A Journey Through the Brain | Amy Robinson Sterling| TEDxPuraVidaJoven

A Journey Through the Brain | Amy Robinson Sterling| TEDxPuraVidaJoven


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Sebastian Betti We’ve learned more about the brain in the past 10 years
than in the previous 10,000. We’re beginning to understand
how our experiences out in the world translate into connections
between the neurons inside our head. We’re beginning to figure out
how our perception of those experiences overlays emotional associations
with those memories. And how the third of our lives
that we spend sleeping helps our brain solidify
and modify those memories over time. Through the 3-pound organ
that sits behind your eyes, it’s nothing short of extraordinary. It’s arguably the most amazing thing
in the known universe. It may seem obvious,
but I found yet amazing to think that every innovation throughout
the entire course of human history is made possible thanks to one organ. Think about that. From music to mathematics, from machines to medicine,
government, and philosophy, our ability to contemplate the world,
and recognize ourselves, it’s all thanks to the brain. And one of the things that I find most perplexing
about this awesome little organ, is its ability to give us
shared experiences. Think of a time
when you’ve been standing around with a group of friends
and someone lays out an awesome joke, and everyone erupts into laughter. When you really think about that, it’s someone using language to elicit
a shared experience in another brain that’s completely distinct
from his or her own. Or to give you a more tangible example: consider the World Cup. You know, when your team scores a goal, there’s really nothing
like that rush that you feel. The excitement is nearly tangible. (Video) (Cheers) (Shouts) Yeah, you get the gist. You know, when you watch that, you can’t help but feel
what that guy’s feeling, right? Not least because his
expressions are totally amazing. When you really think about it though, that’s pixels moving on a screen,
and audio coming out the speakers, hitting your ears, and that’s enough
to make you feel something. Why? How does the brain do that? We don’t really know, yet. But luckily for us, we live
in a time of exponential innovation across many different fields. In both, neuroscience and biology,
but also in engineering, computer science, imaging, data visualization,
it affords us an unprecedented view of the amazing organ
that makes us who we are. And since we’re at TED, and ideas worth spreading, obviously,
originate within the brain, we’re going to go
on a 10-minute world wind journey straight through that brain. So I often think when I’m talking
to an interesting individual, that the brain in that person
is kind of like a world. You are a world in a way. Your brain’s almost complex enough to be. If you compared your brain
to our home planet Earth, for example, you’d find some similarities. Instead of being a round orb
like our home planet, the brain would be covered in layers
of smooth, very deep canyons, resulting in having about five times
more surface than our planet. That’s important, because like the Earth, the brain has its own version of crust: cortex, cerebral cortex. The brain is covered
in layers of gray matter. Cells that are responsible for abstract thought,
complex pattern solving, your ability to perceive yourself. Several layers of cells
communicate both locally and send projections to reach out
and connect with other cells as you’re seeing
in this amazing visualization. When you’re thinking, or feeling,
or really doing anything, it’s not just a single part
of your brain that’s active. It’s lots of different parts, communicating tens or hundreds
of times per second. In fact, when you’re not
doing anything at all, your brain is busy at work. You have what’s called
the ‘default mode network’. Different parts of the brain
that are active together even when you’re doing nothing, you can consider it
the heartbeat of your brain. Now, at this level, neuroscientists
are beginning to understand how changes in wiring in the brain
result in differences in brain function. For example, an interesting study
from the Human Connectome Project found that in signal communication
between different parts of the brain associated with our abilities
to switch tasks, patients with autism showed
a reduced flexibility in communication. And in order to make more discoveries, they’re doing something
I find quite interesting. They’re open sourcing their data, and inviting anyone, anywhere in the world to parse through
and help make discoveries. Now, at this scale, each of those
little wires that you see, that’s hundreds of thousands,
or even millions of cells. If we want to really understand
the individual components of the brain, we need to look deeper. This is a mouse brain. We’re going to fly through it, deep inside it to a structure
called the hippocampus. It’s shaped kind of like a seahorse, and it plays a major role
in memory formation, restoring your experiences. The fuzziness that you see
around this purple cone of cells, those are dendrites. They are the treelike branches
of neurons in your brain. And they receive
electrical input from other cells, and if they receive enough of this input,
it causes a signal to propagate down through the dendrites
to the cell body, and outward through the axon,
as you’re seeing in this visualization. The axon, when the signal goes out, that actually reaches out
to connect with other cells. And in this way, you’ve get
circuits that form in the brain. Now this is one neuron among many. Your brain is made up of about 86
billion cells of many different types. We don’t actually even know how many
types of cells there are in the brain, which is kind of weird
when you think about it, you know, we can land robots on Mars,
and we can image atoms, but we don’t even know
how many types of cells there are in the organ
that makes us possible. It’s a huge opportunity,
I think, for discovery. But neurons again come in
many different shapes and sizes, and different types of cells are found
in different parts of the brain. But one thing that’s characteristic
of neurons is their intricate branches. In fact, you have so many branches
of neurons inside your head, that I find it useful
to step outside the brain, in order to kind of fathom
the complexity of these networks. If you lined up the branches
of all the neurons in your brain, end to the end, they would stretch
over 2 million kilometers. Think your brain’s like this big. And that would stretch from the Earth
to the Moon, seven times. And the purpose of all
these intricate branches in the brain is to connect, because neurons never live alone. Their purpose is to reach out
to other cells and grasp them through junctions that we call synapses,
one of which you’re seeing here. And neurons through synapses send
electrical and chemical signals. You have around 100 trillion
synapses in your brain. Billions of them are active
at any given time. In fact, if you remember
anything that I’ve said, in this presentation so far, it’s because your brain
actually grew new synapses. Now we’ve zoomed in very far
from the whole brain. This is nano skill resolution, and this is the realm where I work. So I come from Sebastian Seung’s
computational neuroscience lab. We started at MIT,
and now, we’re Princeton. And we’re focused on the field
of neuroscience called connectomics. The goal of connectomics is to map out all the connections
of all the neurons in the brain. This is important, because neurons actually process
information at synaptic level. And if we want to understand
how the brain work, we should probably know how
the cells are interconnected. Now, the technology to even image cells
at this resolution is relatively new. Consequently, our lab, like many labs
these days, focuses on software. Specifically, we use deep learning:
a type of computer science to try to train computers
to automatically map out neurons from volumes of brain image data. Now, the software is
