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News

03.09.2021

CNS Newsletter Volume 14, Issue 02 "Past and Future of Neuroscience" released

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We recently published a new issue of the Charité NeuroScience (CNS) Newsletter, bringing you the latest on the Past and Future of Neuroscience.

For most of us, the last two years have been both standing still and running. To help ourselves reorient in time, we take a look back– and forward to both the history and future of neuroscience.

One interesting thought one may entertain when lost in one’s mind and thinking about the past and the future is to take anything you are interested in – and may take for granted – and pose the following question: was it discovered or was it invented? It may sound strange at the first moment, but it may be quite a fun game. For instance, one may think that computers were obviously invented. However, computations are more complex to determine. Assuming a computer computes mathematical operations, one may then beg the question: what about mathematics? Was it discovered or invented? And medicine? That is a tricky one, right? Do we discover cures and diseases, but we invent medications – and sometimes even some diseases... Do you see where I am going? Well, neuroscience is no different. We didn’t invent the brain, albeit the gigantic efforts of AI and robotics to recreate cognition, human or otherwise (pg. 19).

When we look back, we usually look at the tipping points: when discoveries trigger inventions. When we look forward, we imagine inventions that will lead to discoveries. And somehow in neuroscience and otherwise that is how progress is achieved. Sometimes one hypothesis leads to one bad discovery, such as phrenology (pg. 4), but its fundamental insight leads to new technologies and developments. In other cases, it seems to be an age-old tug-of-war between two hypotheses. Take the good-old nature-nurture discussion: is it the case of a simple and pure deterministic naturalism or a by-the-book genetic lottery? Could it be possible that epigenetics may play the middle man between these two opposing forces? Possibly none of these, or all of them (pg. 11). Historically, the party line has oscillated depending on the stream of the current scientific endeavor.

Science, after all, is not an isolated or objective point. Science itself comes from somewhere and leads somewhere else: a pendulum that swings from one discovery-fueled technology to the next, leading always from one hypothesis to the next, rarely failing to change the perspective on best scientific practices or models. We review one initiative, The Human Brain Project, which was expected to revolutionize neuroscience models (pg. 8). Instead of one immense innovation, sometimes one smaller breakthrough can unravel a new set of possibilities. Take for example the invention of penicillin - or rather, the discovery of penicillin’s antibiotic effects. Taken by itself, penicillin was a great success, but it also pushed the pharmacological industries into new ground (pg. 17). Sometimes the new technologies are groundbreaking only in that they enable more efficient solutions. Such is for X-ray use, which is no longer the method of choice to look into the brain, but was the precursor to stronger and more sensitive methods (pg. 6). Sometimes entire fields can be discovered – or invented? – if only the right tools can be harnessed. It is no secret that evolving genetic technologies have uncovered new genes and gene functions as well as overhauled how we investigate and even treat some diseases (pg. 9).

Technologies are not the only parts of neuroscience that change. So do the ways in which we evaluate new developments, as we question both the ethics and the effectiveness of clinical trials (pg. 15). Scientists change too. What do you see when you Picture a Scientist (pg. 21)? What about when you picture science itself? You might be surprised at what science can look like (pg. 22). We hope you enjoy discovering as much as we did, and that, hopefully, may lead us towards some new inventions.

Volume 14, Issue 02

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