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When speaking of consciousness, the distance between philosophy and neurobiology is short. What makes us aware of ourselves? Why we know to exist? What mechanism allows us to evaluate our actions in terms of good and bad? Questions that for centuries have been the subject of literary and religious discourses but to which no one, until now, has managed to respond.

In the last decades the “great mystery” became the subject of more and more reliable scientific studies aimed at to understand what neurons interactions are activated under certain circumstances. But substantive progress in this field, have not yet been made. In short, we have a wider knowledge of the universe, telescopes even allow us to look at stars and galaxies as they were thousands of years ago, but we still manage to have a full understanding of ourselves. But in the future, something could change.

After years of experiments to decipher the mechanisms of the brain, three research groups from Portugal, Switzerland and the UK have decided to join forces to take a step to develop a single general theory that explains all its mechanisms. The key to “crack” the secrets of the brain, such as molecular circuits from which spring the behavior and consciousness itself, it will be work with the same physical model of CERN.

The plan, explained in the journal Nature by Zach Mainen, the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Michael Hausser, of University College London and Alexandre Pouget, University of Geneva, was inspired by the way research teams on the physical of the CERN prepare their experiments, and in particular the Atlas experiment, which involves 3,000 physicists. Although in this case the numbers will be more content, the basic principles of the collaboration are similar. “What we propose is a kind of ‘Big unified theory‘ of brain research,” said Mainen. “It is not clear yet if the mega-research projects on the brain started in these years, that involve multiple disciplines, will be effective. Once funded, laboratories often return to work on their part of the project almost in isolation. ” Their proposal is instead a collaboration  between researchers who in the world are already working on the same problems, starting from small goals, and then expand them over time.

The idea is to co-operate 10 laboratories with 20 scientific coordinators, and 50-100 researchers to conduct experiments that go beyond the scope of individual laboratories. All this by following the simple principles, such as focusing on a single function of the brain, researchers combine the experimentalists and the theoretical ones, standardize tools and methods, share data, and assign credits in a new way. Everyone will work on the same experiments with the same tools and the same software. A positive project in the goals, according to Giorgio Vallortigara, director of the University Mind / Brain Center in Trento, but whose goal could prove vain. “Not everyone is convinced that the brain works on a single general theory – he said to Ansa. I think rather that it is a set of ‘tricks’ put together by evolution to face different problems, such as the mechanisms of memory, back to the burrow. ” Look for a general theory could “be vain. Perhaps it would be better to look for the individual evolutionary forms of the brain “.

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