Counting Neurons with Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel (BS 133)

Suzana Herculano-Houzel  (photo by Joe Howell/Vanderbilt U) Click to Play

Suzana Herculano-Houzel  (photo by Joe Howell/Vanderbilt U) Click to Play

Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel and her colleagues developed a pioneering technique that has made it possible to accurately count the number of neurons in brains of all sizes. This has led to some big surprises including the fact that the human brain contains an average of 86 billion neurons rather than 100 billion as had long been assumed. She describes this work in her wonderful book The Human Advantage: How Our Brains Became Remarkable and I really enjoyed interviewing her for Brain Science 133.

While some neuroscientists, such as Cristof Koch, may discount the importance of how many neurons the brain contains, this still rates as an extremely important technique that also has implications for other long held assumptions such as the idea that all brains are made the same. Herculano-Houzel has shown that primate brains are built differently than the so-called "generic" mammalian brain. Primate brains contain more neurons that a similarly sized rodent brain.

The Human Advantage debunks several well worn neuroscientific dogmas including the idea that the human brain is too large. It also does away with the persistent myth that humans still have a deeply embedded reptilian brain. This book follows the tradition of books like Eric Kandel's In Search of Memory. It combines a first hand account of how science is really done with an excellent over view of important new ideas.

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