The Brain Week

The Brain Week brings together a series of scientific events that aim to raise awareness of the importance of brain research.

But it also provides an opportunity to exchange information through conferences and other events on this very special organ, which plays a central role in our lives.

To present it to you, we interviewed the person who has been in charge of its organisation for 10 years, Roland Salesse, an agricultural engineer, Doctor of Science, and Scientific Culture Officer, who has worked for a long time at the INRAE Centre in Jouy-en-Josas, in the Olfaction Neurobiology Unit.

What is the Brain Week?

Hello Roland, we know you mainly as a member of the scientific board of the 5 Senses 4 Kids Foundation and among your many activities, you are also involved in the coordination of the Brain Week.

Can you tell us more about this international event?

Roland Salesse: Hello. Indeed, I have been coordinating “Brain Week” for 10 years at the national level for the French Neuroscience Society . Since last year, I have handed over to colleagues. Now I am in charge of the relations and partnerships of the Society for Neuroscience with the different academic and private partners.

The Brain Week is in its 24th edition in 2022. It is a scientific event that has grown considerably over the last twelve years. This is largely because we have been able to “see the brain thinks” thanks to all the advances in brain imaging.

As a result, the brain has become a media organ, so to speak, whose activation images we have been able to see. And as everyone is either interested or concerned about the functioning of their brain, more and more people have come to see us.

The Brain Week is really about sharing with those who come to attend our scientific events. We can exchange on their questions and on the possible answers we can give them on the functioning of the brain and its driving role for the human being.

The Brain Week programme

What types of events are you organising during this week in France and what themes are you mainly highlighting?

Roland Salesse: It is important to see how the Brain Week is organised. Local independent committees, generally based in university towns, organise the week’s events. Each committee, depending on the major orientations of research in its field and the demands it faces, proposes a programme independently.

First, there was the impact of COVID, which forced us to move from being entirely face-to-face to being almost entirely distance learning. And finally, we have now managed to organise both face-to-face and distance learning events.

As we also offer our events in replay, we have had much more attendance than usual. We had reached around 80,000 people in total in person. Now, we are at over 100,000.

Given the diversity of the programmes, it’s difficult to say that we are highlighting this or that subject. For example, I see on the Brain Week website at the moment: the relationship between the skin and the nervous system. The skin and the nervous system are of the same embryonic origin. Basically, they work in parallel. When you have psychological problems, this can lead to eczema.

There are also more and more things that revolve around what is called neuro-education. Neuro-education is the possibility that we now have of seeing into the heads of children (even toddlers) as well as adults, and of knowing what happens when they are learning.

In Grenoble, the inaugural conference will be held with the participation of musicians. And at the Baby Lab of the University of Grenoble, they are studying the relationship between listening to the voice, to music and the development of language. We are beginning to ask questions that are relatively complex and that require years of study to follow the children and develop protocols that can highlight the mechanisms.

In a few words, what are the functions of the brain, what does it do? Does stimulating our five senses contribute to the proper functioning of the brain?

Roland Salesse: It serves all purposes, if I may say so. It should be pointed out that we have never seen a brain without a body and a body without a brain. In fact, there is a close relationship between the two. The brain carries the representation of the external world and our internal world and synthesises them.

It directs our decision-making and behaviour in this complex world.

Of course, there is a tendency to focus on the senses because that is the relationship with the outside world. It is thanks to to multi-sensory development that the brain will be able to construct a representation of the real world. And as the child grows, it will adjust this representation of the real world so that it is increasingly rich and functional.

It is not only the senses that are involved. We talk a lot about the 5 senses, but there is also interoception, self-awareness: in each case, self-awareness evolves with age. It even evolves at each moment according to our inner state.

This inner perception will also enable us to compare our state with the outside world. This happens by itself because the circuits of the baby’s brain are already pre-wired, but not specialised, in its perceptions and in their integration. It is gradually, with experience, that these circuits will become more efficient and build relationships between them.

Does the brain control our senses or is it the other way around?

Roland Salesse: We tend to say that the brain controls everything. We researchers say that the brain is plastic.

That is to say that it knows how to adapt to the information it receives, in particular sensory information. It will establish a cerebral representation of its perceptions and acquired experience, as well as our physiological state, to decide what behaviour to adopt.

With the brain, it is always more complicated. Even a single cell is already capable of knowing whether it is in a favourable environment or not. In fact, a multicellular animal like man has a greater capacity to integrate both the state of ourselves and the world to adapt our behaviour.

With the rise of artificial intelligence and new technologies, how can we continue to take good care of our brain? Do you have any advice on how to keep our brains from falling asleep?

Roland Salesse: This is an area where I am not very competent. I will share with you an opinion that I have gleaned from my reading. There are two trends: the idea of rejecting technologies that would prevent our brains from developing normally; and on the other hand, the idea that all the new technologies would help the brain to develop or to reserve for itself the most noble and creative tasks.

It is difficult to say. There are results that go both ways: both from neuroscientists like Stanislas Dehaene and his team, who are developing software on tablets to help educate small children; and from other neuroscientists like Michel Desmurget, who talk about La fabrique du crétin digital.

If our memory is entirely deported to machines, how are we going to organise the relations between the different memories in our brain that are closely linked to our perception of the world and ourselves?

That machines help us is undeniable. We can see this in research, where there is a real rush towards artificial intelligence, which allows us to go much further in the complex interpretation of huge databases.

In everyday life, it seems to me much more questionable. I think it is important that small children are constantly confronted with reality, and not only with virtual reality, to realise the integration of all their senses and themselves in the world.

The link between 5 Senses 4 Kids Foundation and the Brain Week

Roland Salesse: The Brain Week is a very open event. It is organised by neuroscientists, but in close relationship with civil society: individuals, associations, endowments and foundations. These relationships allow the Brain Week to go a little further into the questions that patients and families have about new care, especially for neurodegenerative diseases.

It also allows us to answer questions about disease prevention or how to live as long as possible in good health. We know that everything starts in early childhood and even during pregnancy, during the first 1,000 days when our personality begins to take shape. 5 senses for kids Foundation aims to promote researches and initiatives on the early years because these early years contribute, together with the maternal and family environment and the social environment, to the well-being and health of children