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Home / Science / One is the brain and the other is the universe. Can you tell which is which?

One is the brain and the other is the universe. Can you tell which is which?



“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is the deep source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in the bright years and the passage of time, when we grasp the intricacies, beauty and subtlety of life, the feeling of exaltation , The feeling of elation and humility must be spiritual.” – Carl Sagan, “A World Haunted by Demons.”

As Sagan described, after understanding the universe, I felt a spiritual moment because I better understood my connection to wider things. Just like when I first learned that I was made of the ashes of stars-atoms in my body diffused into the eternal ether through supernovae. Another spiritual moment is seeing this image for the first time:

Lisa Boulanger thanks Lisa Boulanger, the hippocampus neurons are scattered with synaptic connections (yellow). The website is https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/81261.php. What is the green central cell body? The diameter is 10µm. B. Universe Network (Springel et al., 2005). Scale bar = 31.25 Mpc/h or 1.4×1024 m. Juxtaposition was inspired by Lima (2009).

Neurons in the brain are juxtaposed with galaxy clusters and their connected filaments of matter and dark matter. The similarities are obvious. Hint? You may have the entire universe in your mind. But the similarity between the images may just be the case of poor single tone-it feels like there is no similarity in fact. After all, considering the huge difference between the two, how are these two things similar? However, if the visual similarity between the brain neuron network and the cosmic galaxy network is exceeded, how can objective measurements compare their true similarity? This is how Franco Vazza (Astrophysicist at the University of Bologna) and Alberto Feletti (Neurosurgeon at the University of Verona) set out to discover the combination of these two disciplines and published it in the “Frontiers in Physics”.

Interstellar link

The human brain is actually one of the most complex structures known in the universe, and it itself is the largest of all complexity. Your brain has approximately 80 billion neurons. These neurons process input from the senses and send signals to your body through the nervous system. Neurons can also be networked and communicate with each other through connections called axons and dendrites. There are about 100 trillion connections between the neurons that make up the neural network of your identity.

NGC 6888’s “New Moon Nebula” is said to be similar to a giant brain in space
-Xie Tianhua CC BY-SA 4.0

The universe is also networked. Although we might think of space as objects separated by a large number of…well…spaces, this is not entirely true. The universe we see with scientific equipment is called the “observable universe”, with a diameter of about 90 billion light years and containing hundreds of billions to trillions of galaxies. These galaxies are like our own Milky Way galaxy, with billions of stars gathered, and they themselves are grouped into galaxy clusters. Our Milky Way is part of the “Local Group”, which includes the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangular Galaxy, as well as 50 other galaxies. These galaxies are in turn part of a larger galaxy called the Virgo supercluster. The space between groups and clusters is not empty, but the host connects millions of light-years of ordinary and dark matter filaments. In this way, the universe can be thought of as a huge network of galaxy clusters, all interconnected similarly to the neural network in the brain. This network is called Cosmic Web.

Simulation of Cosmic Web formation from the beginning to the present

Universe in universe

The search for quantifiable similarities between two networks originated from the collaboration between neuroscience and astrophysics. Vazz and Feletti used the techniques and tools of these two disciplines to study the two networks to find quantifiable similarities, rather than visual similarities. Are these networks comparable? If yes, what does that mean?

The researchers used a 4-micron-thick slice of human cortex-the outer layer of the brain, responsible for processing language, sensory information, thoughts, memory and consciousness. These were compared with a 25 megapascal (1 pascal second = about 3.26 light-years) thick “slices” of the universe extracted from a computer-simulated volume of 1 million cubic megabytes of space.Considering the thickness of the two, the thickness of the brain and the universe are relatively comparable 27 orders of magnitude The sizes are different from each other.

Cosmic network and brain samples magnified 4 times, 10 times and 40 times
-Vazza F and Feletti A (2020)
Left: A slice of the cerebellum obtained through an electron microscope at a magnification of 40 times (Dr. E. Zunarelli, University Hospital of Modena); Right: Part of a cosmological simulation, extended by 300 million light years on each side (Vazza et al., 2019 A&A).

