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Brain Quest: The Whole Brain Catalog October 18, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Science.

We’ve got reason to be proud of San Diego these days: researchers from UCSD  have  just launched the Whole Brain Catalog in Chicago at Neuroscience 2009:

The Whole Brain Catalog is a ground-breaking, open-source, 3D virtual environment that connects members of the international neuroscience community. Researchers at UC San Diego’s Center for Research in Biological Systems (CRBS) have been developing the Catalog since 2008 with support from the Waitt Family Foundation. The goal of the Whole Brain Project: to pioneer brain research at the intersection of neuroscience, information technology, data management and scientific visualization. As the Project’s flagship, the Whole Brain Catalog aims to accelerate resolving the mysteries of the brain while also facilitating solutions to today’s intractable challenges in brain research through cooperation and “crowd-sourcing.”

The Whole Brain Catalog offers a powerful information integration tool to allow scientists to peer deep inside a virtual brain composed of hundreds of datasets — all from their personal computer. The Catalog provides rich, multi-scale views for researchers to zoom in, out and around structures deep in the mouse brain, and to trace neural pathways exploring their cellular and subcellular details. An open-source, 3D graphics engine used in graphics-intensive computer gaming generates high-resolution visualizations that bring data to life through biological simulations and animations for researchers to clearly see details such as electrical storms across neurons.

Researchers can access and navigate this “brain information system” via the Internet, much as students and consumers currently navigate today’s ubiquitous geographic information systems (GIS), including Google Earth and MapQuest. With a few clicks of the mouse, researchers can increase the explanatory power of their own scientific datasets by intermixing them with datasets contributed by others from around the world. Much as a motorist or homeowner might use Google Maps to get directions or find a house, scientists can zoom in for a “street view” perspective of their datasets uploaded to the Whole Brain Catalog, allowing them to understand the broader context of their research, and even explore alternative routes to new insights by reusing data imported from other researchers.

While it has been customary for philosophers to distance themselves from neuroscientific research, under the assumption that  theories about the brain somehow have no bearing on  theories of the mind—and above all have no relation to moral philosophy, there is a new rapprochement happening between neuroscience and philosophy, and the field of ethics in particular. We’ll see if this new brain information system will facilitate such meetings of the minds (or should I say brains!).

Added 10/20: And here it is! But I have to mention (which wasn’t clear to me before) that this is a catalog of the mouse brain, not the human brain! So far, anyway…



1. Paul J. Moloney - October 19, 2009

It seems strange, that if brain activity is the cause of consciousness, we really are not conscious of our brain activity, unless it results in a headache or seizure, and then only indirectly. I am conscious of the idea of brain activity, but I am not directly conscious of experiencing neuronal synapses and the like within the brain. I should probably thank someone for that. I am planning to read Daniel Dennett’s book “Consciousness Explained”.

2. Michael Breault - December 10, 2009

I think this is great news. The more us humans learn about how the body and brain function the better off we will be. Learning more about the brain can be very helpful in many medical situations. The brain is pretty much the control center for the body so if we can learn more about that we can learn more about our entire body. I think this helps philosophers as well. Learning more about the brain scientifically can either discredit a philosophy about it or give another philosophy more credit. I dont think it would be a bad idea for philosophers and scientists to work together.

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