The brain isn’t supposed to change this much
Schoonover and Fink told me that they don't know why it happens, what it means, how the brain copes, or how much of the brain behaves in this way. "Up until now, observations of representational drift were confined to brain regions where we could tolerate it," Schoonover said. How does the brain know what the nose is smelling or what the eyes are seeing, if the neural responses to smells and sights are continuously changing? One possibility is that it somehow corrects for drift. "The connections in many parts of the brain are being formed and broken down continually, and each neuron is itself continually recycling cellular material," O'Leary said. The field has a very clear idea of how individual neurons work, but it gets much fuzzier when it comes to neuronal networks, entire brains, or the behavior of whole animals. The brain itself has to work with just half of that equation, a bunch of active neurons, to make sense of what might have triggered that activity. "People are really desperate for theories. The field is so immature conceptually that we're still at the point of collecting factlets, and we're not really in a position to rule anything out." Neuroscience's own representations of the brain still have plenty of room to drift.