Viewing the brain as a network may help scientists tackle its complexity
Courtesy of M.P. van den Heuvel
Mapping the human brain is a noble goal, but a rather ill-defined one. It’s like making a map of the United States. You could just show political boundaries and the locations of cities. Or you might depict geographical features like mountains and rivers. Or transportation routes, like interstate highways and railroad tracks. You might even go Google Maps all the way and show the location of every individual house.
The brain possesses a similar diversity of scale: two hemispheres of convoluted gray matter, each with four regional lobes, traversed by superhighways of white matter fibers communicating with billions of individual cells. So some brain maps focus on outlining anatomical areas, others track the white matter wiring, still others divide the gray matter into tiny parcels and record their activity during different mental tasks. But eventually, scientists want to map everything. Their ultimate goal is a catalog of all the connections between all the brain’s