A paper recently published in Frontiers of Physics has investigated two of the most complex systems found anywhere: the Universe and the human brain.
Astrophysicist Franco Vazza from the University of Bologna and neurosurgeon Alberto Feletti from the University of Verona authored the paper.
Their report brings together neuroscience and astronomy in ways that may have never been considered before.
In particular, the researchers looked at the cosmic network of galaxies in the Universe and compared it to the human brain’s network of neuronal cells. Both of these networks were found to create similar levels of self-organization and operate based on similar principles.
Our brains function due to their large neuronal networks, consisting of about 69 billion neurons. The observable universe has at least 100 billion galaxies.
In both cases, the networks account for 30% of the whole.
The human brain’s neuronal network accounts for 30% of its mass, and 30% of the Universe is comprised of galaxies.
Also in both networks, the remaining 70% of the mass is comprised of matter or components that don’t seem to do much of anything.
For the human brain, most of this is water. In the Universe, that 70% is just dark matter.
The researchers also decided to compare the human brain’s cerebellum and cerebral cortex to a simulation of the network of galaxies to look for similar trends between the two systems.
“We calculated the spectral density of both systems. This is a technique often employed in cosmology for studying the spatial distribution of galaxies”, explains Franco Vazza. “Our analysis showed that the distribution of the fluctuation within the cerebellum neuronal network on a scale from 1 micrometer to 0.1 millimeters follows the same progression of the distribution of matter in the cosmic web but, of course, on a larger scale that goes from 5 million to 500 million light-years”.
These were not the only structural similarities the researchers found, however.
They then decided to look at how connections are made in each network.
The neurons in our brain are grouped in a hierarchical network of clusters, filaments, and nodes. The activity within this network is what creates our thoughts and feelings.
Galaxies are to the Universe what neurons are to the human brain, or so this research seems to show. The pull of gravity and the force of an expanding Universe create a web of filaments composed of matter that seem to resemble what is found in the human brain.
“Once again, structural parameters have identified unexpected agreement levels. Probably, the connectivity within the two networks evolves following similar physical principles, despite the striking and obvious difference between the physical powers regulating galaxies and neurons”, adds Alberto Feletti. “These two complex networks show more similarities than those shared between the cosmic web and a galaxy or a neuronal network and the inside of a neuronal body”.
So what does this mean? What can we take away from the fact that the Universe and the human brain seem to be abiding by similar physical laws and structures?
At this point, there isn’t enough information to conclude anything other than this is an exciting new field of research. This was just a pilot study and it could lead to new and better research techniques that combine neuroscience and cosmology.
Just imagine what we’ll learn then!
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