand how brain wiring can go awry to cause disease and find suitable targets for drug interventions.
First, Seung offers sound explanations of state-of-the-art tools and processes that may allow us to map our connectomes. He then takes liberties, discussing his thought experiments on what might become possible if researchers could tap into personal connectomes. He wonders, for example, whether scientists will be able to reconstruct our experiences in a computer simulation, displaying, for instance, a memory of a loved one’s smile.
Although he entertains the “what if” scenarios, Seung remains pragmatic about which milestones are currently possible and which are decades or several hundred years away. Seung is clearly onto something, and he believes the payoff will be worth the wait.