Brain Modularity: Structure and Function

It's been a rough week and a half, but despite the depression, I have been learning more about the neurobiology of learning. So, apologies to my friends who have no interest in the subject, but I really want to write about this.

Connectome Debate
Tonight I watched an hour plus debate between Sebastian Seung, lead researcher on a connectome project, and Tony Movshon, an opponent of connectomics, and I think I've reached a better understanding of the argument on each side. Structure versus Function Perhaps the most significant argument is whether structure explains function. Those concerned with mapping the brain's neurons would say yes, structure will explain function, or rather the location of neuronal synapses will explain function. The opposing view is structure cannot explain function, and it's sufficient to know that neurons transmit and receive information which support function without needing to locate every single synapse.

Multiple Connectome
Studies Another thing I learned in the debate is Seung's study is only one study of many that are attempting to map the brain. Seung is not mapping all of the neurons in the brain. Rather, he is studying a section of the brain. It is still an extensive study, but it is still limited in that understanding a piece of brain tissue will not explain nor pinpoint all the neuronal synapses in the brain.

Medical Discoveries
Finally, it appears that the major goals of the connectome project is to explain what is currently unobservable. Autism and schizophrenia are considered brain disorders; however, medical professionals have not been able to observe any brain abnormalities. Seung hypothesizes that mapping the brain's neurons may show how misaligned neuronal synapses that cause these brain diseases.

My Reflection
How does this help me as I pursue the connection of brain and learning? Well, one thing that excited me was the discovery that brain modularity proposed by Jerry Fodor was based on the language learning theories of Noam Chomsky. This feels like I have been taken full circle as it was in my second language acquisition class back in 2000 that I first became interested in the learning activity in the brain because of Chomsky's description of the Language Acquisition Device (LAD).

A friend asked me how I'd like to be remembered, and my immediate response was participation in the human connectome project. Now, I'm not so sure. The fMRI studies that many educational psychologists and neurologists are doing seem to correlate with the argument that we don't need to know about specific neurons. Simply put, understanding the brain's involvement in learning involves a balance between behaviorist and cognitive views. And, I think I can support that position.

Of course, I'm still seeking out ways where I can be involved in brain and learning studies, but I'll have to take that step by step.
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