The Corner

This Is Your Brain on Research Funds

Can we reverse-engineer the brain? Some people are trying.

A detailed simulation of a small region of a brain built molecule by molecule has been constructed and has recreated experimental results from real brains.

What they actually seem to have reverse-engineered is a cortical column. In very brief: The neocortex — the “skin” — of the brain, where all the interesting stuff happens — has a distinct architecture, one element of which is that cortical cells cooperate in columns perpendicular to the brain surface. Jeff Hawkins gives a good description in his 2004 book On Intelligence, from page 140 of which:

Imagine a single microcolumn is the width of a human hair. Take thousands of hairs and cut them into very short segments — say, the height of a lowercase i without the dot. Line up all these hairs or columns and glue them side by side like a very dense brush. Then create a sheet of long, extra-thin hairs … and glue them horizontally across the top of the mat of short hairs. This brushlike mat is a simplistic model of your … cortical region.

The development of this columnar architecture seems to have been a key step in the evolution of the mammalian brain. Back to the news story:

Professor Markram believes that by building up from one neocortical column to the entire neocortex, the ethereal “emergent properties” that characterise human thought will, step by step, make themselves apparent … Such emergent properties lead to the very essence of being human — the spatial awareness of lower mammals graduates to political views and artistic expression in humans.

What are the odds the final product will turn out to be a conservative, I wonder? And when shall we have a reverse-engineered brain that can turn out Petrarchan sonnets?

When asked when the simulation would come up with something artistic or an invention, Professor Markram said it was simply a matter of money.

Most Popular

Elections

It’s Only ‘Free and Fair’ When We Win

Indeed, this is astonishing: https://twitter.com/felixsalmon/status/1331295033325219840 In 2018, after two years of media spinning tales about shady Russian infiltrators in our government, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Putin’s gremlins had bored into our voting machines and altered the outcome ... Read More
Elections

It’s Only ‘Free and Fair’ When We Win

Indeed, this is astonishing: https://twitter.com/felixsalmon/status/1331295033325219840 In 2018, after two years of media spinning tales about shady Russian infiltrators in our government, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Putin’s gremlins had bored into our voting machines and altered the outcome ... Read More

The Coup That Wasn’t

Donald Trump is not done challenging the results of the 2020 election in court, and he is by no means done complaining. But there will be no “coup.” Any prospect of Trump remaining in office without a legal process that declares him the recipient of more legal votes in the decisive states has now evaporated. ... Read More

The Coup That Wasn’t

Donald Trump is not done challenging the results of the 2020 election in court, and he is by no means done complaining. But there will be no “coup.” Any prospect of Trump remaining in office without a legal process that declares him the recipient of more legal votes in the decisive states has now evaporated. ... Read More
Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
History

From Hate to Heroism

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and, lately, relentless book-hawking. To subscribe to “The Tuesday” and receive it in your inbox, please follow this link. From Hatred to Heroism Daniel Cordier, when he was young and getting started in life, did not seem ... Read More
History

From Hate to Heroism

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and, lately, relentless book-hawking. To subscribe to “The Tuesday” and receive it in your inbox, please follow this link. From Hatred to Heroism Daniel Cordier, when he was young and getting started in life, did not seem ... Read More