ed boyden

ed boyden.png


intro’d to Ed here – feb 2016:

how the brain is computing the mind


question i’m thinking most about now.. is how can we truly understand how the brain is computing the mind.. connecting neurons and psychology. .. that link remains very illusive.. so over last decade my group at mit has been working on tech.. and now.. wondering .. what’s next.. how do we start to use these things…

1\ go get data… minsky – intelligence arrived at through shared thinking…

2\ if look at other problems in biology… huge amounts of data collected.. before people try to hone in on what life is… tool development phase… w/o data hard to know there were cells at all

approach i’d like to take – go get data.. see how cells in brain communicate with each other to generate outputs.. thoughts… 1\ patterns might be found 2\ we might not be able to see any patterns.. i think it has to be the former…  so many commonalities in human experience… so not arbitrary… we can talk in language.. we can see/design shapes.. suggests some convergence.. not infinitely complex..

we’re going to want to understand brain in terms of these building blocks.. can we ignore lower level and focus on higher level.. so far.. attempts to ignore below certain levels of description haven’t found anything..

the way we approach is radically diff from past..  we need new tech…

6 min – the reason we didn’t have the data.. we didn’t have the tools.. if you make theory w/no tech very difficult to know you solved it..

tools first, then data, then theory

costello mech law.. so mechanism simple enough – problem deep enough to get right data…

why don’t we have decades of data for the brain.. like the telescope/microscope for the brain.. collect data ground truth data.. to see all cells/molecules in action.. and then we’ll see renaissance in ability to think of and learn about the brain.. at a very detailed level but to extract true insights

let’s think about ..this hypothesis that biology is not a fundamental science.. often have models. here’s my hypoth.. someone disproves it.. and if big enough disproof.. get revolution..

think of biology and gene in genome relating to there’s so many genes in genome…  most hypoth’s are probably wrong… even if right.. how to know what other genes modulate it.. a huge complicated network … most hypothesis are going to be incorrect… so important to get these ground truths descriptions of brain.. map circuits.. see how interact.. once have maps.. better hypoth’s i don’t think maps = understanding.. but can help hypoth be less assumption prone.. less likely to be wrong

8 min – one thing i hope circuit description of brian will help us understand about humanity.. from psych.. countless/unconscious processes.. we have free will but not conscious of it – one interp.. what it suggests.. is if we peek under hood.. might find evidence of thoughts/feeling unaccessible if only look at behavior… interesting to know/see generating info/decisions before…

10 min – there’s so much processing that we have no access to.. and yet to essential to human condition.. to thinking/feeling if we could get access to circuits that generate them… might be fastest root to root to understanding those aspects of human condition

been thinking primarily last decade of tools… now that tools are maturing.. wondering how to use them.. to really understand what we all care about..

a nother way – a story about people grokking what matters

11 min – group at cal tech – found neurons deep in brain that trigger aggression in mice.. fascinating .. something as ethically charged… as involved in justice system.. as violence.. that you can find a small cluster of neurons…. so.. what neurons connect to those.. and where do these neurons projects.. emotion.. or a motor command.. can start to activate very specific parts of brain

12 min – at mit – train mice in learning model…  mice make a memory recall… showing you can cause a recall of a specific memory… can have anti depressant effects

14 min – trying to think about career – saw this loop – and the weak part of loop – seemed to be the brain

15 min – on the need for tech era.. to get to data.. for neuroscience.. seems like we never got to that tech era

16 min – key insight i got.. if you don’t think backwards from big mysteries of brain.. and only think forwards to fun to do…  might not find enough to solve big problems

so mostly what i’ve been working on – 10 yrs at mit – but now ready to work on using them…

17 min – one reason at mit – deep dives into risk – i wanted to get to the ground truth of the brain… took about 3 years until started to get mainstream acceptance…

19 min – brain initiative

20 min – maybe brain activity mapping is great.. but tech might need more than that.. went from activity mapping to broadly tech… then tells purposes of diff agencies…

21 min – companies are great if you can work hard,  get  smart and solve the problem… but if tackling something like brain.. a lot of it’s serendipity.. bring multiple fields together. engineer serendipity and make something totally unpredictable..

