How big science failed to unravel the mystery of the human brain


He believes that even if it can record all the spikes of all neurons at once, the brain does not exist in isolation: in order to connect these points correctly, you need to record the external stimuli that the brain is exposed to and the behavior of the organism at the same time. He reasoned that we need to understand the brain at a macro level before trying to decode what the firing of a single neuron means.

Others worry about the impact of centralized control over these areas. Cornelia Bargmann, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, worries that this will crowd out research led by individual researchers. (Bagman was quickly appointed as the co-leader of the BRAIN Initiative working group.)

There is no single, accepted theory of how the brain works, and not everyone in the field agrees that building a simulated brain is the best way to study it.

Although the US initiative seeks the opinions of scientists to guide its direction, the EU project is clearly more top-down, with Markram at the helm.But as Noah Hutton recorded in his 2020 movie In silicon, Markram’s grand plan was soon shattered. As an undergraduate student studying neuroscience, Hutton was assigned to read Markram’s paper and was impressed by his proposal to simulate the human brain. When he started to make a documentary, he decided to document this effort. However, he quickly realized that the characteristics of this billion-dollar company are more infighting and changing goals than breakthrough science.

In silicon To show Markram as a charismatic leader, he needs to make a bold statement about the future of neuroscience in order to attract funds to realize his specific vision. But the project was plagued by a major problem from the beginning: there is no unified theory of how the brain works, and not everyone in the field agrees that building a simulated brain is the best way to study it. It didn’t take long for these differences to appear in the EU project.

In 2014, hundreds of experts in Europe wrote a letter citing concerns about regulation, funding mechanisms and transparency. Human Brain ProjectScientists believe that Markram’s goals are premature and too narrow, and will exclude funding for researchers seeking other ways to study the brain.

“What impressed me was that if he succeeded and opened it and simulated brain work, what did you learn?” Terry Sejnowski is a computational neuroscientist at the Salk Institute and previously served on the BRAIN Initiative advisory board, he told me. “The simulation is as complicated as the brain.”

The Human Brain Project’s board of directors voted in early 2015 to change its organization and leadership, replacing the three-person executive committee led by Markram with a 22-person management committee. Swiss entrepreneur Christoph Ebell with a background in scientific diplomacy was appointed as executive director. “When I took over, the project was at a crisis point,” he said. “People publicly doubt whether the project will continue.”

But a few years later, after a “strategic disagreement” with the project sponsor, he was also out. The project is now focused on providing a new computational research infrastructure to help neuroscientists store, process, and analyze large amounts of data-unsystematic data collection has always been a problem in this field-and develop 3D brain maps and applications Software to create simulations.

At the same time, the US BRAIN program has also undergone its own changes.As early as 2014, in response to scientists’ concerns and acknowledging the limitations of possibilities, it evolved into something more pragmatic, focusing on Develop technology to detect the brain.

a new day

These changes are finally beginning to produce results-even if they are not the results that the founders of every large brain project originally envisioned.

Last year, the Human Brain Project released a 3D digital map integrating different aspects of human brain tissue At the millimeter and micron level. It is essentially the Google Earth of the brain.


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