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.