Does the connectome define the self?

connectomeThe connectome is a new term that describes the sum total of all the neural connections in a human. In a new book Sebastian Seung claims that it is this idea of the network of connections that defines who we are and which is, at once, defined both genetically and by our life experiences. Does the idea of the connectome reconcile the nature versus nurture debate at last?

As Seung himself says “The connectome theory of mental differences is compatible with the genetic theory, but it is far richer and more complex because it includes the effects of living in the world. The connectome theory is also less deterministic. There is reason to believe that we shape our own connectomes by the actions we take, even by the things we think. Brain wiring may make us who we are, but we play an important role in wiring up our brains.”

He goes on to explore a powerful metaphor for explaining the way our connectome both determines how and what we think, but is, in turn defined by our consciousness. Using the already used phrase ‘stream of consciousness’, he asserts that it is now time to consider that every ‘stream’ has a bed; that this stream bed (the connectome) not only defines the course of the stream, but is slowly moulded by it. The stream bed may change shape, deepen or even grow new tributaries by virtue of changed thinking, increased habits or new experiences.

See Maria Pavlova’s article about this idea on Brain Pickings site here

See the book “Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are” by Sebastian Seung here

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