Brain Networks vs Galaxy Networks – More Evidence of Odd Similarities

Brain universe similarity

When you look at microscopic pictures of neurons in the brain and telescopic pictures of the cosmic web there is a remarkable similarity which catches the eye.

Astrophysicist Franco Vazza, along with a neuroscientist colleague of his, recently published an article in (July 2017) describing the strange similarities in the structure and complexity of the brain and the universe. This was based on analytic studies they conducted to quantitatively compare these similarities.

Similarities in the Structure and Complexity of The Brain and The Universe

The peculiarities that they studied and presented are:

  • The number of neurons in the brain is around 100 billion. This is exactly around the number of galaxies in the universe – a 100 billion.

  • Doing a power spectrum analysis they conclude that the structural similarities between the brain and the universe are quantitatively significant. That is to say, they are not the result of human level perceptual illusions such as apophenia (though I think they actually meant pareidolia).

  • The structural similarities are not spectral in nature (like has been shown for other complex systems like clouds, tree branches, water turbulence or plasma).

  • The structural similarities are evident between the cerebellar (cerebellum) histology when observed at the scale of 0.1 to 1 mm and the cosmic web observed at the scale of ~ 100 billion light years.

  • The structural similarities are also evident between the cortical (cerebrum) histology when taken at the scale of 0.01 mm and the galactic structure on the scale of ~ 100 thousand light years.

  • The entirety of information stored in the human brain (around 2.5 Peta bytes) can just about also be stored into the distribution of galaxies in the entire universe (the estimated data capacity of which is around 1-10 Peta bytes).

The authors do bring to our attention that this does NOT mean there is a dynamic similarity between the two systems as well, especially with regards to the flow of information. This will be the focus of their future studies.

However, in the following discussion, people were suggesting this might indicate that the universe may be self-aware. As I critiqued the limitations of this (which I will discuss below), Franco Vazza gave me an insightful reply giving a sneak peek into their future article:

“That’s a perfect point! We could not write the derivation here, but according to our (still ongoing!) estimates, the Universe on the largest scales might have processed at most the same amount of information that a typical human brain can process in 0.1-1 seconds! Hence, at most, the cosmic web seems to be a “baby brain”.”

The Dynamic similarities between The Brain and The Universe

Although Franco Vazza et al. are still studying some of the dynamic similarities specifically with regards to information processing, there has been an earlier study on this phenomena by physicist Dmitri Krioukov and his team. This study was published in nature (2012). In comparing the growth dynamics and structure of the universe they found unexpected similarities to other complex networks such as biological networks (the brain), social networks and the internet:

“This equivalence suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of complex networks and spacetime in the universe, with implications to network science and cosmology.”

Does this mean the cosmos is a conscious brain?

Before getting into this I want to make it clear that neither of the study authors just cited make an explicit claim of this sort.

“By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer,” – Dimitri Krioukov

Whereas Dimitri Kriokov makes this explicitly clear, Franco Vazza has hinted at the possibility of it being a “baby brain”.

Others, however, are not so shy to make that leap. Bernardo Kastrup, a computer scientist specializing in Artificial Intelligence, makes this exact claim in support of nondualism (philosophical idealism) on his blog post and his video presentation. As he claims that the brain like appearance of the cosmos suggests that we have a second person perspective to the first person experience of cosmic inner life. Similar to how a neuroscientist has a second person perspective to our first person conscious experience.

On the other hand critics like cognitive scientist Joscha Bach (who also has a special interest in Artificial Intelligence) point towards the potential fallacies of this approach in his blog post. He points out how image comparisons can be misleading and the fundamental limitations of the amount of information processing possible by the universe, given the speed of light is minuscule compared to the size of the cosmos. The latter argument is also the one I made on Franco Vazza’s Nautilus post. The first argument, however, seems not to hold up given that a quantitative analysis was done by researchers confirming the similarity.

In a rebuttal post, Bernardo contends:

“Indeed, I feel so confident in my refutation of Bach’s straw-man arguments that I will even expose myself by speculating: the conscious inner life of the cosmos as a whole is, experientially, comparable to a brief moment of human cognition, just as Bach argues.”

Such a claim appears to be consistent with what Franco’s speculative suggestion is as well (of the cosmos being a “baby brain”).

My personal criticisms and speculations


I think we can safely say that the cosmic inner life of Bernardo isn’t the same as the conscious human experience (as I think he also agrees). This is because although there seems to be a structural similarity between the two, they are not dynamically equivalent. The dynamic similarity presented by Dimitri Krioukov is of structural evolution and not of information processing. Franco Vazza is working on the information processing type of dynamic similarity but in this, their speculation is that the amount of information processed may be equivalent to 0.1-1 sec of brain processing.

