Diagrams of the human brain

Diagrams Of The Human Brain

Our brains are wondrous, incredible machines. They're slower than the earliest personal computers in terms of raw processing power, yet capable of leaps of intuition and able to store a lifetime of memories that are cross-referenced and instantly-accessible at the slightest prompting. We know so very little about how they do these things, however. But imagine for a moment if we could build a complete wiring diagram of a human brain – to map in detail every one of the hundred trillion or so synapses and roughly hundred billion neurons together with all the tiniest supporting mechanisms. What might that mean, and would it even be possible?

Keep thinking about that. We'll come back to it in a bit. First let's cover some more background. The functioning of a healthy brain relies on its network of neuronal connections. Multiple layers of connections and pathways, like the wires of an old mainframe computer, all add up to a single entity.

This network of connections has been called the "connectome" by scientists. To map it is essentially to build the brain's wiring diagram. The human brain connectome has not yet been fully mapped at the cellular or the macro (high-level structural and functional) scale, though efforts to do the latter are much further along than the former – which has only just even become possible (more on that later).

Both avenues of connectome study promise all sorts of insights about how the brain works. The Human Connectome Project, which is an international effort to map the connectomes of 1, 000 people on a macro scale – mostly just the white matter, or active myelinated (insulated) nerve cell bundles – using magnetic resonance imaging, this week announced its finding that brain wiring patterns correlate with behavioral and demographic traits.

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