Neural modelling: Abstractions of the mind

Mario Wagner The first major results of the Blue Brain Project, a detailed simulation of a bit of rat neocortex about the size of a grain of coarse sand, were published last year1. The model represents 31,000 brain cells and 37 million synapses. It runs on a supercomputer and is based on data collected over 20 years. Furthermore, it behaves just like a speck of brain tissue. But therein, say critics, lies the problem. “It’s the best biophysical model we have of any brain, but that’s not enough,” says Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, which has embarked on its own large-scale brain-modelling effort. The trouble with the model is that it holds no surprises: no higher functions or unexpected features have…

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