Scientists Map the 10 Billion Neurons of Human Cerebral Cortex & Find a Central Switchboard

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donderdag 12 februari 2009

A Galaxy Insight

The study of the human brain is one of the most fascinating, and incredibly meta, subjects in existence.  The almost Escherian experiments of one brain studying another brain (which is thinking about being studied by the first) have up to now been held back by one thing: the brain's owner is kind of using it so you can't poke too hard.  Now a new scanning technique has allowed scientists to probe deeper than ever into the secrets of the mind.

The non-invasive technique of Diffusive Spectrum Imaging (DSI) has enabled an international team of scientists to get inside the human head without breaking anything.  The system has mapped the mass of ten billion neurons that make up the human cerebral cortex - and found a central switchboard hiding inside, a densely-packed region of connections which works hard even when the rest of the brain is chilling out.

The cerebral cortex is everything you think of as you, a surface coated in neurons connected by a vast network of synapses (whose myelin sheaths make up the famous "grey matter").  DSI imaging revealed the central hub connecting both hemispheres of the brain and various other bits and pieces.

As well as understanding our minds, the work could be a vital step in building new ones - one goal of the research is to enable researchers to accurately model the system, and depending on your philosophical bent, a computer that can think what a conscious mind thinks could be pretty much the same thing.  Vital data for such simulation systems comes in the form of cortical weighting matrices derived from the DSI studies.

A "Cortical Core Matrix" sounds like something Sarah Connor has to reprogram to stop Arnold Schwarzzeneger from killing her, but it sitting behind your eyes right now and the team is working out what it does.  Its location, structure and measured activity patterns indicate that it acts as central router for manifold mental functions - so the next time you're cursing a slow-loading connection, do so in the smug knowledge that your own skull can do a better job.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

Bron: dailygalaxy.com

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