Can Our Brains Become Immortal?
Writing for The Chronicle Review, Evan R. Goldstein explores the mapping of the human brain to create a “connectome” - the brain equivalent of our cellular genome - and whether it will allow us to preserve our brains and achieve immortality:
Among some connectomics scholars, there is a grand theory: We are our connectomes. Our unique selves—the way we think, act, feel—is etched into the wiring of our brains. Unlike genomes, which never change, connectomes are forever being molded and remolded by life experience. Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prominent proponent of the grand theory, describes the connectome as the place where “nature meets nurture.”
Hayworth takes this theory a few steps further. He looks at the growth of connectomics—especially advances in brain preservation, tissue imaging, and computer simulations of neural networks—and sees something else: a cure for death.
J. Anthony Movshon, of NYU, takes a dimmer view. More than 25 years after the C. elegans connectome was completed, he says, we have only a faint understanding of the worm’s nervous system. “We know it has sensory neurons that drive the muscles and tell the worm to move this way or that. And we’ve discovered that some chemicals cause one response and other chemicals cause the opposite response. Yet the same circuit carries both signals.” He scoffs, “How can the connectome explain that?”