Marvin Minsky is often noted as one of “the founders of Artificial Intelligence”. He also co-founded the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Project (a.k.a. the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) with John McCarthy. Along with his focus in artificial intelligence, he wrote a book called “The Society of Mind” which breaks down how he looks at the research of our brain. He didn’t know it at the time, but he essentially created a theory for Connectomics.
Well, what is Connectomics?
Connectomics is the mapping of all the neural connections in an organism. There are currently two main types: functional connectomics, and structural connectomics.
Functional Connectomics: the mapping of neural connections based on the functions that the neural connections carry. (Ex. the parts of the brain that trigger the emotional response)
Structural Connectomics: the mapping of neural connections based on the location of the neural connections. (Ex. the neurons in the frontal lobe)
How does this connect to “The Society of Mind”?
“To understand what we call the Self we first must see what Selves are for.” Marvin Minsky
In the first 3 chapters of his book “The Society of Mind”, Minsky describes a new (new in 1986) perspective on how we should look at the brain, and how our brain and intelligence works. He basically details how we can process the actions that we do and how our brain works with them.
If the brain is in charge of running everything in our body, then let’s begin by breaking down what exactly our body does.
The first chapter is designated to explaining different “agents”. Agents, as used by Minsky, are every little action and thing we do with our brain — be it consciously or subconsciously. This can be drinking, eating, sleeping, or even just standing up. But an important piece Minsky never neglects to address is the concept of “the whole is more than the sum of their parts”. He believed that the whole is the sum of its parts, and that believing that it is anything more is just ignorance. He claims it is an important part in understanding the brain as well.
Then, he continues to address his steps in understanding the brain:
“First, we must know how each separate part works.
Second, we must know how each part interacts with those to which it is connected.
And third, we have to understand how all these local interactions combine to accomplish what that system does-as seen from the outside”
What does this look like for neuroscience?
In 1986, Minsky believed that the first step was understanding how brain cells work. We currently understand the basics of how a neuron works, so now what?
“Then we’ll have to understand how the cells of each type interact with the other types of cells to which they connect.” This is the modern aspect of Functional Connectomics. Currently, scientists are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to understand the areas of the brain that connect and work together.
“Then, finally, comes the hardest part: we’ll also have to understand how our billions of brain cells are organized into societies” This is how we’ll finally understand how our bodies work in relation to our brains.
It is so important to also take into consideration why our brains are so complex. All of these agents and connections are there for a reason: Checks and Balances.
If Work could simply turn of Sleep, we’d quickly wear our bodies out. Directness is too dangerous. We’d die.
We need to be able to check ourselves and have a balance of what we do in our life. Our bodies have basic needs that they need to survive. In order for all of these needs to be met, there must be a balance between pain and pleasure.
This is also why Minsky believed that we have an imagination. Our imagination is a tool for our agents to work against and for each other. Our brains can create scenarios that aren’t real to convince us to act or feel a certain way. This is an aspect of checks and balances as well. Like, imagining a delicious burger when you’re hungry.
Sometimes our imaginations aren’t subconscious either. When we set goals for ourselves to create incentives or motives for different actions, we’re also utilizing our imagination to get certain agents working.
In conclusion we can thank our complex brain for our survival and evolution so far. As our agents have adapted based on the environments around us, and has been able to fit the proper mold to meet our needs, we have been able to grow and evolve into the long lasting species that we have today.
Here’s a link to my friend’s article on Functional Connectomics! https://medium.com/swlh/functional-connectomics-a-novel-approach-to-study-the-brain-9918df14ccfc
My name is Alyssa Gould, and I’m passionate about the intersection between Artificial Intelligence and Second Language Acquisition!
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com for questions or anything!