Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Lorenzo Circuit: fact or fiction?

DTI image
DTI image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've had a lot of fun writing A Box Of Birds, but nothing has given me quite as much pleasure as making up this kind of thing:
I touch the remote. Another hologrammic brain ghosts up in front of our eyes, its shapes made perfect by countless superimposed iterations. Running through it, like the root system of some supernatural orchid, is the vermilion net of the Lorenzo Circuit. I’m always stunned by it, humbled and threatened by its beauty, by the ambition of the thing as much as anything. It leaves nothing out: the control systems of the frontal lobe, the emotion circuits of the limbic system, all the linked factories of meaning that patch the human cortex. That swirl of self on the screen shows me a dream of connectedness, challenges me to be more whole than I am.
This is an extract from Chapter One (which can be read in its entirety here). The Lorenzo Circuit is (in my protagonist Yvonne's words) 'the deep root-system of the self... the basis of memory, emotion and consciousness in the human brain'. It is fictional, but I also think it is plausible. Much of the plot of A Box Of Birds hangs on the race to map its secrets.

Here's the context. One of the most exciting discoveries in the recent neuroscience of memory has been the finding that there is a core network that underlies capacities as diverse as autobiographical memory, simulating future events, thinking about the mental states of others, and daydreaming. Neuroimaging studies have shown that similar cortical areas activate when people are doing these tasks, and evidence from brain damage (such as studies that have looked at future-oriented thinking in people with amnesia) has confirmed the neural overlap.

I wanted to take this idea of a core system underlying memory and run with it as far as I could. In the novel, I imagine how a team of researchers might become obsessed with mapping such a circuit, using the techniques of connectomics such as diffusion MRI. Yvonne's world is technologically more advanced than ours—she has access to portable neuroimaging devices, for example, such as those on view in the first chapter. But the Lorenzo Circuit is plausible in the context of our own science, particularly given the breakthroughs in connectomics and neuroimaging that have been making the news in recent months.

If you knew enough about this fictional circuit, my characters reason, you could start to understand how memory and emotion come together in creating a conscious self. When Gareth (Yvonne's unstable student) gets hold of this information, it gives a new focus to his scheme to augment memory artificially. As the truth emerges about the secret experiments that are going on at the headquarters of the rival biotech, Sansom, the mapping of the Lorenzo Circuit takes on an entirely new urgency. And that's where the story really hots up.

(If you like the sound of this, you can help to make the book happen by going here.)

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  1. Hi Charles, I think your work is really interesting, especially your focus on the link between neuroscientific discovery and consciousness. I'd be really interested in your thoughts on neuro essentialism.

  2. Thanks for your comment. 'Neuroessentialism' could mean different things - can you elaborate?

  3. By neuroessentialism I'm referring to the view that everything about humans beings and the way they behave can be explained in neuroscientific terms, that is, that all our behaviour (& all that we are) is simply an expression of the way our brains are wired.

    1. Thanks - that's very much the philosophy I'm exploring in this book!

  4. Well in that case now I can't wait to read it & see what you come up with!

  5. Thanks. The first three chapters are already freely downloadable. See the latest blog post.