PAST SEMINARS IN SOCIETY AND NEUROSCIENCE

Spring 2016


Neuroscience and Education
May 2, 2016

Speakers:
David Hansen, PhD, John L & Sue Ann Weinberg Professor in Historical & Philosophical Foundations of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, EdD, Associate Professor of Education, Psychology & Neuroscience, University of Southern California
Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Moderator: Andrew Goldman, PhD, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

As our understanding of neuroscience grows, so too does our potential ability to apply that knowledge to the betterment of society.  Education is a clear example of this; a scientific understanding of how we learn can help us form more effective ways to teach.  In order for this enterprise to be successful, we must reflect on what educational challenges face society today, where and how, specifically, neuroscience might help us structure policy and pedagogy, and the moral and ethical principles that define what education is and question what it ought to be.


Prediction: How Forecasting and Prospection Shape Thought ?
April 18, 2016

Speakers:
David Danks, PhD, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University
Karl Friston, MBBS, MRCPsych, Wellcome Principal Research Fellow and Scientific Director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging; Professor of Neurology, University College London
Carol Krumhansl, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Cornell University

Moderator: Christopher Peacocke, PhD, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University

Prediction plays a fundamental role in cognition. Accurate prediction allows humans and other animals to act in ways that anticipate future states of the environment, potentially reducing the threat posed by dangers and increasing the benefits of positive events. Prediction also permits cognitive systems to forecast what will happen beyond the next instant, or forecast what would happen were the world different. Cognitive systems can plan, strategize, and learn by using prediction and forecasting to adapt to a changing environment.

The theory of predictive coding suggests that higher cortical areas integrate environmental information from perception and sensation and contextual information from memory to generate hypotheses about the state of the world. Subsequent sensory feedback is integrated into this information to help detect differences between the original hypothesis and the actual state. These differences, called prediction errors, can be utilized to update hypotheses, generating new predictions about how the environment is changing. In the past two decades, theory and research has made central the importance of predictive coding in the computational foundations of both human perception and cognition and machine learning. In this seminar, the merits and pitfalls of this approach to understanding the brain and cognition will be explored.


Imag(in)ing Sex in the Brain
March 21, 2016

Speakers:
Jonathan Beller, Professor of Humanities and Media Studies and Critical and Visual Studies, Pratt Institute
Vanessa Bentley, Department of Philosophy, University of Cincinnati
Hannah Fitsch, Scientific Assistant, ZIFG – Center for Interdisciplinary Women’s and Gender Studies, Technische Universität Berlin
Gina Rippon, Professor and Chair of Cognitive Neuroimaging, Aston Brain Centre, Aston University

Brain images are increasingly important in scientific and public discourse of sex and difference. Feminist scholars from neuroscience, philosophy, and cultural & media studies discuss how sex/gender gets into brain images, and what we can (and can’t) get out of such images.


The Perception of Time
February 22, 2016

Speakers:
C. Randy Gallistel, PhD, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers, The State University of NJ
David Laibson, PhD, Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics and Chairman of the Department of Economics, Harvard University
Michael Shadlen, MD, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience and HHMI Investigator, Columbia University

Moderator: Daphna Shohamy, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, Columbia University

Most living things have evolved with an innate sense of the passing of time. Humans, and perhaps many other species, have the ability to estimate relatively short and long periods of time and can remember specific events in their lives in the context of time. How is time experienced and encoded in the brain, and how are memories created and kept on the spectrum of time? If we utilize both time and memory information to make predictions about the world, how does the degree of accuracy with which imagined future events can be located in time affect the coherence of the decisions that we make?

This seminar will explore the fields of neuroscience, psychology and economics to discuss what we know about how people and other animals are able to be aware of the passage of time, the relationship between time and memory, and the behavioral consequences of accuracy or inaccuracy in the perception of time.

Fall 2015


12-14-2015 difficult decisions image small

Difficult Decisions: The Complexities of Choice in the Real World
December 14, 2015

Speakers:
Alessandra Casella, PhD, Professor of Economics, Columbia University
L. A. Paul, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Michael Platt, PhD, James S. Riepe University Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience and Marketing, University of Pennsylvania

Moderator: David Barack, PhD, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

In the Odyssey, Agamemnon faces the classic tragic choice: he must decide whether or not to sacrifice his daughter to the goddess Artemis so that she will rekindle the wind for the Greek warships to sail to Troy. With the sacrifice, he loses his daughter; without it, he loses command.

The real world is full of difficult decisions like Agamemnon’s, albeit rarely to the same degree. These include decisions that act against our self-interests (so-called ‘akratic actions’) or primarily benefit others (altruistic actions), decisions motivated by factors besides reward (such as for information or prestige), and decisions that hold only the possibility of an uncertain reward in the uncertain future (such as deciding to invest in an education). These decision contexts often lack a best course. Despite these complexities, immediate rewards and optimal analyses remain the central focus of research on decision-making in economics, psychology, and neuroscience. These fields typically rely on subjects earning the most money, points, or treats to investigate the neural and computational mechanisms of decision-making.

Can the computational processes involved in real-life decisions be described using these basic models of motivation and reward, or must we develop a new set of tools? Is it possible to circumvent the optimal perspective of decision-making, or can we only make sense of the best decisions? Can an analysis of decision-making reflect the intuitively diverse reasons for which people act, or must all decisions, ultimately, invoke some reward ― if not now, then in the future, and if not in our future, then for our legacy or our community? In this seminar, our panelists will discuss these difficult decisions that shape our lives and our world.


Starry Night Brain hir-es

What Can Neuroscience Offer the Study of Creativity?
November 23, 2015

Speakers:
Rex Jung, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, University of New Mexico
James Kaufman, PhD, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Connecticut
Colleen Thomas-Young, Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Dance, Barnard College

Moderator: Andrew Goldman, PhD, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

Questions about creativity from artistic, sociological, psychological, biological, computational, philosophical, and other perspectives have long asked how people (and machines) generate ideas, solve problems, and create works of art.  Historical and anthropological studies teach us how concepts like “creativity” and “genius” are contingent and change over time and place.  Recent advances in neuroscience offer a new perspective with potential contributions to an explanation of the mechanisms, development, and origins of human creative faculties.  How can neuroscience most effectively complement these other disciplines?  What does it have to offer?  What are its limitations?  How could it benefit from other perspectives on creativity?


Understanding Cognition through Development - Nov 2

Understanding Cognition through Development: What Do Animals, Children and Science Have in Common?
November 2, 2015

Speakers:
Kristin Andrews, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy, York University
Stuart Firestein, PhD, Professor of Biological Sciences, Columbia University
Peter Gordon, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Moderator: Ann-Sophie Barwich, PhD, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

What is cognition? Inquiry about the architecture of the mind has been approached from different perspectives in neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy. Cognition involves a plethora of complex processes such as learning, inference-making, and anticipation. Comparative studies of animal behavior and child development may allow for a more integrated approach to understand cognition as a unified developmental and collective strategy.


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