I suspect that given the enormous distances between galaxies (hundreds of thousands to few million light years) any change brought about by their intercommunication would be tiny as compared to the local changes that would have occurred in them. For example, the size of the universe is ~ 100 billion light years, this means a communication between one end to the other (at light speed) would take a 100 billion years. This is 7 times the whole life of the universe itself, hence before the communication is made much more would have happened locally. This would limit the signaling to have any meaningful impact on the morphology. Compare that to the brain, the speed of communication (action potentials) is very fast as compared to its size, hence the communication is having meaningful impacts on the morphology.

The following is extremely speculative and represents my personal ponderings rather than opinions. For the most part these haven't been validated in mainstream science.

Given that the biggest obstacle to the universe being able to process information like the Brain seems to be the maximum speed of communication i.e. the speed of light, is there a way to overcome this?

Hypothetical ways to do this may be:

  • By use of Tachyonic Antitelephones – These are based on a hypothetical particle in theoretical physics called the ‘Tachyon’ which can travel at speeds faster than the speed of life and hence enable communication into the past.
  • If Psi research in Precognition is true as I discussed in my previous post. It would allow us to imagine a paradigm in which information can be communicated transcending the barriers of time and causality.
  • Quantum entanglement could be utilized for instantaneous communication. This does not seem possible (as far as mainstream physics is concerned) as I did criticize in the Nautilus post. This is because quantum entanglement is based on random chance. However, I do see one way in which it could be possible, that is if some of the research in taking the mind outside the body is true. This will be a discussion for a later post.

So what do you think? Do the similarities in structure, complexity and specific dynamics of the Universe and Brain convey something profound?


  1. I’m surprised people have put this much thought into this concept. (Although given Greg Matloff’s recent speculation about conscious stars, maybe I shouldn’t be.)

    My reaction is that the speed of light limit and the ongoing expansion of the universe make this implausible. Under general relativity, 97% of the observable universe is already forever unreachable, even if we left right now at the speed of light. Under established physics, there’s no mechanism for the large scale back and forth communication that would be necessary from one side of a brain to the other.

    Granted if we introduce tachyons, quantum entanglement communication, or other speculative concepts, we can make it work conceptually. But, at least in my mind, the necessity of doing that makes the idea far less compelling.

    1. I agree with you totally on this Mike. Although I do want to know what you make of Franco Vazza’s comment with regards to their ongoing study, in saying the Universe may be a baby brain (of 0.1 to 1 sec old)?

      1. I have to admit that I haven’t read Vazza’s article. But given the metric expansion of space, it’s hard to imagine even 0.1 seconds of thought. It’d be like an embryo brain trying to form as its neurons were being pulled apart so fast that a nerve signal from one side of the brain never had a chance to reach the other side.

        At best, some regions might have a few milliseconds to interact before they’re pulled apart. It’s hard to see how any consciousness would even have a chance to begin.

      2. Sorry guys, but I indeed happen to be a numerical cosmologist, so I am fully aware that there is indeed a limitation to the speed at which information can be exchanged across the expanding Universe, given its finite age and accelerated expansion rate. The **analogy** with a baby brain stems indeed from the fact that in its entire ~13.7Gyr age, information could have crossed the expanding observable Universe only a limited amount of time – by comparing this to the propagation speed within a neuronal network (which btw much less than the speed of light of course) we get this number of 0.1-1 sec analogy.
        Which, better to stress it again, just an iconic analogy!
        None of us (I mean Vazza+Feletti) seriously thinks that the Universe is a brain of any sort! This is just an analogy, of the kind (admittedly more extreme) which is often done in physics, e.g. comparing a damped harmonic oscillator to an RLC circuit: entirely different physical processes, similar evolutionary patterns, useful analogy. That’s it. Anyway, thanks for the interest in all this.

  2. There are a couple of things that strike me here. The first is blatant anthropocentrism. It’s as if “100 billion” is somehow a special number because the human brain happens to contain that many neurons. Hallelujah! I guess the reasoning is that if there are 100 billion galaxies then maybe this isn’t a coincidence, but rather perhaps these star systems are conscious! The argument just wouldn’t resonate if the number correlated with half our neurons and a conscious animal with that many were identified, or even twice our number. No it needed to be 100 billion given standard anthropocentrism. (Actually I believe that the estimate is now 88 billion human neurons, a figure obtained through the impressive work of Dr Herculano-Houzel. I’ve mentioned her Brain Science 133 interview here before, but again the link is:

    Secondly I wonder if some of the impetus behind this work isn’t an appeal to the astrology market? I doubt that astrology is quite as pop culture today as I recall it being back in the 80s in high school when the “What’s your sign?” catch phrase was so popular. But I’ve heard that adherents to this pseudoscience do still have an earnest following today. They surely appreciate this sort of speculation.

