Human brains are very special. And it has to do with the connections

By: Evan Mei

Well, it is complicated, and it will be that way for many generations. Currently, we have a few responses to this long, complicated question. Our brains are bigger than they should be for our body size. We even have specialized areas of the brain, like the part used to process language. Recently, brain scans have shown that the way the huge network of neurons, which are like information pathways in the brain, can affect our intelligence.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans have played a huge role in the research of the neural pathways. The scans have allowed us to see the brain without having to remove parts of the skull. We can use these images to create a connectome, or a map of neural pathways, to allow us to visualize just how the brain works.

A common question is whether the arrangement of neural pathways differentiate humans from chimps and mice. A methodology called comparative connectomics has set a couple rules of thumb as to how the brain should be wired, and this may provide answers. As of right now, it [clarify pronoun] has already found some unique characteristics of the human connectome and has also found changes in cells charged with the brain wiring. These seemingly genius innovations have allowed our rats' nest of neural pathways to efficiently transmit information. However, it is a delicate balance, any slight disruption and the whole brain goes haywire, even leading to psychiatric and mental disorders.

In theory, the most efficient connectome would be a one-to-many design, with every nerve cell connecting to each other. However, this dream connectome is impossible, as it requires way too much space and way too much energy to run. A one to one design, a connectome in which every neuron is only connected to one other neuron, is incredibly inefficient since the information would have to jump around neuron to neuron like stepping stones over a river.

“Real life is in the middle,” says Yaniv Assaf of Tel Aviv University, who published a survey of the connectomes of 123 mammalian species in Nature Neuroscience in June.


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