Are We More Than Our Connectomes?
A few of you read my New Year’s reflection musing over the cosmic dimensions from cell to supernova and our place in the greater scheme of things.
Across this vast realm, we know best the experiences within our grasp and perhaps find most relevant in our explorations those lines of investigation that might bring a better understanding of the “space within”–of who and what and why we are.
That vast inner space has been given a new name, our “connectome“–a mental frontier equivalent to the cellular “genome” that like our DNA,Â to some degree hardwires our behavior and personality. But is our DNA plus our connectome a complete explanation of man?
Sabastian Seung, in this TED video, thinks that “If we understood the way our neurons connect — our connectome — we would understand ourselves.” And yet, he has his audience chanting “we are more than our connectomes.”
With a complete map of every synapse in a human brain (they are different in each one of us the same way that our DNA is didfferent) I’m not so sure we we know anything more than how the wires are connected. An understanding of why they have come to be connected in just such a way over vast stretches of time would have to derive from a realm of knowledge beyond the wiring diagram, just like a radio’s complete circuitry blueprint would not help us understand the meaning and significance of a broadcast of Midsummer Night’s Dream received by that radio.
Is the whole nothing more than the sum of its parts?