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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Neuroscience: "Neuroengineering" as latest craze

In "Rewiring the Brain: Inside the New Science of Neuroengineering", Quinn Norton reports for Wired (03 02 09))
Most of what we think of as our ability to learn and change comes from the pattern of those synapses. In a way, history is the story of trying to manipulate those patterns through learning, faith, love, drugs, food, exercise — in short, anything and everything. We have spent thousands of years working out indirect ways of changing the contours of our brains to change the shape of our minds.

Neuroengineers, on the other hand, take a pragmatic and direct approach. They are trying to change brains by going in and just changing them.

[ ... ]

"How surprising [it is], clearly we did not evolve to do calculus. Nothing in our evolution involved calculus and yet we can do it. Why is that? It just shows the fundamental versatility of our brain. That it's set up to do unanticipated things gives me hope," he says.

Deisseroth started as a regular engineering undergrad at Harvard. But his path took a twist when he took a class on neural networks. He was enchanted, decided he wanted to spend his life focused on the real neural network, and became a psychiatrist. Eventually, frustrated with the paucity of tools for working directly with the brain, he started building his own.
In my experience, these things always end badly, principally because the idea that there is no underlying order - that it is all just a big accident - leads people to take chances with other people's lives that they should not.

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