Simulating the Brain


There is an entire field of neuroscience dedicated to simulating the brain. But does that mean that researchers are building simulations which can do everything our brains do? And if not, what’s the point then?

To put it simply, no, brain simulations can’t do everything our brains do. And in fact, if they did that, they would be quite useless for scientists. Because if you build a system as complicated as the one you’re trying to study, you simply end up with two systems that you don’t understand.

Through brain simulations, scientists actually reproduce only certain aspects of what our brains can do. Then they use these to make and test predictions about how the brain manages to do those things.

There are different scales at which these simulations are constructed: from neuron level, to one or several brain regions, to all brain regions.

Simulating a single neuron, for example, allows scientists to understand how different ion channels contribute to the activity of a neuron, while simulating all brain regions can, among others, give hints about causes altered brain activity in various mental illnesses.

Will this work though ever lead to us being able to build an entire artificial brain? We don’t know that yet. And as mentioned before, that’s not the goal, at least for now.

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Hines, M. L., & Carnevale, N. T. (1997). The NEURON simulation environment. Neural computation9(6), 1179-1209.

Triebkorn, P., Zimmermann, J., Stefanovski, L., Roy, D., Solodkin, A., Jirsa, V., … & Ritter, P. (2020). Identifying optimal working points of individual Virtual Brains: A large-scale brain network modelling study. BioRxiv.

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