From Scientific American:
Understanding how brains work is one of the greatest scientific challenges of our times, but despite the impression sometimes given in the popular press, researchers are still a long way from some basic levels of understanding. A project recently funded by the Obama administration’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative is one of several approaches promising to deliver novel insights by developing new tools that involves a marriage of nanotechnology and optics.
We also lack knowledge regarding the “code” large numbers of cells use to communicate and interact. This is crucial, because mental phenomena likely emerge from the simultaneous activity of many thousands, or millions, of interacting neurons. In other words, neuroscientists have yet to decipher the “language” of the brain. “The first phase is learning what the brain’s natural language is. If your resolution [in a hypothetical language detector] is too coarse, so you’re averaging over paragraphs, or chapters, you can’t hear individual words or discern letters,” says physicist Michael Roukes of the California Institute of Technology, one of the authors of the “Brain Activity Map” (BAM) paper published in 2012 in Neuron that inspired the BRAIN Initiative. “Once we have that, we could talk to the brain in complete sentences.”
Hmmm. What if the human brain has a number of different, incompatible languages, and none of them is like the languages humans use to communicate among ourselves? Well, we shall see.
Extending it to humans won’t be simple, however. “There’s all sorts of issues with translating this to humans,” Roukes says. “At no time soon will that be possible.” Firstly, optogenetics involves genetic modification, and people are understandably hesitant to modify their genes. Also, the long-term biological compatibility of the implants in higher mammals is uncertain, especially as brains jostle as we move and breathe. “Most of the challenges will probably be around getting these shanks in without acute or chronic immune response,” says biophysicist Adam Cohen of Harvard University. “And without affecting circulation, popping blood vessels or having problems when the animal moves.” Then there’s the matter of a surgical procedure to open the skull.More.
All that could prove a bummer they wouldn’t have with rodents
See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away
Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?
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