Allen-UW-Oregon lab retreat
Recently I have participated at the lab retreat organised between theory groups at University of Washington, Allen Institute and University of Oregon. These were fascinating days of neuroscience theory at different angles. These days brain scientists are working on multiple levels of the nervous system. There were presentations about biophysically detailed networks with elaborated dendritic trees, single neurons and the whole brain imaging data, approaches towards mesoscopic connectivity reconstruction and even brain dynamics under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
There are so many levels of description of brain structure and function these days. So, even the computational neuroscientists sometimes have troubles understanding each other. Therefore these kind of events are really needed, otherwise the field will continue to separate into various branches and the general theory would never be created (it it could exist). Everyone had to fit into the 15 min time slot with 5 min presentation and 10 min discussions. During these 15 min the discussion were especially intensive, since everyone was excited.
At one hand it is very inspiring to participate in the events like this because you really feel yourself the part of the community that cares about the similar problems as you. On the other hand there is certain disappointment that I still have since I entered the field in 2008 (presented my first poster about population models). There is so much data, diverse ideas and still lack of global understanding of what is happening in the brain. Of course I feel myself way more confident than I was 9 years ago. But still, there is so much we need to learn before we could approach brain science more seriously.
And it is not only about data. The models we use to interpret it matter as much. The size of the Kandel book grows almost exponentially with every new edition. There are no doubts for me, we should formalise the brain principles into the comprehensive form, just describing the experiments would not be enough. Therefore math is important, being used as a formal language neuroscientists could explain the phenomenons for which we simply do not have enough words.
Therefore these kind are so important, where you could meet other theorists and see their approach to explain how the brain works. By looking at the amazing work done by people around, I realise that we are continuously moving forward.