A Radical New Model of the Brain Illuminates Its Wiring | WIRED

Hmmm… this seems mostly like a nice summary of progress and revision in science – and, of course, we might all be able to read confirmation of our biases into ‘the brain is a network’.

And yet, and yet… ‘brain science’ seems weirdly subject to the problems of all science – trends and fashions, prevailing orthodoxies, reification of models, confirmation or theory bias, all kinds of holding strongly what might better be held lightly. And of course we need people to hold their models strongly, against orthodoxies and trends, to make breakthroughs in understanding… but when I see either/or thinking, I get worried – and especially when I see quotes like: “The brain literally is a network… It’s not a metaphor.” However, the article ends with:

For Sporns, the marriage is a natural one. “Networks are not so much an antidote to localizationism,” he says. “They’re more like a way of combining a framework where you look for local differences with one where you look at the system as a whole.” Perhaps, then, even as network neuroscience becomes increasingly popular, Broca’s legacy will live on.

A Radical New Model of the Brain Illuminates Its Wiring | WIRED

But I’m certainly no expert in this space, so here it is:


A Radical New Model of the Brain Illuminates Its Wiring

Network neuroscience could revolutionize how we understand the brain—and  change our approach to neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Illustration of map of interlocking and connecting lines over silhouette of a human brain
Network neuroscience isn’t simply a new way to study the brain. It’s a way to get closer to the brain’s essence, how it truly works.ILLUSTRATION: SAM WHITNEY

IN MID-19TH CENTURY Europe, a debate was raging among early brain scientists. Strangely, this academic disagreement had its roots in the pseudoscience of phrenology, the practice of measuring bumps on the skull to determine someone’s personality. Phrenology had found purchase at fairs and was quite popular with the general public, but it had been roundly rejected by most scholars. For others, though, this carnival trick held a pearl of inspiration. Phrenology depended on the assumption that different parts of the brain are associated with different traits and abilities, a position called “localizationism.” And the absurdity of skull-measuring did not necessarily invalidate this notion.

But others disliked the stench of charlatanism that clung to any ideas associated with phrenology. This second camp contended that capacities are evenly distributed throughout the brain, and so damage to any one brain region would have the same effect as damage to any other. The debate between these groups raged until 1861, when Paul Broca, a French neurologist, reported on a patient with a bizarre set of symptoms. Though this man could not speak, he was entirely capable of understanding language, and his intelligence seemed unaffected. When the patient died and Broca dissected his brain, he discovered a lesion, or site of severe damage, low on the left side of his brain. Here was an individual who had sustained brain damage in a specific area and had lost a very specific ability—while the rest of his functions remained intact! Localizationism had been vindicated. For the next 150 years, it would be the dominant position in brain science.

Operating under the assumption that different parts of the brain have separate functions, neuroscientists have made remarkable progress toward understanding how the brain works. They have discovered that vision happens at the back of the head, that a tiara of tissue at the top of the brain sends commands to the muscles so that the body can move, and that a small structure beneath the ear has the specific responsibility of recognizing faces. All of these regions are made of gray matter, a type of tissue that contains neuron cell bodies and covers the surface of the brain. Underneath lies the white matter, which stretches in bundles of fiber between regions of gray matter and carries messages all over the brain. But though figuring out the function of a particular piece of gray matter can be straightforward enough—look for someone with damage to that area and see what they are unable to do—white matter has proven more difficult to pin down. “For a long time, we’ve been ignoring that connectivity because we didn’t know how to talk about it,” says Danielle Bassett, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

continues in source:

A Radical New Model of the Brain Illuminates Its Wiring | WIRED