Lots of very intelligent people are putting lots of effort into mapping the brain’s networks. People are calling these sort of maps of which-neuron-is-connected-to-which-neuron ‘connectomes‘, and if you’re working on this stuff, you’re doing ‘connectomics‘. (Academics love coining new fields of study! Seems like there’s a new type of ‘omics’ every month. Here’s a cheatsheet courtesy of Wikipedia– though I can’t vouch for the last on the list.)
Mapping the connectome is a great step toward understanding the brain. The problem is, what do we do with a connectome once it’s built? There’s a lot of important information about the brain’s connectivity packed into a connectome, but how do we extract it? Read on for an approach to broad-stroke, comparative brain region analysis based on frequency normalization. (Fairly technical and not recommended for a general audience.) Read More
TMS ‘Sonar’ for mapping brain region activity coupling
Modern neuroscience is increasingly suggesting that a great deal of a person’s personality, pathology, and cognitive approach is encoded into which of their brain regions are activity-coupled together. That is to say, which of someone’s brain regions are more vs. less wired together, compared to some baseline, determines much about that person.
Right now such coupling is largely invisible and unquantifiable. If we are to move toward a clearer understanding of individual differences, not to mention psychiatric conditions, it would be invaluable to have a test for this activity coupling. A combination TMS+fMRI alternated pulse device- as it could stimulate a specific brain region/network, and measure how it affected the activity in other regions- may very well provide an objective basis for psychiatric diagnosis and treatment recommendations, and perhaps even a firmer foundation for psychology as a whole.
The following is a somewhat technical writeup of the idea. Not into detailed neuroscience stuff? Click here.
The brain is extraordinarily complex. We are in desperate need of models that decode this complexity and allow us to speak about the brain’s fundamental dynamics simply, comprehensively, and predictively. I believe I have one, and it revolves around resonance.
I’m pretty sure I’ve found the future of medical diagnosis– it’s elegant, accurate, immediate, mostly doctor-less, comprehensive, and very computationally intensive. I don’t know when it’ll arrive, but it’s racing toward us and when it hits, it’ll change everything.
In short– the future of medical diagnosis is to use a gene expression panel along with functional and correlative connections between gene expression and pathology to perform thousands of parallel tests for every single human illness we know of– no matter whether it’s acute, chronic, pathogenic, mental, or lifestyle. In short: one simple test that’ll uncover all health problems.
Exponential advances in gene sequencing technology have produced an embarrassment of riches: we’re now able to almost trivially sequence an organism’s DNA, yet sifting meaning from these genomes is still an incredibly labor-intensive and haphazard task. For instance, consider the following simple questions:
How similar are the genomes of dogs and humans? How does this compare to cats and humans? What about mice and cats? How close, genetically, are mice and corn?
We have all of these genomes sequenced, but we don’t have particularly good and intuitive ways to answer these sorts of questions.
Whenever we can ask simple questions about empirical phenomena that don’t seem to have elegant answers, it’s often a sign there’s a niche for a new conceptual tool. This is a stab at a tool that I believe could deal with these questions more cogently and intelligently than current approaches.
Edit, 3-10-13: The big bang happened. The universe expanded a lot. Everything was pretty evenly distributed. The universe was a uniform mist of plasma, light, and hydrogen, as far as the eye could see.
After 13.77 billion years, things are no longer so evenly distributed. Matter has clumped up into gas clouds, planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, clusters, superclusters. Quantum fluctuations during the big bang made things a little uneven, and gravity did the rest.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to quantify just how clumped up matter has become. How to put a number on how gravitationally inhomogeneous the universe is. If a universe with a perfectly even mist of atoms and photons is a 1, what are we?
I have this crazy-and-probably-wrong idea that this quantity, and the amount of dark energy observed throughout cosmological history, might share some eerily similar inflection points. Moreover, these two quantities might be causally connected- e.g., an increase in gravitational inhomogeneity may cause an increase in dark energy.
But I don’t think there’s a good holistic calculation of gravitational inhomogeneity yet. And I am not a very good cosmologist.
The following is an attempt to fumble around for an analogy of why this could be the case. However, I ask theorists to focus less on the analogy and more on the simple, empirical prediction that gravitational inhomogeneity and dark energy will correlate better and better as our measurements of them improve.
I like America a lot. But lately I’ve been wondering, “what’s going on here?”
The latest poll numbers are in, and I’m clearly not alone. The AP is now reporting that 81% of Americans think we’re on the wrong track. One need not look far for proximate reasons: a strange and fragile economy, huge credit card debts, the behavior of our elected officials, our election of said officials, the sad, hollow state of our public discourse, voter apathy, the general state of our media, and so forth. There are still plenty of things going right in America, but compared to our particularly exemplary history of competence, principles, and vibrant public life, something has clearly changed.
Working hypothesis: There are substantial arguments from Physics, Physical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, and Entropy that intelligent life could only arise in a universe with exactly three macroscopic spacial dimensions.
If that seems overly technical, I’m taking a stab at the question, “What’s so special about three dimensions? Why don’t we live in four dimensions, or two?”
I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with science: on one hand, it provides a uniquely privileged (and fascinating) look into the mechanisms of reality. On the other, the practice of science is often distorted by institutional and financial factors, which can warp what gets studied and who gets to study it away from the ideal and make life pretty miserable for would-be scientists.
Still, I’m drawn to science like a fish to water, and as a hobby I sometimes plan out lines of scientific inquiry I would pursue if I were a scientist and/or rich, particularly on issues which might not come up in normal science funding cycles. Every week in July I’ll be posting about one such idea. It’ll be a grab bag. Sit back and enjoy it.
What I’d do with a research lab, part 1:
Study the effects of diet on gut flora, and the effects of gut flora on physiology and psychology
Working hypothesis: Diet significantly and predictably influences gut flora, and gut flora has a significant influence on physiology, psychology, and in aggregate, perhaps even national character.