Human Brain Bears a Surprising Resemblance to the Universe

A neuroscientist and an astrophysicist compared the complex structures of galaxies and neural networks.
Chris Young

The complex web of neurons inside our brains look oddly similar to the cosmic network of galaxies, an astrophysicist and a neurosurgeon from Italy have said. 

University of Bologna astrophysicist Franco Vazza and University of Verona neurosurgeon Alberto Feletti detailed the surprising similarities in a new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Physics. 

Despite the overwhelming size difference, the human brain shows similar levels of complexity and self-organization, the researchers say.


Neural and cosmic networks

The human brain contains approximately 69 billion neurons, while the observable universe is estimated to contain at least 100 billion galaxies.

Within both systems, only 30 percent of their masses are composed of galaxies and neurons. Galaxies and neurons both arrange themselves in long branching filaments.

Lastly, within both systems, the remaining 70 percent of the mass or energy plays a seemingly passive role: water in the brain and dark energy in the observable universe.

"We calculated the spectral density of both systems," Vazza explained in a press release. "This is a technique often employed in cosmology for studying the spatial distribution of galaxies."

"Our analysis showed that the distribution of the fluctuation within the cerebellum neuronal network on a scale from 1 micrometer to 0.1 millimeters follows the same progression of the distribution of matter in the cosmic web," he added, "but, of course, on a larger scale that goes from 5 million to 500 million light-years."

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Expanding our knowledge

What's behind these eerie similarities? The researchers say it may just be down to the fact that the same physical principles apply to the two incredibly complex structures. 

"Probably, the connectivity within the two networks evolves following similar physical principles, despite the striking and obvious difference between the physical powers regulating galaxies and neurons," Feletti explained.

The duo hopes that their study will help us to further our knowledge of the evolution of the universe and the human brain by enabling new analysis techniques in cosmology as well as neuroscience.

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