Tuesday, February 7, 2012
What makes us who we are? Think about that question for a moment...
...Among all of the questions we can ask as human beings, even with all of our progress and our potential, that question alone remains one of the most difficult, or perhaps the most difficult, to answer. Innumerable factors are involved when it comes to the inner workings of the mind and how it serves to shape our characters and our behavior. We are only just beginning to understand the unfathomable intricacies of the brain, this small, yet remarkably powerful organ at the center of all that we do. Our very functioning depends on it. Yet we understand relatively little about the relationship between the brain, with its vast network of neuronal connections, and the foundation of the genome, our genetic “program,” which possesses its own complex code.
That is about to change.
Of course, the genome serves as the foundation for many of our characteristics, such as our predisposition to various conditions and our physical attributes. It is the framework of our hereditary information, the core of traits passed on from parent to offspring, developed over many generations. However, the genome is not home to the memory of our first love or the feeling of pain when someone whom we know has been lost. It is not the center of our passion, nor is it the basis for our relationships with others. These are the qualities that make us truly unique. Every experience we have is linked to brain activity, specifically between neurons and synapses, which collectively might be thought of as the “circuitry” of the brain. The neuronal connections formed throughout our lives are now the subject of much investigation, because the relationships between these connections, now referred to as our “connectome,” may serve to tell us more about who we are and why than anything ever before. This is where our genome meets the brain's incredible system as it develops throughout our lives (relative, of course, to our personal experiences). Here, nature meets nurture to form the basis for what makes each and every person truly special. As they say, you are your Connectome.
Sebastian Seung is an ambitious and charismatic rising star in the field of neuroscience. He has received numerous accolades and currently teaches at MIT as a professor of computational neuroscience. Now, Seung, along with the help of fellow researchers, is determined to understand more completely the complexities of neuronal connections and their relationship to who we are. Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are is a lucid and exciting read about this exploration and the implications for truly solving this greatest of mysteries. Yes, it is a book about science, but this is not your ordinary science text. Seung, regarded as a highly effective and dynamic teacher, makes learning about the science of the brain enjoyable, and the content is accessible. You really get a sense of the potential regarding this research and what Seung and his colleagues hope to achieve through such discoveries. What would it be like to have a better grasp of the causes for conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder?
In my opinion, this book is right for everyone, since it helps to illustrate the intricacies of our inner-connections and aids in giving us a clearer sense of why we are just as we are. But the book is strongly recommended for anyone with an interest in science (especially of the mind) and recent developments in the field of neuroscience. Connectome is also perfect for any reader with a genuine interest in learning more about the brain's impact upon our development as whole human creatures, with our capacity for both love and loathing, joy and chaos. Check out the following website for more information about the book and its author: http://connectomethebook.com/.