22 min – i think a lot about hybrid institutional designs..

or perhaps.. in the city.. as the day... all of us

on need to have space to store all data… so need business for that..

or blockchain if right

on balancing need for luck and need for scalability

thinking about  – how do we get rid of risk in biology and medicine

24 min – why have vaccines et al been so successful because outsider fighting us…. but brain disorders… our body fighting self.. much harder.. need diff pov

rna ness

if body fighting self want deep understanding of building blocks… so understanding brain might be what we need to de risk path to curing disease…

26 min – drug from idea to market can cost billions and failure rate 90%…

we have these large 3d systems.. brain circuit, a cancer, immune system.. and knowing how to tweak cells to do right thing means finding really subtle differences.. that make those cells diff from normal cells in body..

how to take these tools and apply to rest of medicine

27 min – collab with george church – sequence genetic code and recipes of cells right there inside the cells…  when grinding up ie: tumor.. lose 3d ness…  george found could sequence in dish.. rna.. inbetween genome.. the recipe.. george’s group was sequencing the rna… didn’t work well in 3 d structures… our group.. working on physically expanding and making it bigger.. ie: take piece of brain tissues.. polamer swells… dream: take a bacterium and expand on cell phone… zoom in ..

what if we can take our example and expand it and run their sequencing method.. if we can take stuff and expand and then use george’s sequencing to read the recipes.. map fundamental building blocks of life

31 min – the expanding ness seemed strange to most people

chemistry as a way to see fabrication massively in parallel – expanding enough to see gap between

33 min – a lot of people using our tech now.. to see things you can’t normally see…  basically want to make the invisible visible

34 min – limit on how fine we can see things – mesh size –  we have to validate tech down to that level of resolution… if we can get down to single molecule resolution

36 min – in coming 15 yrs – 1\ ability to map perfected; 2\ detailed enough maps of small scaled circuits to make models; 3\ speculative – might have tools to look at human brain functions much more accurately.. what we have now is so limited..ie: functional mri – blood flow – but very indirect/crude…. what we most need..is a method for imaging/controlling human brain circuits with single electrical pulse precision… lots of interesting speculation

39 min – what i loved about working with n gershenfeld back in the day was this broader vision…bits et al ..

bits.. neil

41 min – on shutting down parts of brain.. during ie: epilectic seizures..

Daniel Amen

43 min – there’s such a push to cure things.. a push to find treatments.. but in some ways.. by forcing it to go too fast we might miss the serendipitous insights.. that are much more powerful… ie: 1927 – noble prize in med ..for treatment of dimensia.. he deliberately gave them malaria – causes high fever.. that would kill parasite..   1928 – antibiotics… huge hit..

45 min – the rush to get short term treatment i worry can sometimes miss out.. or cause people to misdirect their attention to getting down to the ground truth mechanisms of knowing what’s going on… people talking about doing all this incremental.. and we should do more moonshoots.. people forget.. when landed on moon already had several hundred years behind it.. kennedy wasn’t saying … let’s do this impossible task.. he was saying.. look.. we can do this…

moonshots.. shouldn’t be used to throw a lot of money at crazy ideas.. i think we should do anti moon shots


ted2011 – A light switch for neurons

ways to turn circuits off to better understand…

many of us will encounter brain disorder… change who we are…

Daniel Amen

practically no meds as cure… ie: just being bathed in a substance…

back to unltra precise control.. can we dial into to where we want to focus.. turn on one cell but not neighbors..

Jennifer Doudna – rna ness

many molecules that exist in nature that can convert light to electricity… so how to get light into the brain

put into neuron.. neuron uses natural protein making energy.. next thing.. have neuron enabling light…

you can tweak viruses that hit some cells and not others…

if we could figure out what cells are triggered by rewards..

find/folow Ed:

link twitter

his site:


at media lab:


his synthetic neurobiology group:


wikipedia small

Edward “Ed” S. Boyden is a neuroscientist at MIT. He is a faculty member in the MIT Media Lab and an associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. He is recognized for his work on optogenetics. In this technology, a light-sensitive ion channel such as channelrhodopsin-2 is genetically expressed in neurons, allowing neuronal activity to be controlled by light. … Optogenetics in this way has been widely adopted by neuroscientists as a research tool, and it is also thought to have potential therapeutic applications. Boyden joined the MIT faculty in 2007, and continues to develop new optogenetic tools as well as other technologies for the manipulation of brain activity. ]

In 2008 Boyden was named by Discover Magazine as one of the top 20 scientists under 40. In 2006, he was named to the MITTechnology ReviewTR35 as one of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35.

On November 29, 2015, he was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.[


june 2016 – tedsummit

diapers inspire new way to study brain

if so complicated to zoom into brain.. can’t we make brain bigger.. to get maps of brain

hoping to make the invisible visible


Today on Reactions: MIT Media lab chemical neuroscientist Ed Boyden https://t.co/63a2RRNfmN

cc @eboyden3 @MIT @medialab https://t.co/m2SXrUICoy

Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/NatureChemistry/status/809684500137394176