“BrainBows: Neurons in the hippocampus, a brain area involved in memory, are labeled in different colors, with their neural projections pointing downward.
Credit: Tamily A. Weissman” (Photo and caption from ‘Technology Review’)
This week, the New York Times published two articles on connectomics– the science of mapping the brain. This article examines the work of Dr. Lichtman and his team of researchers at Harvard, who “have built some unusual contraptions that carve off slivers of mouse brains as part of a quest to understand how the mind works. Their goal is to run slice after minuscule slice under a powerful electron microscope, develop detailed pictures of the brain’s complex wiring and then stitch the images back together. In short, they want to build a full map of the mind.”
At the end of this first article, Mr. Kasthuri, a Harvard researcher, notes that “It will either be a great success story or a massive cautionary tale.” In a second article, Kenneth J. Hayworth, one of Dr. Lichtman’s colleagues, articulates one of the most grandiose ambitions for this project:
“Mr. Hayworth goes so far as to suggest that a person’s brain map could be replicated in a computer one day. In essence, someone could download their brain structure into a machine and have his or her personality live on.
‘This is a taboo topic in the scientific community,’ he said. ‘But we have a cure to death right here. Why aren’t we pursuing it?'”