Mark Maddix and I just celebrated the release of our newly edited book Neuroscience and Christian Formation (Information Age Publishing). While primarily a text on the practical implications of neuroscience research for Christian education, I was also tasked with the chapter that explains the technology “behind” the research.
Overall that responsibility proved to be a challenge for a guy working in a free-standing seminary with no access to university research labs. Still, thanks to the University of Pennsylvania’s Neuroscience Bootcamp (sponsored by Penn’s Center for Neuroscience and Society), and a lot of reading and sorting through basic information regarding neuroscience, I think I got a handle on the basics. At least I hope the neuroscientists in the room will not laugh reading the chapter.
I have to admit I felt I was stepping out on a limb at moments as a prognosticator of the future of research and technology. Here is a quote from the book.
In the future, researchers may actually focus on the smallest point of interactivity between neurons, the synaptic exchanges or connections. Future studies may begin elsewhere since many of the brain’s neuronal connections remain tightly interwoven, much like the interior of a baseball, so that pathways “weave” across the brain. Sebastian Seung represents a new generation of researchers that believe that the brain might be best described through the connections between and among these neural pathways. Seung envisions a comprehensive program, one that includes more careful dissection of existing brain material and one that begins exploring the synaptic connections across neurons. These connections, when combined into a regional or total map of activity, constitute a person’s neuron’s connectome. Replicating other studies of pathology, treatment, and learning, at the connectome level, Seung believes researchers might ultimately remap larger regions of the brain (Seung, 2012). Seung’s vision resonates with a version of computational neuroscience, which uses computers to replicate information processing similar to that of neurons. Using computer-based models, combined with similar teaching software programs, may provide a “virtual” platform for anticipating connectomes in the brain (Thompson & Laurillard, 2014). The intersection between detailed study of neuronal pathways, and the computational gathering of insights into larger databases for computer modeling, represents the next major phase of research in Europe (Human Brain Project https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/) and in the United States (BRAIN initiative http://www.braininitiative.nih.gov/) reminiscent of the Human Genome Project Francis Colins (Sukel, 2015).
Yesterday I was driving home when I heard the following story on National Public Radio how the Chan Zuckerberg pledged $3 billion to solve major medical problems by helping scientists and engineers collaborate long term, over 25, 50, even 80 years. And, yes, neuroscience stands as one of the major projects for the initiative.
The promise and challenge of technology together serve as an unfolding story for neuroscience, neuroeducation, and ultimately Christian formation, it may well be that I will feel better about my prognostications as the engagement between neuroscience and technology continues.