I Connectome, Therefore I Am?

Sebastian Seung is Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in his new book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are (Houghton Mifflin 2012), he defines a connectome in the following manner:

[A] connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.

And that, says Sebastian Seung, is who you are. Just as every person has a unique genome, every person also has a unique connectome—a uniquely wired nervous system.

Doesn’t that make you feel special?

One of  Sebastian Seung’s analogies for the connectome is a plate of spaghetti: just as each plate of spaghetti is uniquely “wired,” its noodles bending and touching at definite points but not others, so each brain’s noodly neurons are also uniquely wired, bending and touching at definite points but not others.

That unique wiring is you.

Another of his analogies is the creek bed: the water is consciousness—neuronal activity—and the creek bed is your connectome. The connectome establishes the course of neuronal activity.

Likewise, I suppose he would endorse the idea that watery tomato sauce poured over noodles, in its course to the bottom of the plate, is also akin to consciousness flowing through your unique connectome.

So, here’s the question: change your connectome, change your life—and how you perceive the world?

Yes, claims Sebastian Seung. If you feel like your personal connectome pattern is a bummer—causing you, for example, to have chronic anxiety or obsessive thoughts—Seung says you can probably change it by consciously “pouring,” in a willed fashion, a desired neural activity through your brain (just as water can slowly change the course of a creek bed). I suppose he’s referring to things like behavior modification therapies and habitually facing your fears directly.

If true, that’s good news.

Fake it till you make it.

Here’s Sebastian Seung’s connectome-expanding TED Talk:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to I Connectome, Therefore I Am?

  1. Barry says:

    This sounds quite scary. Some future defense lawyer will no doubt claim that his client killed his wife with an axe because he was wired that way and could not help it. In fact, that may well be true. This book is being reviewed by Elaine Charles on her Radio show The Book Report on the weekend of 21/22 April 2012. I am looking forward to this review as she is always informative and interesting. Check it out on http://www.bookreportradio.com

  2. Pingback: The Race Talk: Some Things I’ll Tell My Kids about Race (Contra John Derbyshire) | Prometheus Unbound

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