Depending on the scale, the slices were checked – the similarity of the structure was not always obvious. But when magnified 40 times in the brain tissue, the researchers began to find structural similarities. A magnification of 40 times means that the ratio of the brain is 0.01-1.6mm, and the ratio of the universe is 1-100 megaseconds. Here, the neural network looks like a galaxy cluster. In addition, two techniques can be used to objectively measure and compare the similarity of networks. The first is “Network Degree Centrality”, which measures the length and connectivity of network connections in a given network. The radius of the nucleus or center of a neuron is much smaller than the length of the connecting shaft and dendrites. Similarly, the radius of the Milky Way cluster is much smaller than the length of the connecting filaments. The second method of objectively comparing two networks is the “clustering coefficient”, which quantifies the amount of structure adjacent to each connected node (neuron or galaxy cluster) and compares this structure with random points in the network. This comparison contrasts the organization and randomness of the two networks.

Vazza F and Feletti A (2020) Figure 3: “Top panel: For the three network examples in our sample (blue lines, superimposed on the density comparison graph), the enlarged details of the reconstructed connections between nodes. Bottom panel: All Clustering coefficient and degree center distribution of slices”

“How big is the universe”-Fraser Kane universe today

Using these technologies on these scales, Watts and Felletti found a “significant” similarity between the brain and the universe. They also found that networks are more similar to each other than other biological and physical structures (including tree branches, the dynamics of cloud formation, or water turbulence). These other structures are fractal in nature. Fractal patterns are repeatable, and they will look the same no matter what scale you observe. In contrast, from small to large, the universe looks completely different. The galaxies and solar systems are not similar to the cosmic web they create. Therefore, when viewed at different scales, the brain no longer resembles a neural network. The scale itself may be important to how these structures are organized.

The researchers summarize their findings “It is a fact that despite the huge differences in spatial scale between the two systems, the interaction between completely different physical processes will produce similar network configurations, leading to similar levels of complexity and self-organization.” In other words, networks like the brain and the universe may share similar structures, but they are completely different sizes and formed by different processes (gravity and biology). But it may cause something to develop and grow in a similar way.

This “Mandelbrot scaling” is a fractal mode, no matter what scale is observed, it looks similar, which is different from “brain” and “universe”, they look very different on different scales

The researchers noticed two interesting similarities between the brain and the cosmic web. The first is the composition ratio. The water content of the brain is 77%, while the dark energy of a similar cosmic web is about 73%. Water and dark energy are not part of the network itself, but are regarded as “passive materials” or passive energy. The existence and ratio of passive materials/energy may be related to how these networks are formed. The second fascinating similarity is that the amount of computer data required to map the simulated universe model is comparable to the theoretical memory storage limit of the human brain. Data of 1 to 10 Petabyes (1 Petabyte = 1000 Terrabytes) are required to simulate the evolution of the observable universe on a scale where the cosmic web becomes apparent. The total storage capacity of the human brain is estimated to be approximately 2.5 PB. In theory, a person can store a large part of the observable universe…inside their brain. Or, even more surprisingly, Cosmic Web can theoretically store human experience data for a lifetime.

Hubble’s “Extreme Deep Field” picture shows approximately 5,500
The most distant galaxy ever. – NASA / ESA

In addition to similarities, there are also differences between the universe web and the brain. Although the brain samples used are from the cortex, the whole brain is not uniform. Different parts of the brain serve different purposes, and a key feature of the universe is its unity in almost all directions. The links between neurons in the brain are used to transmit sensory information, while the links in the universe only transmit energy and matter. Vazz and Feletti hope that their research will inspire the development of more powerful algorithms to discover more similarities between the brain and the universe. Maybe we will understand how similar the two networks that lead to completely different processes are so similar.

We heard that Carl Sagan described how our bodies are made of stars. Now we begin to understand that our brains may also be framed like them. In your mind, there is an entire connected universe—a universe within a universe—a person who can establish a connection with another person who makes this connection. Billions of neurons touch billions of stars-surely spiritual.

More exploration:

The actual simulated universe image used in the research: https://cosmosimfrazza.myfreesites.net/cosmic-web-and-brain-network-datasets

Is the human brain similar to the universe? | EurekAlert!Science news

As above below art exhibition

How your brain is like the universe network (nautil.us)

[2008.05942] Explore the connection between the universe and thought through six interactive art installations in “As Above and Below” (arxiv.org)

Ask Ethan: Is the universe alive? (Forbes.com)

How big is the universe? -Universe Today

[astro-ph/9512141] How to weave filaments into Cosmic Web (arxiv.org)

Aquarius dark matter simulation video – ESO


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