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Mapping a brain and knowing less than you did before


A scientist who mapped the roundworm’s brain jokes that he knows less now than before. Hey, the brain mappers know a lot but here’s the problem: A map is not the territory:

When it comes to a world more complex than cars, the gap between map and reality widens. That’s especially likely to be true of the human brain. But it turns out to be true even of a worm’s brain. Gilder recalls a personal conversation with a worm genome mapper,

“Only one biological connectome has been mapped in detail. That is the nervous system of a nematode, the millimeter-long roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which comprises 300 neurons linked by 7,000 connections. Defining this connectome took ten years. Engaged in nematode neural research for four decades, from the Nobel labs of Sydney Brenner to his own explorations at the University of Wisconsin, Anthony Stretton sardonically observed: “And knowing the connectome does not answer the question of how the nematode brain actually works. In many ways, I ‘knew’ more about the nematode brain when I started than I do now.”


Of course Stretton and other scientists have learned a great deal about C. elegans but, just as the map is not the territory, the research is not the subject. The division between information about a thing and the thing itself is fundamental so 1) the thing can change from the mapped information and 2) more information leads to more questions, not fewer.

News, “Maps are not territories and reality needn’t follow our rules” at Mind Matters News

You may also enjoy: Can we understand the brain the way we understand New York City? The “connectome” (a complete “wiring diagram” of the brain) is giving neuroscientists pause for thought

Even in literal wiring diagrams of literal electronic devices, the function often goes well beyond what the diagram would indicate. This distinction has been partly lost in the digital world, where the logic diagram of a CPU can be precisely expressed as a program. But good analog designers, whether making amplifiers or analog computers, knew how to create 'emergent' functions from negative feedback and equipoise. The natural curves of two tubes or transistors interacting and counteracting in a balanced and differential way can accomplish tasks that couldn't possibly be expressed as a program. polistra
The more we study life once believed to be simple, the greater the complexity becomes. Single-celled organisms, in Darwin's time, were believed to have no complexity. They are supposed to be the lowest lifeforms that have yet to evolve into anything, which should beg the question as to how any remain. More importantly than the stubbornness to refrain from evolving into anything, is the difference between what was believed and what has been learned. The difference is between believing it was nothing more than a wagon to being the equivalent of a space shuttle. Single-celled organisms and Darwinism cannot coexist. BobRyan

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