Human Cities Are Similar To The Human Neocortex
Cities and brains maintain interconnectedness in similar ways, according to a new study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The study compares specific structures in cities with structures in the human neocortex.
“Natural selection has passively guided the evolution of mammalian brains throughout time, just as politicians and entrepreneurs have indirectly shaped the organization of cities large and small,” said Mark Changizi, a neurobiology expert and assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer, who led the study. “It seems both of these invisible hands have arrived at a similar conclusion: brains and cities, as they grow larger, have to be similarly densely interconnected to function optimally.”
Here are some of the more specific results from the study:
The number of highways in a city is prima facie analogous to the number of white-matter-projecting, pyramidal neurons in neocortex... The number of highways increases in larger cities as approximately the 0.759 power of land area, similar to the exponent of 3/4 found for the number of neurons as a function of total convoluted surface area in neocortex.
Analogous to synapses in neocortex are highway exits in city highway systems (measured as the number of exits for a unidirectional traversal of all highway stretches). [The data] shows that the number of highway exits increases as about the 1.138 power of land area, or approximately as the 9/8 power... For neocortex, it is known that the total number of synapses—which scales proportionally to gray matter volume — scales approximately as the 9/8 = 1.125 power of total convoluted surface area.
(Common Scaling Laws for City Highway Systems and the Mammalian Neocortex (pdf))
The study is essentially insisting that human cities present a well-defined connection with human brains. The first time I read about the idea that alien brains might design in alien ways was in science fiction.
In his excellent 1969 novel The Man in the Maze, Robert Silverberg speculates on whether or not aliens who were very different from human beings might create different works. In the novel, telepathic alien overseers had taken over the working humans on several space colonies, and then started them working on alien projects. Alien construction and human construction thus lay side-by-side.
Screens showed him the surface picture; via template overlay he was able to compare the configurations of the outposts below with the pattern as it had been before the alien conquest.
The original settlements appeared on his screen in violet, and the recent extensions in red. Muller observed that about each of the colonies, regardless of its original ground plan, there had sprouted a network of angular streets and jagged avenues. Instinctively he recognized the geometries as alien... Aliens built in alien ways.
From Common Scaling Laws for City Highway Systems and the Mammalian Neocortex (pdf) via Science Daily
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