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'The coordination of cognitive activities by synaptic and local-circuit mechanisms for context-sensitive gain-control'

Hills Building - R3 on the Edgbaston Campus map - room 1.20
Life and Environmental Sciences, Research
Tuesday 24th September 2013 (16:00-17:00)
Download the date to your calendar (.ics file)

For more information please contact Contact: Dr Ulrik Beierholm (

Part of the School Seminar Series

Speaker: Professor Bill Phillips, Psychology, Stirling University

Host: Aaron Sloman (CNCR)

Abstract from Bill Phillips: I will outline arguments and evidence suggesting that the adaptively organised complexity of mental life depends on many concurrent probabilistic inferences that are coordinated by widely distributed synaptic and local-circuit mechanisms for context-sensitive gain-control. They amplify relevant and suppress irrelevant activities. I will argue that perceptual organization, contextual disambiguation, surround-suppression, attention, working memory, and motor-coordination all depend upon these mechanisms. Previous evidence for this perspective has come from studies of anatomy, neurophysiology, psychophysics and the pathophysiology of psychosis. It is now being strongly supported by optogenetic studies from the Scanziani lab in UCSD which use brief pulses of light to switch genetically specified subtypes of neuron on or off with millimetre and millisecond precision. Information-theoretic formalization and neural-net simulations of the central ideas will be summarized. Finally, I will note that we need a better understanding of major transitions in the evolution of cognitive capabilities, and will briefly explain how engineering synaptic gene mutations could contribute to this. It seems to me that convergence of these theoretical and empirical developments is revolutionizing our understanding of what brains do and how they do it, so any comments on this view will be welcome.

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