A Network Map of the Brain
Network maps and network analysis in one discipline can give insights into networks in other systems. E.g., networks maps of brains, immune systems, corporate alliances, and professional social networks all have important similarities; and discoveries and techniques in one field can influence other fields.
A new report published by online journal PLos Biology describes a new method of computational network analysis to map the connections between specialized brain systems. The method uses diffusion imaging to noninvasively map the white matter of the brain (axons and dendrites) rather than the body of the neurons themselves.
The maps revealed a central network core and key hubs in the cerebral cortex, where reasoning, planning, and self-awareness originates.
As reported in a July NY Times article, “The hubs clustered in each man’s brain, in a region about the size of a palm, were centered atop the cortex like a small skullcap. ‘We haven’t had a comprehensive map of the brain showing what is connected to what, and you really need the whole thing before you can ask certain questions, like what happens if activity is clogged up at one of the hubs? How does that effect function?’ said Olaf Sporns, a psychologist at Indiana University and the senior author of the paper.”
So how can we apply this to understanding how “self-awareness” and large-scale planning and events occur in the “global brain” of interconnected humans and groups? Organizational network analysis is extremely useful; but obviously mapping bigger-scale social structures and processes will be much more challenging and will require both better data (including dynamic data) and better techniques. Large scale real-time participation by individuals and groups in online social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc., can someday help us do a better analysis of large-scale social intelligence — if the data can be truly open for analysis, while also insuring users’ privacy.