In the computer era, the human brain is being studied with data and supercomputers. Awarded by European Committee, the Human Brain Project is a collaboration project of 80 research institutions in Europe, focusing in investigating how and which genes are expressed by neurons. Masaaki Hasegawa, IE´s student of Visual and Media Communication Program, had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Walker John Richard, the senior research associate of Human Brain Project. In the interview bellow, their conversation involves the concepts of the human being and the functioning of the brain.
MH: You mentioned in your web site and in several interviews that your project would help us to understand more about the brain diseases such as depressing. Do you think that the success of this project would enable us to reduce the stress people feel in their daily life, in order to prevent them from depressing?
RW: First of all, we do not produce medicines through this project, but provide research results that would hopefully help medical development. Second, stress is not a disease, though it can cause changes in the brain. It is something existing in the external environment. In fact, we never feel stress if we don’t work as human or animals. Thus, if you want to reduce the stress, you actually need to improve the real world.
MH: Will this project figure out the relationship between mindset, positive or negative, and human diseases?
RW: It is an interesting question. Positive/negative thinking is one of the highest phenomenon to talk about brain function. We think of brain as one system, and so it could have an effect on human body. And, there is difference in the brain chemical when you are in high mood or in low mood. For example, if you are stressed out, part of your brain would react, and so your mood actually makes a change inside the brain. But this field is still an open question.
MH: You also mentioned in the web that mapping out and understanding the brain in depth would help the future computing. Does it mean our brain is the currently greatest computer on the earth?
RW: It depends on how you measure it. If you talking about numbers, computer is much more powerful than human brain is, as you know. On the other hand, my brain can answer whatever questions you asked me. No computer can answer like this. Plus, super computer current consumes millions of watt in order to work whereas human brain consumes only about 20-30 watt. Moreover, brain is pretty reliable that we can use it since we are born till die. But computer can break down after 2-3 years usage. I would not say computer is better or worse than human brain is. It is extremely different.
MH: Will we be able to create artificial emotion?
RW: We might be able to create a model that has a same pattern as neuron activity that would be able to interact with the real world. Whether it would have emotions or not, we do not know about it. It is even hard to know whether a person next to you has a emotion or not.
MH: Can we put our consciousness into the computer in the future?
RW: I know a lot of people who write about it, but I believe that it is a pure science fiction. My answer is essentially, definitely never. In order to realize it, we need to understand every single neuron, molecules, and all the things related to human brain.
MH: What makes people feel and perceive differently from each other?
RW: In general, all human beings have the same basic gene. But, at the same time, every single human has a different gene like your daughter looks very different human from you. Thus, first reason is genetic difference. And then, since we were born, we have been interacting with the world every single moment and all people accumulate different links. Even genetically close twin grow up differently.
Given that, no two people have same experience and no two people have the same gene, nobody is the same.
MH: Is this project addressing what is the consciousness, or what is being awake, or what people believe it is reality? If yes, what is it?
RW: I have doubts about it every day. It is one of the biggest scientific, philosophical questions. We are trying to address what happens in brain when we are conscious, awake and unconscious. We are researching the way of the brain constructs the reality. But this is a very high level function of the brain, and, at the moment, we have just started planning.
MH: Is there any consensus about what is consciousness and what is reality?
RW: There is no consensus. No one knows how the activities of neurons and synapses construct our consciousness at all. If it is figured out, it would be the greatest scientific result of the 21 century. All I can say is your brain is constructing the reality every single moment.
MH: Do you think the Human Brain Project will answer these questions?
RW: What we are discussing now is very high level of brain function. What we are researching through this project is the lower level of brain functions. It is just a beginning.