A few years back, scientists discovered that London taxi drivers have a form of navigation system in their brains.
Cabbies navigated a virtual simulation of various routes through the
streets of London while their brains were scanned via Functional
Magnetic Resonance Imaging(fMRI). According to the BBC report on
research conducted by Dr Hugo Spiers from University College London,
"Different brain regions were activated as they considered route
options, spotted familiar landmarks or thought about their customers."
Maybe that voice in our heads is our own personal version of the voice
on our GPS?
Jeffrey Lehrer, author of Proust Was A Neuroscientist and How we Decide noted in his blog that the latest consumer technologies have a way of becoming metaphors for the mind.
"Before the brain was a binary code running on three pounds of cellular
microchips, it was an impressive calculator, or a camera, or a blank
slate. In other words, we're constantly superimposing the gadgets of the
day onto the cortex." In that context, understanding the brain as a GPS
system makes sense.
It's not surprising, therefore, that the current prevailing metaphor seems to be the network.
An article in ScienceDaily
(Mar. 8, 2011) reports research that suggests that "the human brain
operates as a highly interconnected small-world network, not as a
collection of discrete regions as previously believed." Research
published in the Journal of Neuroscience
describes the relationship of the brain's neural networks and specific
cognitive functions such as information processing and language.
Just last week, another report in Science Daily referenced an article in the journal Cerebral Cortex,
showing that the brain is characterized by a highly consistent,
weighted network among the functional areas of the cortex, which are
responsible for such functions as vision, hearing, touch, movement
control and complex associations. Maria Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltan
Toroczkai of the University of Notre Dame's Interdisciplinary Center for
Network Science and Applications (iCeNSA), suggest that researchers
have given up on the potential of using computer circuitry as a helpful
metaphor. "It turns out the brain is not just this beautiful circuitry
you could just back-engineer," Toroczkai says. "It is an amazingly
complex system, and this is why it is very hard to understand why it
The Organization for Human Brain Mapping
sponsors international efforts to pull together people working in many
different mapping modalities to create network maps of the brain. The
creation of a complete connection map, which Olaf Sporns from Indiana
University at Bloomington has called the human connectome,
is currently underway. According to Sporns, "Understanding the human
brain is one of the great scientific challenges of the 21st century" The
purpose of the connectome is decipher the amazingly complex wiring
diagram to reveal what makes us uniquely human and what makes every
person different from all others. "The HCP will comprehensively map
human brain circuitry in 1,200 healthy adults using cutting-edge methods
of noninvasive neuroimaging. It will yield invaluable information about
brain connectivity, its relationship to behavior, and the contributions
of genetic and environmental factors to individual differences in brain
Dr. Sporns new book, Networks of the Brain
was published in February. "There's a big movement all across the
social and natural sciences to look at things in terms of networks. In
the neurosciences, increasingly we aren't looking at only one part of
the brain, but seeing how the interactions between different parts make
them work together," explains Sporns.