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Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
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2012 > BSP 85: Sebastian Seung Interview

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Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
I have just posted this month's Brain Science Podcast. It is an interview with Sebastian Seung, author of Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are.

BSP 85 Show Notes and free transcript

Listen to BSP 85


message 2: by Christian (new)

Christian Gallego (christiantzm) | 11 comments awesome!! :)


message 3: by Liza (new)

Liza | 1 comments I only just listened to this interview. I was very curious to hear about how Seung sees his work and the idea of a connectome as relating to the idea of associative networks.

I haven't read his book, so maybe it is addressed in there? Given that the title regards brain wiring making us who we are, I was surprised that this parallel wasn't brought up in the interview. Associative networks are a well-established psychological paradigm that seem like another way of talking about the same thing--previously established neuronal connections that exist at different resolutions and provide the framework for our behavior.


message 4: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments It was a good interview, but I think there's more involved than connections to make us who we are, just like there's more involved than neurons. For instance the amount of myelin has a lot to do with it, and the special cell type that tends to myelin, which I don't remember the name of immediately.


message 5: by Richard (new)

Richard | 1 comments Are you thinking of Glial cells?


message 6: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments Yes, Richard, thanks.


Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
David wrote: "It was a good interview, but I think there's more involved than connections to make us who we are, just like there's more involved than neurons. For instance the amount of myelin has a lot to do wi..."

Stayed tuned for an upcoming interview with Robert Burton (who I originally interviewed back in BSP 43. He has a new book coming out in April, 2013 called A Skeptic's Guide to the MInd, which also considers why having the wiring diagram is unlikely to be enough.


message 8: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments cool!


message 9: by Brian (new)

Brian | 1 comments I really look forward to the insights that will be gained from connectomics, and this pursuit will undoubtedly generate some fantastically interesting and useful information. But just as the human genome project didn't tell us everything about human genetics, a full connectomic map of "the" human brain won't tell us everything about how the brain makes us who we are. There was a recent review in Neuron by a previous Brain Science Podcast guest, Eve Marder, which serves as a healthy reminder that a connectivity map is necessary but not sufficient for understanding the function of even very small neural networks. I'm sorry if it is behind a paywall for some of you, but if you have the access and the interest I think it is worth your time.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23...

Cheers,
Brian


message 10: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments I like to debate against realism. There's a reason for that. It's a fantasy Plato made up. My favorite person in history is William of Ockham, the first nominalist. He said things are not the things themselves but the way we describe things in language. He debated against the Church and continued to live! This is significant because the Church held Plato's position as knowledge gatekeeper, as Platonic realism passed from Greece, to Rome, then the Church. There has always been a debate between rationalism (realism) and empiricism, or, a priori reasoning versus a posteriori. Science of course is empiricism, not realism. The Church was contrary to the emergence of science, to the extent the Church represented realism. We hear the story of science overcoming the Church, but we do not hear the full story, that it was science overcoming Plato and realism.

The way this ties in with the subject here of connections is, we are culturally disposed to think in terms of realism and reality, no dynamics, and no context. That is an authoritarian position, or, life and the universe are what whatever authority says it is, and not what we define ourselves as we go along and evolve empirically. What was the quantum in quantum physics? Originally, it was seen as the smallest unit of indivisible energy, thus proving Plato and realism. What happened with that? Things were not so cut and dried. Now quantum physics is a muddied mess and totally the opposite of realism. How ironic that is. I see neuroscience doing very much the same thing. Ideas are made up describing perceived functionality. That's good! But some moralist/realist comes along and starts reifying those ideas. What that does is gum up the works and everyone's thinking. No longer are we dealing with ideas, but the authority and weight of realism. That needs to go. Quit converting everything to realism. There is no reality. There never has been reality. There is only context.


Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Brian wrote: "...There was a recent review in Neuron by a previous Brain Science Podcast guest, Eve Marder, which serves as a healthy reminder that a connectivity map is necessary but not sufficient for understanding the function of even very small neural networks. I'm sorry if it is behind a paywall for some of you, but if you have the access and the interest I think it is worth your time. "

Thanks for sharing this reference. I am hoping to find a way to get access to this paper.


Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
David wrote: "I like to debate against realism. ..."

You have an interesting take on why dynamics tend to be ignored, but I suspect many scientists care little about these philosophical origins. Instead the issue is complexity. Until recently we haven't had the tools (including computers and special mathematics) to deal with the complexity that dynamics introduces. When I was an engineering student back in the 70's we learned lots of ways to approximate systems by pretending that they were linear. This meant that only the most simple dynamic systems (like sending a rocket to the moon) could be simulated.

If you are interested in learning more about this in the context of the connectome and connectionism I suggest listening to Olaf Sporn's interview in BSP 74. He has a new book out called Discovering the Human Connectome. I hope to have him come back soon to give us an update on his work. He takes a much more "big picture," multi-level systems approach than Sebastian Seung.


message 13: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments I think we're beginning to think more in terms of complexity than determinism. There is no choice but to do that as we become more advanced. But if as you say many scientists care little about philosophical origins, it would help if they did begin to care, especially when so many still try to describe the universe in terms of little packages.


message 14: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments There was a neat podcast today with three segments: http://skepticallyspeaking.ca/episode... . (click where it says “listen or download this episode”)

For the first segment the new IBM supercomputer Watson was discussed, the one competing on Jeopardy. They actually have it helping physicians determine the best treatment for cancer by studying patient info for the physician and making recommendations. You have to hear the segment.

What was talked about in the segment is cognitive computing and some of the issues overcome when making Watson. As you know I hate realism. The segment offers an example to help describe realism:

He said it isn't deterministic. As individuals we think 2+2=4. But Watson says “maybe”. Some will snicker thinking Watson isn't very smart. Watson says 2+2=4 in the proper context, but what about an automotive engineer talking about parts configuration with two front sets and two back seats, or a psychologist talking about family units with two parents and two children. In Vegas 2+2 is a poker strategy.

When I heard this I thought immediately of realism and how it represents forcing or imposing a context. That is the connection between authority and reality. The connection may seem vague, but the more you think about it, the more the connection makes sense, and the more you will see that connection everywhere.

We need definition or authority, yes, but we also need to be able to challenge and think freely or outside the box. Historically there was no way to do that. There was the official, sanctioned way, only. Things were created by god or came from where god lived, as Plato said. The fact he made all that up didn't matter, because Plato did not know he made it up. Plato saw himself as “discovering”. This became ontology (the study of what is), epistemology (the study of how we know what is), and semantics (the study of how we express what we know). This is of course fantasy because there is no such thing as ontology.

Historically and culturally we are predisposed to think in terms of realism. When children learn in school they're taught how things are, as if things are placed here by god for us to learn about, but how many children consider the book they're reading was made up? A group of people decided what should be in the book, out of all the things that might be put there. Maybe text books represent consensus, maybe not.

Understand the connection between authority and realism, then think back a few hundred years, or maybe more recently than that, and how authority was taken much more seriously.

People might ask, “If nothing is real, then what is there?” Descartes said “I think therefore I am”. There is consensus. There is what you and I want. I can't say how there is any more than that. If so, show me there exists an underlying hidden reality devoid of context, that is always the same regardless how anyone interprets it, uses it, or values it. Show me how that reality came to be. Materialism will not give you the answer. Describe that reality to me. Do not speak in nebulous terms.


message 15: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments This was an excellent interview discussing Newton, the early days of science, and how science contrasts Aristotle. The best description I've heard of Platonism was given and it excited me. I do not hear my views corroborated very often. The life of Newton and the way he was empirical while at the same time religious was fascinating. This gives a good background to science, what it is, and what it is not. The interview begins at 41 minutes and there's an additional word about Aristotle at the end of the podcast. To the extent reductionism may seek to elaborate what already exists in infinite detail, understanding Platonism/realism and what type thinking science came from may help dissuade that.

http://www.theskepticsguide.org/archi...


message 16: by Scott (new)

Scott | 21 comments Just came across a thoughtful critique of Seung's Connectome project by Alva Noe, another thinker Ginger has interviewed:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2015/01...


Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Great piece! Thanks so much for sharing.


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