It’s huge, it’s unprecedented and it’s likely to yield results that we were previously unknown to us.  Yes, we’re describing a human brain, but we’re also describing the study that has been recently commissioned by the federal government.  The New York Times reported in February 2013 (as reported on arstechnica.com,) that three billion dollars will be spent over the next ten years to “map the activity and processes that power the human brain.”

The purposes of the studies and exactly what they’ll be studying are confusing for the uninitiated (well, me), but let’s see if I can do this.

Scientists feel they understand how things in the brain are connected.  Which neurons are connected to which, for instance.  So in the words of John Donoghue, a researcher from Brown University, who’s helping to formulate the structure of the research said, “it’s not a wiring diagram we’re looking for, it’s a functional map, an understanding.”  So we know what’s connected; now we need to learn what those connections do.

To further illustrate, human brain activities, such as memory and simply being conscious, require the actions of multiple neurons and connections.  The study will attempt to determine exactly how many and how they are connected and at what level.

The research money will not be spent with one team at one university or at one laboratory.  It will be spread to numerous research facilities who are already conducting some related research.  So a system to share this information will be a big part of the research as well.

Regarding the big question…”how does it all work?”   Donaghue said that it is his hope that the research will ultimately provide "a way of understanding how you turn thought into action, how you perceive, the nature of the mind, cognition."

Think about the incredible strides we’ve made in the last 25 years.  AIDS has gone from a life threatening illness to a treatable condition; we’ve completed the human genome sequence.  We now know the genetic blueprint for humans.

So, do you think we’ll know how the brain works in ten years?  My guess is no.  But it’s exciting to contemplate what we might learn and how that will affect the world we live in.