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Michio Kaku once said, “The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” But what if I say that it isn’t only a complex object in our universe but a replica of the universe itself at a smaller scale? No, I am not kidding. In a paper published in November 2020, named “The quantitative comparison between the neuronal network and the cosmic web,” researchers found scientific evidence that stated that the universe is just like a giant human brain.
Networking in human brain vs the networking in the universe
Neurons are the cells that process information from different senses and send those signals to our body through the nervous system. Our brain has about 80 billion neurons that are well connected and communicate through connections called axons and dendrites. As per estimates, more than 100 trillion connections exist between neurons forming our body’s neural network.
On the other hand, the observable universe is approximately 90 billion light-years in diameter and contains hundreds of billions to a few trillion galaxies. Further, these galaxies contain billions of stars and are grouped into galaxy clusters. For instance, our Milky Way is part of the Local Group, which contains more than 50 other galaxies, including the neighboring Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies. These are, in turn, part of a larger group called the Virgo Supercluster.
Moreover, the space between groups and clusters is not empty. Rather it hosts filaments of ordinary and dark matter stretching for millions of light-years and connecting the superclusters. In this way, it wouldn’t be wrong if we assume our universe to be a giant network of galaxy clusters interconnected similarly to neural networks in the brain. And this network is what we call the Cosmic Web.
So what did the researchers actually study?
Following an amazing collaboration between the experts from neuroscience and astrophysics, researchers used 4 micrometer thick slices of the brain’s outer layer called the cortex. This brain region mainly contains sensory information and is responsible for processing language and thoughts. These were compared to 25 megaparsec thick slices of Universe.
No, no one literally cut down the universe into slices. Rather, here I referred to the virtual slices taken from a computer that simulated a volume of 1 million cubic megaparsecs of space. Although these slices differ by order of 27 magnitudes in size, they could still be considered relatively comparable in thickness. Later, the brain tissue was magnified, and final observations were made.
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Striking results showing similarities between the brain and our universe
When the magnification of the brain tissue reached 40 times the actual size, researchers saw some striking similarities in the structure of the human brain and the universe. It’s worth mentioning that a 40x magnification represents a scale of 0.01-1.6mm in the brain and 1-100 megaparsecs in the Universe. In addition, scientists observed that the brain’s neuronal network appeared like galaxy clusters.
To ensure their observations, researchers measured the length of connections and analyzed the degree of organization and randomness in both systems. As the nucleus of a neuron is much smaller in radius than the length of connecting axons and dendrites, the galaxy clusters were also much smaller in radius than the length of connecting filaments.
Apart from this, the researchers also noted two other interesting similarities between the brain structure and the Cosmic Web. First, the human brain is 77% water; similarly, the Cosmic Web is also approximately 73% dark energy. Both the water and dark energy are not referred to as a part of the network itself but are considered passive materials or passive energy.
Secondly, the amount of computational data required to map the universe is comparable to the theoretical memory storage limits of the human brain. For instance, about 1-10 Petabytes of data is needed to model the entire universe, and even the total storage capacity of the human brain is about 2.5 Petabytes. This indirectly means that the human brain could theoretically store a good portion of the observable Universe’s structure.
Are there any differences?
We have only discussed the similarities that exist between the human brain and the universe. However, the brain samples used were from the cortex only, and the whole human brain is not uniform. Moreover, different parts of the brain are structured for different purposes, whereas the Universe is almost uniform in nearly all directions. Even the links between neurons in the brain transmit sensory information, while links in the Universe transmit only energy and matter.
Vazza F and Feletti A, the key authors of the study, concluded that their findings “hint at the fact that similar network configurations can emerge from the interaction of entirely different physical processes, resulting in similar levels of complexity and self-organization, despite the dramatic disparity in spatial scales of these two systems.”
This study has undoubtedly paved the way for developing more powerful algorithms to discover even more similarities between the human brain and the Universe. Till now, we have believed that we are made up of stardust. But who knows that maybe we also contain a mini replica of the entire universe within ourselves!
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Editor at ‘The Secrets Of The Universe’, I have completed my Master’s in Physics from India and I am soon going to join Institute of Space Sciences, Barcelona for my doctoral studies on Exoplanets. I love to write about a plethora of topics concerned with planetary sciences, observational astrophysics, quantum mechanics and atomic physics, along with the advancements taking place in the space industry.