    1. Thanks, Eric, it is interesting that we see the ~ 100 billion number repeating. I’m sure they’ll be other animals with around 100 billion neurons as well. There are roughly 100 billion stars in an average galaxy as well. Though the structural similarity with the brain seems only to occur at the level of the largest structure definable i.e. the cosmic web.
      I don’t know if the impetus might be to the astrology market, though I seriously doubt it is. Since these scientists don’t seem to be concerned with that sort of stuff. The structural similarity does not seem to be a speculation anymore since it has been now quantitatively proven to exist. Consciousness is obviously speculative, but if we were to adhere to the integrative model of consciousness which seems to be in fashion these days then it seems possible to speculate about the consciousness of the universe.
      I’m sure all sorts of astrologers and new age gurus like Deepak Chopra will be all over this soon enough.

      1. It’s worth noting that the 100 billion number is actually a very rough estimate in all the compared domains, now somewhat dated. A recent actual measurement for human brains averages 86 billion neurons (only 16 billion of which are in the cerebral cortex, with 69 billion in the cerebellum devoted to fine motor coordination), the number of stars in the Milky Way may be as high as 400 billion, and recent estimates of the number of galaxies in the visible universe have risen to more than two trillion.

        1. Thanks Mike for sharing that, yes these are rough estimates. However could you give me a reference for the total number of galaxies? because it’s interesting that in the article, he says its in the order of 100 billion (and he’s an astrophysicist!). With regards to the neuronal cells in the brain I was trying to make shortcuts, the authors say exactly as you do for neuron numbers but that there are also non-neuronal cells around 9 billion in the cortex and 16 billion in the cerebellum, all of it equates to a 100 billion cells. And with regards to the number of stars in a galaxy its also just a rough estimate for the average galaxy, these numbers do keep on varying. But not to get too stuck on numbers the studies focus more on the structural and dynamic similarities. The most interesting one would when they publish their findings on the amount of information processed as compared to the brain (if that’s even possible).

          1. Hi Fizan,
            On the number of galaxies in the observable universe:
            This is pretty recent research, but not so recent that an astrophysicist shouldn’t be aware of it.

            But on cell numbers, again this is recent research by Suzana Herculano-Houzel who figured out a way to measure the numbers. Her numbers are 86 billion neurons in the human brain, with 16 billion in the cerebral cortex, 69 billion in the cerebellum, 1 billion in subcortical regions, and roughly the same number of glial cells (astrocytes, myelin, etc) as the overall number of neurons, putting the overall cell count for the human brain around 170 billion.

            On galaxy star counts, as I understand it, the Milky Way is on the large side of galaxies (although it’s very far from the largest one). Most galaxies are dwarf galaxies, with far fewer stars than in the Milky Way, typically less than a billion according to Wikipedia.

            I agree that when you look at the structure of the cosmic web, it bears a striking resemblance to neuronal networks, but it doesn’t seem to hold up once we get into the details.

          2. Thanks for the link Mike. From that article, it does seem that way. It is strange that an astrophysicist seems unaware of it (and a neuroscientist seems unaware of the 170 billion brain cells). Anyway, perhaps the number wasn’t the focus for them rather the structure. With regards to the structure, I think they do prove that it actually DOES hold up and it’s not just a matter of naked eye similarities.

            On the number of galaxies, I think there may be something else to consider as has been touched upon in this article

            The most distant galaxies are from the earliest times after the big bang, when most of them were small (dwarf) galaxies and were numerous in number. Since then they have been merging to form larger (proper) ones. This means this picture is from the past, more so than the picture of the nearer more visible galaxies.

            The Lambda-CDM model predicts that the earliest clumps that formed in the smooth material after the Big Bang should have averaged about a million solar masses each (dark matter and normal matter combined). That’s about the mass of a typical globular cluster today, and a millionth the total mass of the Milky Way. That’s the mass down to which Conselice’s team ran their extrapolations to come up with their count.

            So it seems it’s a question of where you draw the line of what to include as a galaxy. The ones visible in the furthest are also furthest in the past and since then may have clumped (as expected) to become larger ones and in turn reducing the number down to the expected.

  3. Although, the number of galaxies in the universe is NOT 100 billion. It’s about 2 Trillion galaxies “only in the observable” universe.

    1. Thanks for the comment Eli. This was brought up by Mike above as well, please do see my reply to him above.
      I think at minimum I would expect an Astrophysicist to be aware of the number of galaxies in the observable universe. However, I suspect the issue isn’t as straightforward as we might imagine and it comes down to where they like to draw the lines. The most distant ‘galaxies’ are just small clumps of early stars, shortly after the big bang. The light of these is only reaching us now and if they had evolved like the rest of the universe (during the time the light took to get to us) they would most likely have clumped together to form larger and larger galaxies similar to the one we live in and others we see that are relatively near to us. This process reduces the number down significantly. You can find more details in the link I shared in my previous comment.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *