Human Brain Project wraps up

It was fun while it lasted…


It was stupid while it lasted…

Dr. Christof Koch, “2nd AI Debate” in Dec. 2020,

“The dirty secret of my field is that (we don’t like to talk about) we have a connectome with a complete wiring diagram of C.elegans since 1986, okay that’s a third of a century. There’s still no general purpose integrated model of its 300 neurons, so now we’re trying to understand the 60-Billion neurons that make up the human brain!?”


It was a controversial program from the start, and some people are still a bit salty about the whole thing.

The obvious issue was of course the money (and how none of it went to me).

But the deeper issue that few people articulated was this: It did not follow the normal scientific process. Normally scientists start with a hypothesis, design an experiment to test it, and finally they solicit funding to run it.

The human brain project didn’t start with a hypothesis. Instead it was a general fact finding mission, to systematically measure the brain. They developed new techniques for measuring the brain, collected an enormous amount of data, and published it all for free. They also collaborated with similar institutions from around to world, to put together a compendium (EBRAINS) of all of the state-of-the-art neuroscience data.


What about Allen Brain Institute? aren’t they do the same thing? Still C.elegance beats them all…


Ah - the dichotomy often drawn between “Magellanic” and “Marco Polo” types of travel or exploration.

Magellanic Travel (Voyages of Discovery):
Named after Ferdinand Magellan, the first explorer known to have circumnavigated the Earth.
Represents exploration with no clear end in mind; the journey itself is the primary focus.
Emphasizes discovery, venturing into the unknown, and expanding the horizons of human knowledge.
The outcome is uncertain and the risks are high.
It’s about pushing boundaries and seeing what’s beyond the next hill, both metaphorically and literally.

Marco Polo Travel (Purposeful Travel):
Named after Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant who traveled to the East and returned with tales of his adventures and lucrative trade routes.
Represents travel with a specific goal or purpose in mind.
The focus is less on exploration for its own sake and more on achieving a particular outcome, whether that be trade, diplomacy, conquest, etc.
There’s a clearer sense of what the traveler is seeking and often a well-defined route or plan to achieve it.
It’s about leveraging known paths and connections for tangible gains, rather than venturing into the unknown.

In modern terms, Magellanic journeys might be akin to purely exploratory space missions, where the aim is just to see what’s out there, while Marco Polo-type missions might have a clear objective, like setting up a base or mining for resources.

I see the Human Brain project as fitting in the Magellanic category.

We need both kinds of enterprises to make any meaningful progress.