Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Events | Linking Mind and Brain, lecture at CUNY Graduate Center

Tonight the CUNY Graduate Center hosted a conversation between the theoretical physicist (neurophysicist) William Bialek and the philosopher of psychology, Jesse Prinz ,author of the forthcoming book The Conscious Brain.
The conversation touched several topics ranging from quantitative biology and neuroscience to philosophy, visual illusions, pseudoscience.

Bialek started the conversation introducing that the focus of  theoretical physics as the mathematical analysis of nature, is often taken over by a qualitative description, able to fill the gaps left by quantitative methods. Jesse Prinz then introduced his philosophical investigations, which in opposition to Bialek methods, start from a very large scale  and then narrow down to physical analysis — from abstract generalizations to concrete cases.

Can consciousness  be explained as a series of brain processes? The human brain has over one-hundred billions of  neurons and only a small percentage relates to consciousness. Prinz then narrowed consciousness to visual experiences, more specifically to the retinal representations occurring  in the visual cortex referred to as V1, V2, V3, V4, V5 in the brain mapping.  Brain injuries have also a great role in explaining consciousness.
Another interesting phenomenon in the study of consciousness is in the interpretation of ambiguous such as the Kanizsa triangles. Subliminal advertisement also is based on the connection between perception and conscious interpretation of perception.
The conversation continued with the fascinating numbers involved in the description of the human brain:100 billions of neurons reside in the human brain and 1mm thick of the folded cortex contains 100000 neurons cells each with 5000 connections (axons).The conversation ended with a mention of the pseudoscience often present in writings on neuroscience from mainstream publications such as the recent NY Times article "You Love Your iPhone. Literally".
The conversation dealt with several visual topics and I would have appreciated a more visual presentations. Nevertheless the overall themes were introduced in simple terms to be appreciated by a general audience —simplicity and clarity which are often lacking in the many neuroscience related events which are becoming increasingly popular.