More Brains Studying Brains

Neuroscience is a huge field. People study everything from cellular mechanisms to whole organism behavior, from millisecond changes to evolutionary adaptations, from electrical signals to chemical cascades. There are so many measurements being made of the brain, and yet we still understand so little about how these molecular and cellular interactions become emotions and thoughts and behaviors.

At the same time, every living human has a brain and uses it – all of it – every day. We have all been running “neuroscience experiments” our whole lives, from when we first figured out how to walk on two legs to earlier today when we navigated our way through morning traffic. Our movements and our habits reflect how we understand the world and how we learn.

We think that this experiential knowledge is crucial to our understanding of brains and minds. Part of involving more humans in our neuroscience process is about sharing our experiences as brain-users, and creating a shared vocabulary to discuss these qualitative, hard-to-measure things about living with a nervous system. We believe this shared vocabulary will help us make connections between our life experiences and the data we collect from our neuroscience experiments.

From the Father of Cybernetics

“There are fields of scientific work, as we shall see in the body of this book, which have been explored from the different sides of pure mathematics, statistics, electrical engineering, and neurophysiology; in which every single notion receives a separate name from each group, and in which important work has been triplicated or quadruplicated, while still other important work is delayed by the unavailability in one field of results that may have already become classical in the next field.

It is these boundary regions which offer the richest opportunities to the qualified investigator. They are at the same time the most refractory to the accepted techniques of mass attack and the division of labor. If the difficulty of a physiological problem is mathematical in essence, then physiologists ignorant of mathematics will get precisely as far as one physiologist ignorant of mathematics, and no further. If a physiologist who knows no mathematics works together with a mathematician who knows no physiology, the one will be unable to state his problem in terms that the other can manipulate, and the second will be unable to put the answers in any form that the first can understand… A proper exploration of these blank spaces on the map of science could only be made by a team of scientists, each a specialist in his own field but each possessing a thoroughly sound and trained acquaintance with the fields of his neighbors; all in the habit of working together, of knowing one another’s intellectual customs, and of recognizing the significance of a colleague’s new suggestion before it has taken on a full formal expression. The mathematician need not have the skill to conduct a physiological experiment, but he must have the skill to understand one, to criticize one, and to suggest one. The physiologist need not be able to prove a certain mathematical theorem, but he must be able to grasp its physiological significance and to tell the mathematician for what he should look. We had dreamed for years of an institution of independent scientists, working together in one of these backwoods of science, not as subordinates of some great executive officer, but joined by the desire, indeed by the spiritual necessity, to understand the region as a whole, and to lend one another the strength of that understanding.

-Norbert Weiner, Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, 1948.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

EveryMind is made possible by the hard work and support of many individuals and organizations – thank you so much! We would like to give a special shout-out to:

Sainsbury Wellcome Center for Neural Circuits and Behaviour Sea Life Brighton