moving forward very quickly, but it’s still relatively slow. It takes us tens of hours
to map one neuron. 86 billion in a brain,
I think it’s crazy, right? So, in addition to building software, our lab has now started building games. We’re crowdsourcing
the analysis of our image data with a first-of-its-kind project
called EyeWire. It’s a game to map brain,
played by a 150,000 people from all over the world. Our players solve complex puzzles,
and as they solve those puzzles, they’re actually mapping out
neuron branches, which allows us to see
which cell connects where. And instead of just talk to you
about the game, I’m going to try an onstage demo. So, if we could switch to my laptop, I’m going to try to show you guys EyeWire, so cross your fingers
for me that it works. Oh, yeah. (Laughter) So I guess I should say hi to players. Oh, they’re chatting. Hi guys. Why on TEDx stage?
For a … I’m on the stage! (Laughter) They’ll say hello. So, there’s like 70 people
online right now, and at any given time
that’s kind of a typical number. So this thing that you see rotating, this is a real neuron,
it’s anatomically accurate, and it’s actually a cell
that’s found in a retina. And it’s actively being reconstructed
by our gamers in EyeWire. It’s one of hundreds of cells
that they’ve mapped. It’ll probably be done
in the next day or so. “Hello from Greece.
Welcome to EyeWire,” they’re saying. The puzzle game itself
is a little bit challenging, so I’m not going to try
to stand up in here and map a neuron for you,
on the TEDx stage. I’ll leave something to the imagination. Instead, I’ll focus on
what I think is an extremely, you know, perplexing part of this project. It’s that you no longer have to have a PhD to a make a difference
in neuroscience. Our players range in age from 13 to 86. They’re high school students, animators, sculptors, dentists, neurosurgeons, stay-at-home moms, retired grandmothers. It’s people from all over the world
who share two things in common: they like to play games,
and they’re interested in the brain. Now, our player community
is another wonder in itself, you know, we have
a versioning developer group, they’ve built these bots
that could query wolfram alphas, you could find out the surface
temperature of the Moon, if you need it in conversation. They’ve also built
external leaderboard pages and they can challenge
each other’s to neuron mapping duels, This is a real thing,
and it’s really amazing. EyeWire is the first
of what will be many projects. In collaboration with other labs,
and organizations around the world, that will mobilize gamers to help us
make discoveries about the brain. In fact, the next project
that we’re working on will be reading memories by reconstructing
neuro-circuits in the cortex. This sounds like sci-fi,
but it’s real, I promise you. So, if we can actually switch back
to my presentation, we were going on a journey through
the brain, and we’re at the neuron level, and that’s not the smallest level
that you can go. So, let’s go smaller than the neuron.
We’re going to go sub-synaptic. What you’re seeing here, is a zoom to one of the 100 trillion
synapses in your brain. The blue cell, is filled with all
these yellow dots, those are vesicles. They’re little spheres containing
neurotransmitters, it’s a payload, that when an electrical impulse
comes through this blue cell, one of the little yellow dots,
or several of them, are released to the gray cell. And if enough of them are released, it will cause a signal to be
transmitted downstream. This is what neurons are doing,
at any given time. At this scale, we’ve reached
almost a whole new world within the brain, that’s the macromolecular scale. This animation that you’re seeing
is anatomically accurate. It’s from Harvard University and XVIVO. This is a mitochondria, it’s one
of the energy producing organelles, inside each of the cells in your body. When you hear that your cells
are synthesizing proteins from your DNA, these are the kind of machines
that they’re building. It’s extraordinary. It kind of gives you a whole another sense of appreciation
for the complexity in your body, and the fact that you exist at all. If we’ve now zoomed in a million times, from the whole brain
down to the individual molecules that make up the cells within in. So I will paraphrase
the brain initiative, when I say, that the challenge
for modern neuroscience is to map the circuits
of cells in the brain, to measure the fluctuating
electrical and chemical activity moving through those cells, and to understand how they interplay results in our unique, cognitive,
and behavioral capabilities. Again, fortunately for us,
we live in an amazing time. There’s unprecedented, international species-wide call
for disruptive innovation backed by billions of dollars
of investment in neuroscience research. And it’s calling for people
from lots of different backgrounds, different disciplines, to approach
the challenges or the opportunities in modern day neuroscience,
from different perspectives. It’s estimated
the human genome project produced nearly a trillion dollars
of economic value. And I think neuroscience will rival that. Let me give you one example:
deep learning. It’s not philosophy,
it’s not differential equations, it’s a type of computer science. Basically, you can teach
a machine to do smart things, like recognize objects and images, or recommend a new movie
to you on Netflix, or help a doctor more accurately
and rapidly diagnose a disease and come up with a custom treatment
for individual patients. Deep learning, machine learning, is inspired by simplified
artificial neuro-networks. We’re back in the 1980s. 30 years later, it’s revolutionizing
computer science. As we began to chart out
the detailed structures, the connections inside the brain, how will it catalyze the next generation
of computer science? You know, outside neuroscience,
it’s really just one area that innovation will take foot. The more we know about the brain, the better poised we are to understand what happens in it
when it goes wrong, to be able to fix it
when we have disorders. You know, we know embarrassingly little
about what goes on in the brain, and the crippling,
neurodegenerative diseases that rob us of our very cells. Alzheimer’s, and dementia, depression, we can`t really do much
about most of these diseases. But neuroscience stands to change that. And on the flip side, we’re now better poised
to understand what makes brains thrive, and potentially amplify
our own natural abilities. Imagine a future where you could enhance
your ability to learn. That’s actually already going on
in labs at MIT, there’s this group Wilson lab,
and they can make a mouse learn faster by stimulating populations
of cells in its brain, to fire at the different frequency
than they normally would. It’s not inconceivable
that within our lifetimes we would be able to improve
our will power and determination. You know, banish worry from our lives, or make ourselves learn more, faster. And one of the things
that’s most near and dear to me is curiosity itself. We know very little
about higher level cognition, about the things
that really make us human. What happens when we wonder,
what’s going on in our lives when we feel inspired,
when we discover something, and it leads us to have an idea
that we turn into action. You know, neuroscience
has never been in a better position to answer questions
that have risen in man’s minds, and human’s minds,
ever since we’ve become, ever since we’ve been able
to call ourselves human beings. And on the other side, I think we will be able to ask questions
that our predecessors could only imagine. So I will leave you with a few
wise words from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who may well have been
an observing neuroscientist, when he said: “The world behind us, and the world
in front of us, hails in comparison, to the world within us.” (Spanish) Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers) Thank you. (Applause)

