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Everyone could benefit in an incredibly profound way if we were able to understand down to the last neuron exactly how the human brain functions, interprets information and what exactly leads to perception. As soon as we understand crucial aspects of human thought like perception, memories, dreams, stream of consciousness, just imagine what we could do with this information for health, technology, entertainment and general understanding of one another. Some ethical issues are bound to arise but this would be an revolutionary feat.

Officially dubbed the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative (yeah, we prefer the “BRAIN” acronym too), the program launched last year to speed up the development of innovative tech and help guys and gals in white lab coats to create a new, dynamic picture of the mind. It was backed by $126 million from a few government agencies but is expected to receive $5 billion over its decadelong life span.

At Columbia, Rafael Yuste’s laboratory is one of 150 around the U.S. that’s working on projects under the initiative. His team is building 3-D holographic microscopes that may one day be able to map all the neurons in the human brain. Yuste – a Spanish doctor, neuroscientist and professor – is an important piece of figuring out the brain puzzle. After all, he first proposed the interdisciplinary initiative to the White House as a way to finally solve the problems of cognition and mental illness by “breaking the code” – figuring out the relationship between brain activity and thought. “If we could understand how this ‘computer’ works, we could fix it when it’s broken,” says Yuste.

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