Dear readers,

I am happy to say that I have started writing as a regular contributor to Forbes, and will be publishing a number of articles a month there. The focus of my writing for Forbes will be on neuroscience, the brain, and their intersection with technology, engineering, and mathematics, including machine learning an AI.

You can check out the first piece here.

I will continue to write here on Medium also though in two different ways. First, I will continue writing educational and summary articles related to cutting edge topics in neuroscience, in particular where they intersect our own…


Image courtesy of Pixabay

Computational neuroscience, broadly defined, is the mathematical and physical modeling of neural processes at a chosen scale, from molecular and cellular to systems, for the purpose of understanding how the brain represents and processes information. The ultimate objective is to provide an understanding of how an organism takes in sensory information, how information is integrated and used in the brain, and how the output of such processing results in meaningful decisions and behaviors by the organism in order to allow it to function and thrive in its environment. …


Astrocyte Glial Cells in the Brain

Quantum dot labeled connected astrocytes. Silva Lab, University of California San Diego

Imagine, if you will, a recipe you know well. Something delicious you’ve never made yourself but have seen your mom make many times. Let’s assume it’s pumpkin pie. The receipe calls for canned pumpkins, heavy cream, eggs, cornstarch, sugar, maybe even a touch of nutmeg. You’ve seen your mom make it more times than you can count. Geez, you could practically make it yourself from memory. But what if in reality, as it turns out, your mom’s pumpkin pie also requires sardines. Almost as much sardines as pumpkin. …


In Pursuit of the Transcendental Reality of Mathematics

Mathematics is this beautiful and private world of pure thought and pure reason. There is no war, no hunger, no pain. No suffering and no regrets. Only beauty. Beauty in its purest form without blemishes and without the messiness of the physical world. It is a product of thought and reason. It does not have any physical counterpart, and it is not an approximation of anything. It is by its very construction and conception its own self, and does not rely on or need to be apologetic for being represented by a less than perfect bastardization of its true nature…


Physical Constraints Regulate Information Dynamics

Connected neurons. Silva Lab, University of California San Diego

Everything the human brain is capable of is the product of a complex symphony of interactions between many distinct signaling events and myriad of individual computations. The brain’s ability to learn, connect abstract concepts, adapt, and imagine, are all the result of this vast combinatorial computational space. Even elusive properties such as self-awareness and consciousness presumably owe themselves to it. This computational space is the result of thousands of years of evolution, manifested by the physical and chemical substrate that makes up the brain — its ‘wetware’.

Physically, the brain is a geometric spatial network consisting of about 86 billion…


Machine Learning meets Neural Engineering

I’m going to confess something I’ve never told anyone. The inspiration for much of my current research at the intersection between neuroscience, mathematics, and machine learning was inspired by a single beautiful scene in the movie Ex Machina. There is a scene where the movie’s two protagonists Nathan and Caleb are in the lab where Nathan built Ava, a humanoid artificial intelligence (AI), where they share an exchange about how Nathan engineered Ava’s brain. “Structured gel. I had to get away from circuitry. I needed something that could arrange and re-arrange at a molecular level, but keep its form when…


When I tell people that I use mathematics and engineering to study and understand how the brain works, the reaction I get is oftentimes one of confusion. Despite the seemingly head scratching connection between the two, the reality is that we will never be able to understand how the brain works as a system without the use of mathematics and related applied fields of physics and engineering. To understand why, we first need to understand something about how complex the brain is.

The brain is truly a complex system, in the sense that the whole is greater than the sum…


A researcher explains the significance of brain organoids

A human-derived brain organoid. Image courtesy of Alysson Muotri’s lab at the University of California, San Diego

Your brain is not like mine. In fact, your brain is not like anyone else’s. I don’t mean that in some philosophical or abstract way; I mean it literally. The precise wiring of your brain is unique to you. During development, your genes specified a blueprint that resulted in your brain having roughly the same organization as mine. But that genetic blueprint wasn’t designed to specify the precise connection patterns between all the neurons in your brain.

The exact wiring diagram of the networks of cells in your brain is the result of random processes influenced by external and environmental…


When I was a kid I sometimes imagined that everyone I knew were actually alien beings that would put on human looking masks whenever they interacted with me. Whenever I wasn’t paying attention they would take off their masks and look, well, however it was they looked like in their natural state. It was as if I was at the center of some strange alien experiment that revolved around tricking me about the true nature of reality. My own personal Truman Show long before the movie ever came out. Of course, I never really believed it was real. But it…


There’s no sugar coating it. Writing is hard. Writing about science for a lay audience and the general public is really hard. You may have to communicate inherently difficult or abstract concepts, or provide a rationale for the interpretation of complex data. Often times the challenge is where to start. How much do you assume your reader knows coming in? Which begs the question: Whom are you writing for? It is impossible to write about science, engineering, and mathematics without assuming some degree of background knowledge and understanding, but how much and the level of detail of your exposition are…

Gabriel A. Silva

Professor of Bioengineering and Neurosciences, University of California San Diego

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