Monday, July 14, 2008

Neuroscience: First detailed map of the Grand Central Station of the brain

In "First Detailed Map of the Human Cortex" in MIT's Technology Review, Emily Singer notes,
"A new imaging technique reveals previously hidden brain structures, including the central hub" and explains,
The first high-resolution map of the human cortical network reveals that the brain has its own version of Grand Central Station, a central hub that is structurally connected to many other parts of the brain. Scientists generated the map using a new type of brain imaging known as diffusion imaging. The technique maps the largely inaccessible tangle of the brain's white matter--the long, thin fibers that ferry nerve signals between cells.
and we also learn,
Conventional imaging techniques, such as structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), reveal major anatomical features of the brain. But in humans, the brain's finer architecture--the neural projections that connect its different parts--has, until recently, remained hidden. "The brain we've been looking at with conventional MRI or CT scans all these years is not the real brain," says Van Wedeen, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, who was also involved in the study. "We're just seeing a shadow of its surfaces."
The notion of the "real" brain vs. "a shadow of its surfaces" is an intriguing one. My guess is, we will never find the "real" brain for the same reasons as we never find the "real" Grand Central Station or the real Canada. There is a physical reality that corresponds to Grand Central Station and one that corresponds to Canada. But usually, what we find is a series of overlapping material and immaterial things whose "reality" can only be understood as a series of generalities - the reality is not any one of the generalities nor even all of them together, nor only in specific things we can point to.

I suspect that it will always be much easier to find the answers to specific questions about the brain than to find - and take in - the"real" brain.

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