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NAKFI 2008 - Complex Systems


Charles F. Stevens

Part 1: Nerve cells and circuits. The human brain contains on the order of 1010 specialized cells termed neurons. Each neuron receives information from about 104 other neurons at specialized points of contact called synapses, and makes synapses onto about 104 other neurons.  Through these synapses, then, the brain is organized into richly interconnected circuits that carry out neural computations. These circuits are modular and highly redundant to give the brain fault tolerance.

Part 2: Organization of the brain. The brain is organized into identifiable regions, each with a particular function. So, for example, there are areas whose neural circuits carry out computations needed for vision, and other areas devoted to hearing, to speech, to movement, etc. About 100 distinct functional areas are recognized. Each area also has an orderly organization called a map and, in this map, neighboring circuits deal with similar types of data. The division of the brain into functional areas, and the subdivision of areas into maps is called the localization of function, and is one of the most important organizing principles of the brain.