One Correct Theory? I’m Not Entirely Convinced

After reading the introduction to Sebastian Seung’s Connectome, I have to admit, I’m not entirely convinced. Okay, okay, I know, it’s only the introduction, and I look forward to hearing the rest of his argument, but I feel as though his claim lacks sufficient empirical evidence and ignores other important factors that also contribute to the uniqueness of human beings.

Seung claims that our uniqueness, which includes our personality, IQ, memories, idiosyncrasies etc., all come from our neural connections. While there is evidence that life experiences do influence neural connections (for example, when we learn our synapses are strengthened), we lack the necessary technologies to find evidence for many pieces of his theory. First of all, we are currently unable to study connectomes in living brains. I can see how we could potentially see how connectomes influence mental disorders through the study of dead brains, but I feel like certain aspects of our uniqueness, including personality, are only observable and quantifiable when the individual is living. Therefore, it would be difficult to truly draw causal connections between someone’s connectome and many elements of their individuality.

The introduction started me thinking about another core idea suggested by his argument: the idea that there can only be one ultimate solution to the question, one correct theory. I began to wonder why that is. It seems like there are plenty of neuroscientists who believe that genes are the answer or that neurochemistry is the answer but not many who have come out supporting a combination of these theories. Much like the nature vs. nurture debate, could it be possible that the true origin of human uniqueness is a combination of genes, neural connections, and neural activity? Like Seung states in his stream analogy, the water shapes the stream bed just as the stream bed directs the water. Seung uses this analogy to illustrate how the conscious self influences the ‘stable’ self and vice versa, but I think it could also be used to illustrate how the different elements of the brain all influence each other to create a person’s individuality.

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5 thoughts on “One Correct Theory? I’m Not Entirely Convinced

  1. A couple of thoughts come to mind, Mariah. A very smart man once said that asking about which is more important to personality, nature or nurture, is like asking which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, length or width. (I usually use this quote in biobasis from none other than Hebb). Perhaps this applies here too. Another thought was the title of a book by Matt Ridley, Nature via Nurture. That has always stuck with me. Great content in that book too. I think I have a copy in my office…

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  2. I completely agree that looking for one solution, or one underlying cause is limiting and perhaps even close-minded. The body can be examined on many different levels, but nonetheless, bodies need muscles, bones, hormones, genes, proteins, enzymes, ect. to physically operate as a whole. If the body needs so many different elements to operate, shouldn’t we assume the brain is just as complicated if not more so? Perhaps genetics, connectomes, hormones ect all play a role and we need to identify the puzzle pieces before we can put it all together.

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  3. I am also very interested to continue reading the rest of his argument because I am yet to be fully convinced. Good thing is that we have barely taken a dent out of the book so there is plenty of time for Seung to convince us. I also agree with your point of considering multiple solutions. In a similar vein, today in Bio Basis, Professor Glenn made an excellent point that maybe when considering the brain it shouldn’t be Nature vs. Nurture but instead it should be Nature via Nurture, or something the demonstrates the interplay between the two concepts rather than putting all of your eggs in one basket. The same applies here.

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  4. I was feeling quite skeptical on the connectome concept too because of the lack of technology to test this idea. Then I remember that there were a lot of scientists that were ahead of their time, and maybe Seung fits in with those great minds.

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