The Frontier Within

Rick O. Gilmore

2018-10-29 11:26:46


The Frontier Within

Core questions for science

  1. How did the Universe begin?
  2. What is the origin of life?
  3. What is the nature of mind?

Neuroscience is harder than physics

Why is it hard?

What must the nervous system do?

(What behaviors are essential for animals to perform?)

Be fruitful & multiply…

  • Defense
  • Ingestion
  • Reproduction

What specific behaviors?

  • Perception (what/where) at a distance
  • Locomotion
  • Object manipulation/consumption
  • Signaling/communication

How is the nervous system organized to shape these behaviors?

Perception -> Cognition -> Action

  • What’s out there?
  • Where is it?
  • How am I feeling now?
  • What happened in the past?
  • What should I do about it?

Fuster 2004

Challenges of measurement across spatial & temporal scales

If understanding everything you needed to know about the brain is a mile, how far have we walked?

J. Lichtman

Inching along…

The mind as machine…

Descartes 1662

  • Inputs & outputs
  • Connectivity & communication
  • Information processing & computation
  • Functionally specialized components

Learning some of the parts

Brain anatomy through dance

Finding our way around






The parts have special functions

The “4 Fs”

  • Fighting
  • Fleeing
  • Feeding
  • Mating

Nuts & bolts…

Cells of the nervous system

Glial (“glue”) cells


Greg Dunn Designs

Fun facts about neurons

  • Most born early in life
  • Post-mitotic – don’t divide
  • Among longest-lived cells in body
  • Can extend over long distances
  • Specialized for electrical & chemical communication

Neurons release neurotransmitters

Monoamine Songà_Mah_Nà

Monoamines, do-do do do-do
Monoamines, do do do-do
Monoamines, do do do do-do do do-do do do-do do do do do-do do

Monoamines, do-pa-mine is one
Monoamines, norepi, too
Monoamines, sero-tonin e-pinephrine, dop-a- mine, nor-epinephrine, melatonin, whoo!

Monoamines, mod-u-late neurons
Monoamines, throughout the brain
Monoamines, keep people happy, brains snappy, not sleepy, not sappy, do-do do-do do-do do

  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Valium
  • Prozac
  • Opioids
  • Marijuana

Substances of use and abuse often mimic or alter neurotransmitters

How did it get here?

The Cambrian explosion

  • Behavior requires energy
  • Behavior requires perception at a distance
  • Behavior requires action
  • Actions require problem solving, (sequence) planning, current state + stored information (memory)

Evolving brains

(Northcutt 2002)

(Northcutt 2002)

Does size matter?

Species # cortical neurons cortical mass (g)
Human 16 B 1233
Chimpanzee 6 B 286
Elephant 5.6 B 2800
Baboon 2.9 B 120.2

…our brain outranks that of other animals not because we are an exception in evolution, but rather because…we hold the largest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex…

Developing brains


  • Extended post-natal development
  • Proliferation then pruning

Where is neuroscience going?

“Assuming a realistic range of prior probabilities for null hypotheses, false report probability is likely to exceed 50% for the whole literature.”

(Szucs & Ioannides, 2017)

On the other hand…

The frontier within…

\(n=900\) 12-, 18-, 24-mo-olds; \(n=30\) sites

A human behavior-ome

Source: Ori Ossmy (NYU)