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Will We Really Be Able To Model The Entire Human Brain Within 10 Years?
Does the claim made by the leader of the €1 Billion Human Brain Project stand a chance of coming to fruition?
A video has been doing the rounds on Twitter, in which a neuroscience lab manager gives the shocking inside story on how the €1 Billion Human Brain Project really received its funding:
Alright, alright. The man in the video is really a man from Andalucía in Spain telling a story about how he lost paella pans in the sea. The subtitles in the satirical video are amusing and more than a little on the harsh side, but they represent the genuine discontent that has arisen within the neuroscience community around one of the field’s flagship projects. What is the reality behind the bold claim that an accurate simulation of the human brain will be realized within 10 years?
The grand claim was originally made to the public in a bold TED talk by the Human Brain Project’s champion Henry Markram in 2009. Discontent reached a crisis point last summer when 513 neuroscientists signed a letter refusing to participate in the Human Brain Project until the project had undergone a fundamental rethink; a further 298 neuroscientists signed on as supporters. The neuroscientists argued that the goals and methods of the project were too narrow and too unrealistic, leading to a high chance the project would fail, and putting funding to other areas of the field at risk.
Edvard Moser, who won a Nobel Prize last year for his brain research and who is a signatory on the letter, explains the problem in an article in Nautilus magazine: “As I understand it, tons of data will be put into a supercomputer and this will somehow lead to a global understanding of how the brain works. ... To simulate the brain, or a part of the brain, one has to start with some hypothesis about how it works.”
Christof Koch puts the scale of the problem into context:
“The dirty secret is that we don’t even understand the nematode C. Elegans, which only has 302 neurons [in contrast with the nearly 100 billion in the human brain]. We don’t have a complete model of this tiny organism.” - Christof Koch, Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science
An independent committee set up to investigate the criticisms published a report in March in agreement with much of the criticism. The report came to the conclusion that the goal of simulating the entire human brain was premature and that the project should refocus on developing methods and technologies, while not excluding cognitive and systems neuroscientists and not abandoning animal models, as had been previously planned. The developments will bring the project much closer in line with the U.S. BRAIN Initiative.
If it was ever in doubt that the entire human brain would not be simulated in the foreseeable future, let alone in the next 10 years, this now appears to be all but certain, but neuroscience as a field may be stronger for it.
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Andrej Vodolazhskyi
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.