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Does the human brain look like the universe?



Does the human brain look like the universe?

Left: area of ​​the cerebellum, with a magnification of 40x, obtained by electron microscopy (Dr. E. Zunarelli, University Hospital of Modena); right: section of cosmological simulation, with an extension of 300 million light years on each side (Vazza et al. 2019 A&A). Credit: University of Bologna

An astrophysicist from the University of Bologna and a neurosurgeon from the University of Verona compared the network of neuronal cells in the human brain to the cosmic network of galaxies … and surprising similarities emerged.


In his report published in Limits in physics, Franco Vazza (astrophysicist at the University of Bologna) and Alberto Feleti (neurosurgeon at the University of Verona) studied the similarities between two of nature’s most challenging and complex systems: the cosmic network of galaxies and the network of neuronal cells in the human brain.

Despite the significant difference in scale between the two networks (more than 27 orders of magnitude), their quantitative analysis, which is at the crossroads of cosmology and neurosurgery, suggests that different physical processes can build structures characterized by similar levels of complexity and organization.

The human brain functions thanks to its extensive neural network, which is estimated to contain approximately 69 billion neurons. On the other hand, the observed universe is made up of a cosmic network of at least 100 billion galaxies. Within the two systems, only 30% of their masses are composed of galaxies and neurons. Within both systems, galaxies and neurons are arranged in long strands or nodes between strands. Finally, in both systems, 70% of the distribution of mass or energy consists of components that play an apparently passive role: water in the brain and dark energy in the observed universe.

Starting from the common characteristics of the two systems, the researchers compared a simulation of a network of galaxies with areas of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. The aim was to observe how the oscillations of matter spread on such a variety of scales.

“We calculated the spectral density of the two systems. This is a technique often used in cosmology to study the spatial distribution of galaxies,” explains Franco Vazza. “Our analysis showed that the distribution of oscillations in the neural network of the cerebellum at a scale of 1 micrometer to 0.1 millimeter follows the same progression of the distribution of matter in the cosmic network, but, of course, on a larger scale, which varies from 5 million to 500 million light-years. “

The two researchers also calculated some parameters that characterize both the neural network and the space network: the average number of connections in each node and the tendency to group several connections in the respective central nodes in the network.

“Again, the structural parameters identify unexpected levels of agreement. Probably the connection in the two networks develops following similar physical principles, despite the striking and obvious difference between the physical forces governing galaxies and neurons,” added Alberto Feleti. “These two complex networks show more similarities than those shared between the space network and the galaxy or neural network and the interior of a neuronal body.”

The encouraging results of this pilot study lead researchers to believe that new and effective analysis techniques in both fields, cosmology and neurosurgery, will allow a better understanding of the directional dynamics underlying the temporal evolution of these two systems.


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More info:
F. Vazza et al, Quantitative comparison between neural network and space network, Limits in physics (2020). DOI: 10.3389 / fphy.2020.525731

Provided by the University of Bologna

Quote: Does the human brain look like the universe? (2020, November 16) downloaded on November 16, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-11-human-brain-resemble-universe.html

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