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    Victor Walsh

    This is our home planet lol so true it should have a huge impact everytime oy registers. But for most it doesnt. Thank god its almost there. Comprehension in form will bring power to form. We have to keep trying Amy. For all listening see the way made for you.for without it will not be cleared.truth of information and sight must be made clear. This our world now. Expect us

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    kiyaz

    Its time for Amy Robinson to think of the god who made the amazing brain. No way such a complex organ be evolved, like the theory of evolution predicts.

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    13binay

    So the brain invented/created a computer in order for us to understand the brain?? Is that right?? Lol sounds like the chicken and the egg story all over again…

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    Evan Acey

    Great presentation by Amy Robinson! I love (and share) her optimism, excitement and curiosity over the extraordinary possibilities that are sure to follow so many of the new discoveries made in neuroscience. With that said, however, there is one thing I don't quite understand…. As a true 10/10 in both beauty AND brains, wouldn't hitting the biggest jackpot the history of the genetic lottery steer you towards a career in evolutionary biology instead?

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    etmax1

    I now have a new favourite voice, absolutely superb, soft but without lacking expression, you can read me the phone book .

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    Jolanta Dzialecka

    Work work hard you neuroscientists Come up with something to help those like me with a damaged brain Thereis nothing so far Maybeyou do not workhard enough

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