We still know remarkably little about how the brain works. It is one of the most complex systems in the world, endlessly flexible and amazingly self-healing, but after decades of study, much of the brain is still a mystery.
Saturday, October 6, the speakers at the “Gray Matters” 2012 Roundtable at Stanford gave a sense that soon we may know a lot more. Stanford University News reporter Bjorn Carey was there to catch the event.
“Neuroscience is a priority at Stanford, and we see this as the great new frontier for research,” said Stanford President John Hennessy.
The faculty in the School of Medicine are studying brain biology, inventing new therapeutic devices with the help of engineers, and the law and economics departments are investigating how and why people make decisions. By using such a cross-disciplinary approach, Stanford is approaching the questions from every angle, giving them a great position to begin understanding the brain.
The other speakers at the panel were Carla Shatz, professor of biology and neurobiology as well as director of Stanford’s Bio-X program; Dr. Frank Longo, the chair of the Department of Neurological Sciences, Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist specializing in post mortem investigations of the brain, and Bob Woodruff from ABC News, who received a traumatic brain injury while reporting in Iraq. It was moderated by ABC News’ Juju Chang, a Stanford Alumni.
The overall message of the roundtable was that we are not yet crossing the threshold into understanding the brain, but we may be very close to it.
Hennessy drew a parallel with the computer science industry’s rapid advancement in the recent decades. “If I had asked my colleagues in computer science 30 years ago, will computers out-think humans by the end of the century, they would have said ‘yes.’ But we’re not even close.”
This type of progress takes great time, and to reach the mountain top, more studies are needed, and it will require a lot of money. But it is still undeniable that we are making progress.