The Connectome

Researchers at Harvard have develped a device that allows them to slice brain tissue ultra-thin and then scan it with an electron microscope in order to create a complete mapping of the cell kinds and connections in a mouse brain (wired story here). The resulting map is called a connectome…very cool. This kind of research is exactly what we need in order to move forward in our quest to fill in the theoretical place-holder term ‘brain state’.

On a related note it also brings us one step closer to being able to end our relience on real animals to do chemical manipulations/lesions in. If these can be simulated a lot of animal suffering could be stoped.

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4 thoughts on “The Connectome

  1. Can assimulation necessarily substitute for real physical experience? I would tend to think that simulating experiments onusing chemical manipulations would not work in all cases where animal experimentation is now being used in labs. Don’t get me wrong that’s why I could’nt be a vet, I hate the ida of animals suffering too. But as in the pain asymbolia patients, maybe if you ask them what their pain level is on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most severe then maybe it would only prove to be subjective not objective in regards to the type of testing.

  2. But a plane does not breath or feel professor. A plane is a non-organic thing and is subject to mechanical and physical laws. If all humans were the same then maybe I think that this would be a good point but people respond to different stimuli in various ways. In the same vein I could argue that I would’nt want a surgeon that only practiced surgery only virtually or an airline pilot. This simulation that you speak of would then maybe lead you to then ask, not only if other machines are conscious. That would also get the discussion back into other discussions on artificial intelligence maybe? :)

  3. You are right. Planes don’t breathe and feel. They are physical objects that obey the laws of physics, just as you say. That is why when we are able to use virtual wind tunnels; we have detailed knowledge of the materrials used and the physical conditions that we want to test them under.

    The Human body is also just a physical object. And we are learning more and more about the way that it works. So, it doesn’t seem to me that there is any real difference between the two kinds of simulation.

    You say, “If all humans were the same then maybe I think that this would be a good point but people respond to different stimuli in various ways.”

    This isn’t really relevant to what I was suggesting. We do not need to take into account individual pain discriminations, for instance, in order to know at what dosage some drug becomes lethal at. To be sure there will be statistical differences, but I am assuming that this stuff will be accounted for in the simulation (e.g. there will be variables that can be adjusted that track differences in people). So, for instance, ione famous kind of experiment is where you take a 100 animals and give them a certain drug and then track them for a month or so and see how many of them die. If we had simulations that were realistic we wouldn’t need to do that. So, I wasn’t suggesting that ALL animal testing be stopped and switched to simulations; that would depend on how realistic the simulations were. But even so, we could replace A LOT of them. So maybe we don’t want a surgeon who is trained on a simulation (though in some cases airline piolts are!) there are still many ways that simulations could reduce the number of animals used in testing.
    See this virtual frog dissection as an example of the way that animals can be saved.

    Finally, yoiu say “This simulation that you speak of would then maybe lead you to then ask, not only if other machines are conscious. That would also get the discussion back into other discussions on artificial intelligence maybe?”

    When we simulate a huricane on a computer no one thinks there is an actual hurricane in the computer! So too, when we simulate a mental or cognitive process there is no reason to think that there is a mental or cognitive process in the computer…though you are right that this kind of connectome would GREATLY help us in our quest for good old fashioned AI

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