What Makes the Human Brain Human

Dr. Sejnowski will discuss the progress that has been made in elucidating the structure, function, and connectivity of cellular circuits in the nervous system and how such large-scale information is revolutionizing our capacity to understand brain function and behavior. However, even the vast amounts of data being collected—including connectomics—will be far from sufficient for a deep understanding of the human brain, which contains an estimated 86 billion neurons.

Even though the complete structure of the much “simpler” 302-neuron network of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans was published in the 1980s, without information on the activities of the neurons and all of their synaptic interactions, it was only an incomplete “wiring diagram.” With modern tools to explore and analyze neuronal network function, understanding of the worm nervous system is now almost within reach. Yet the human brain poses even more daunting challenges for achieving a similar level of understanding.

Dr. Sejnowski will discuss those challenges for interpreting patterns of activity in large-scale living networks of neurons as well as computational modeling approaches. He will consider how these approaches are changing the way we think about ourselves, asking such questions as: Has neuroeconomics replaced the rational-agent model of human behavior? How are disciplines such as education and ethics influenced by modern neuroscience? And how do we address the challenge of individual human brain functional differences?