Friday, February 22, 2013

New Brain Mapping Initiative Proposed

The secrets of consciousness may remain elusive, but a proposed new brain mapping project could get us closer than ever before to understanding the relationship between subjective experience and neural processing. Modeled on the Human Genome Project, researchers hope to set in motion a large-scale project to map out all the areas of the human brain by monitoring the coordinated firing of large groups of neurons throughout its structure. At the very least this project would put to bed the unbelievably stupid assertion that people only use ten percent of their brains - a notion that stubbornly refuses to fade away, especially in paranormal circles where people believe some "unused area" must be responsible for psychic powers. At least to me, that's a pretty significant breakthrough right there.

Harvard molecular biologist George Church, who is part of the planning team, told the Times that the scientists behind the initiative hope to get federal backing to the tune of more than $3 billion over ten years. Church also pointed out that the initiative, if successful, could provide an economic boost, echoing Obama’s message that every dollar invested into human genome mapping returned $140 to the US economy.

The project will take advantage of emerging technologies that allow scientists to simultaneously record the electrical activity of large groups of individual neurons. In June last year, a group of researchers that included Church proposed pursuing several new approaches, such as the creation of molecule-size machines to noninvasively measure and record the activity of brain cells.

The Brain Activity Map project will also receive assistance from private foundations and companies like Google and Microsoft, who were present at a January 17 planning meeting at the California Institute of Technology, according to the Times. Attendees of that meeting determined that existing computing facilities are capable of capturing and analyzing the vast amounts of data that the project would generate.

Combining this data with existing research on meditation and other practices that induce altered states of consciousness will get us a lot closer to understanding the paranormal phenomena associated with those practices than trying to find mysterious unused brain areas (of which there actually aren't any) ever will. As I've asserted for a long time, the ability to objectively associate particular states of consciousness with specific probability shifts in an experimental context is the primary breakthrough that could move the study of magical powers into the realm of testable scientific inquiry. The sort of brain map this project promises to create would be an invaluable aid to such research.

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Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

The ten percent explanation drives me batty.

Scott Stenwick said...

I know. Especially since it's a misinterpretation of something that a psychologist said over a hundred years ago. So not only was the original sentiment wrong, it was misquoted on top of that.

Batty indeed!