Exploring the Geography of the Brain

Early world explorers worked with crude maps, painfully charting the geography of new locations for future generations. Today, anyone can log on to the internet for detailed descriptions of the countries, cities, and roads of our world. In comparison, the map of the brain still has a long way to go. In fact, a map of the brain made over 100 years ago is still being used by neuroscientists today.

Cartographers of the Brain: Mapping the Connectome,” a discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City, focused on efforts by neuroscientists to create new, more detailed maps of the brain. Deanna Barch, Washington University School of Medicine; Nim Tottenham, Columbia University; Dana Alliance member Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University; and Dana Alliance member David Van Essen, Washington University, formed the expert panel.

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World Science Festival: Computational Creativity

Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) seems like it’s at an all-time high, with people both wary and intrigued about how machine learning systems will change, and hopefully improve, our lives. Past discussions we’ve covered have delved into the ethical sphere: Can autonomous robots that (currently) lack consciousness and emotions serve us well as future healthcare aides and soldiers? Can robots be moral? But last week’s World Science Festival in New York City looked at a different side of AI, with a panel discussion on “Computational Creativity: The Art of Ingenuity.”

Focused on the creation of art, music, and culinary arts, the panel was tasked with answering such questions as: Can a robot truly imagine an original masterpiece or just replicate known styles? Is computational creativity a collaborator or a competitor?

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Matters of Life and Death

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What if life expectancy expanded and we could live into our nineties and beyond in relative good health? That was one of the crucial questions debated in “Engineering Immortality,” a panel discussion at last week’s World Science Festival in New York City.

In introducing the sold-out program at NYU’s Global Center, host and ABC-TV news correspondent Bill Blakemore pointed out that American life expectancy has gone from 47 to 79 years in just a century. “Today’s scientists are growing hearts in the lab, creating organs with 3-D bio-printers, and eliminating cells that shorten life,” he said. “Will this new technology yield another dramatic increase in life expectancy?”

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2017 World Science Festival

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The World Science Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and is once again offering a great series of programs. From May 30 to June 4 in New York City, you can attend events ranging from a trivia night on mummies to a panel talk on the biggest questions in cosmology.

Of course, we’re most interested in the brain-related events, and they don’t disappoint. On Wednesday, May 31, psychologists and neuroscientists will tackle creativity and artificial intelligence–can computers be creative? Friday, June 2, a panel will explore brain development and the roots of human social connections. On the last day of the festival, attendees will hear an update on the Human Connectome Project. Two Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives members will present at this event: neurobiologist David Van Essen, author of a 2016 Cerebrum article on the connectome, and developmental neurobiologist Jeff W. Lichtman.

Tickets are on sale now and sell out quickly! And stay tuned for coverage of some of the events on this blog.

What Makes Us Who We Are: Neuroscience and the Self

The idea of the mind is a relatively modern concept. In medieval times, it was believed that people were divided in two parts, the physical body and the spiritual soul. With the emergence of the scientific revolution and thinkers such as John Locke, the mind and secular life became an important topic in discussions about self-awareness. Since then, we have been trying to understand not only what it means to possess a mind, but also the neuroscience behind it.

That was part of the message at “My Neurons, My Self,” a panel discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City. Three eminent neuroscientists and a philosopher provided insight into the “mind-brain” problem, focusing on what defines the self. “What we don’t have yet is a way of bridging mental experience with the brain in a coherent model that allows for mental intention; we still are a ways off from solving the mind-brain problem,” said George Makari, M.D., director of the Institute of the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, in introducing the panel.

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