We do not know the code

A recent Scientific American blog post by John Horgan (here) looks at the possible success of the two big (really big $1 billion and $3 billion) brain research projects and finds them too optimistic. The post is worth reading.


Horgan points out that the human genome was as successful as it was because we were already on the right track in understanding genetics. We may have been surprised by some of the detail but we had the code. We known what form the information took and at least the most important ways in which it was manipulated. But neurobiology is different – we do not have the code. We do not know the form of the information or how it is manipulated.


There is another difference which he mentions in passing. The scale is very different. The brain is really big. Much, much larger a puzzle than the genome and it is also more varied and changeable.


Something that is not mentioned is the lack of tools. I have thought of the situation in more pessimistic moods as trying to map the universe with nothing but binoculars. We simply find it difficult to measure the brains activity with fine detail. My pessimistic picture is an explorer starting out on a long journey with a faulty map, poor equipment and in persistent fog.


In an optimistic mood, I think that collecting data in a systematic way will finally lead to a ‘eureka’ moment when we see how it fits together and the puzzle is solved. This would be comparable to find the structure of DNA and then leading on to molecular biology and the genomes.


Good luck to the new projects: the Human Brain Project and the Brain Activity Map. (Even if they have been oversold.)



4 thoughts on “We do not know the code

  1. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your content
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