The ORIGINAL GPS: Our Brain
By Shlomo Maital
The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology & Medicine has been announced. It is shared between John O’Keefe, American-born scientist at University College, London; and a husband and wife team, May-Britt and Edvard Moser, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.
Here is what they discovered:
O’Keefe: How do we know where we are? How can we find the way from one place to another? And how can we store this information in such a way that we can immediately find the way the next time we trace the same path? This year´s Nobel Laureates have discovered a positioning system, an “inner GPS” in the brain that makes it possible to orient ourselves in space, demonstrating a cellular basis for higher cognitive function. In 1971, John O´Keefe discovered the first component of this positioning system. He found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus that was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. Other nerve cells were activated when the rat was at other places. O´Keefe concluded that these “place cells” formed a map of the room.
In other words: many many centuries before GPS technology was invented, our BRAINS developed their own internal GPS mapping system. Amazing?
Moser’s: More than three decades later, in 2005, May-Britt and Edvard Moser discovered another key component of the brain’s positioning system. They identified another type of nerve cell, which they called “grid cells”, that generate a coordinate system and allow for precise positioning and pathfinding. Their subsequent research showed how place and grid cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate.
The discoveries of John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries – how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?
For those who are religious and believe in the Creator, this amazing capability of the brain to orient us using specialized brain cells, and creating grids, GPS coordinates and maps, is a fine example of the miraculous nature of the human brain. Congratulations to these scientists for helping us understand how this works!