CNS 2016 Debate
Connectomics: ‘Missing link’ for understanding neural computation, or ‘minutiae of implementation’?
Monday, April 4, 5:00 – 6:30 pm, Sutton Center
A debate between Anthony Movshon, NYU and Moritz Helmstaedter, Max-Planck-Institute.
Moderator: David Poeppel, Max-Planck-Institute & NYU
Limited seating, reservation required.
Anthony Movshon, NYU – Biologists are taught the basic principle that form follows function. The idea of connectomics goes further, to propose that form determines function. From this it would follow that knowing the form of neural circuits in detail would by itself allow us to deduce their function. The reality is different. The form of neural circuits undoubtedly constrains their function, but a knowledge of form alone is neither necessary nor sufficient to understand brain function. Neuroanatomy has always been one of the central tools of neuroscience. But except in very special cases like the retina, where the behavior of a circuit is well understood, anatomy alone tells us little of function. Rather, functional models that try to capture the purpose of neural computation rather than dwelling on the minutiae of its implementation offer a better path to understanding the brain.
Moritz Helmstaedter, Max-Planck-Institute – Since brains drive rich time-varying behaviors, the focus of scientific investigation has always been the dynamics of neurons, synapses, neuronal ensembles. Decades later we have a myriad of theoretical proposals how brains could compute, especially in the cerebral cortex of mammals. But few of these models are unequivocally refutable by functional experiments. Could the lack of knowledge about neuronal circuit structure, connectomes, be the missing link? Connectomic experiments are more efficient than functional ones in finding rare but relevant computations of a neuronal ensemble. Connectomes are required to explain computations in the mammalian retina and fly optical system. The degree to which connectomes shape computations in the mammalian cerebral cortex will remain a matter of scientific debate until finally, cerebral cortex connectomes will be measured.