Julian's blog: TED session 9: The Unknown Brain

July 17th, 2010
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Gero Miesenböck, Optogeneticist
We don’t understand the brain’s code and we won’t get there any time soon by trying to decode millions of neural impulses. Optogenetics uses flashes of light to change behaviour, and aims to understand the resulting brain activity. Our brains control an actor (controls actions) and a critic (learns and interprets). Using light, Gero has identified the brain region of the critic in flies and believes we can in humans.

 

Herbert Watzke, Computational neuroscientist
We aren’t omnivores – we are coctivores: animals that eat cooked food. “I cook therefore I am.” We perceive five tastes, of which three are acquisitive (sweet, umami and salt) helping us to find nutritious food, and two are protective (sour and bitter), warning us of dangerour food. We have two complete brains! Our gut has a brain connected with the limbic system that manages our complex gut – 400 sqm in area, 14 m long, with 500 million nerve cells, 20 types of neurone in the gut wall. The gut brain is autonomous, manages chemical/mechanical sensing, is responsible for feelings of satiation and hunger, and controls muscle movements.

 

Stefano Mancuso, Plant neurobiologist
Why were there no plants on the ark?! Plants are undervalued: they have intelligence – they sleep, they even play. Their intelligence is in their neural networks, in their roots. Each root has a few hundred cells that act like neurones, and a simple plant like rye has 14 million roots… so under the plant is a sophisticated neural network like the Internet. In future we should build plant robots (so we have androids, animaloids and plantoids) where we want to do the things plants do well.

 

Sebastian Seung, Computational neuroscientist
A true rockstar scientist! Each of us is a connectome – the map of all the connections between all our neurones. We have 100 billion neurones. Are memories, personality, identity held in the complexity of the connectome? Neurones look like trees, and where they touch is a synapse. The map of synapses changes all the time: just thinking probably changes your connectome. The length of the wiring in our brain is millions of miles!

 

Fascinating session.

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