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Reverse Engineering the Brain

I sus­pect that when many of you think about neu­ro­science, the first things that come to mind are med­ical appli­ca­tions: men­tal dis­or­ders, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. But what I’m going to try and argue today is that the stakes are much greater in the year 2015.

The Conversation #62 – Rebecca Costa

If you were to ask me what the cri­sis in the present is, as an evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gist I have to go back mil­lions of years and try to con­nect all the dots, going back to man as a single-celled organ­ism to present time, and say­ing what is it that is caus­ing mod­ern con­ster­na­tion? More impor­tant­ly, is there a pat­tern? Has this hap­pened before? Were there some ordi­nary peo­ple like you and I, shop­keep­ers in Rome, who were stand­ing around and say­ing, You know, our lead­ers don’t seem to be on top of our prob­lems. They seem to be get­ting worse one gen­er­a­tion after anoth­er.”

Deducing the Cognitive Basis of Attempting to Influence Others

In the course of Donald Trump’s rise to pow­er, peo­ple have repeat­ed­ly been ask­ing, Why did he tweet that? What was he think­ing about?” Our fas­ci­na­tion with his men­tal states high­lights a very impor­tant ques­tion for us: What hap­pens in our minds and brains when we try to influ­ence oth­ers?

Why Facts Don’t Unify Us

Why do you spend pre­cious moments every day shar­ing infor­ma­tion? There’s prob­a­bly many rea­sons, but it appears that the oppor­tu­ni­ty to impart your knowl­edge onto oth­ers is inter­nal­ly reward­ing.

Teaching a Machine How to Imagine

We can train com­put­ers to learn to rec­og­nize objects by giv­ing them mil­lions of exam­ples with the cor­rect answers. A human baby, on the oth­er hand, learns to rec­og­nize many con­cepts and objects all by them­self sim­ply by inter­act­ing with a few exam­ples in the real world.

Language as a Signature of the Flexible Human Mind

To under­stand human nature, I focus on human lan­guage and what it can reveal about how we think. Unlike oth­er ani­mals, humans can com­mu­ni­cate an infi­nite num­ber of thoughts through lan­guage. And one rea­son that lan­guage is pow­er­ful is because we can use each of our words flex­i­bly, with sev­er­al dif­fer­ent mean­ings.

Happiness and Money

Much of eco­nom­ics and pub­lic pol­i­cy rests on the assump­tion that increas­ing the wealth of indi­vid­u­als and nations pro­vides a route to increas­ing their well­be­ing. So why does mon­ey fail us?

Molecular Mechanisms of Reward and Aversion

Why do we do the things that we do? Why do we some­times choose to be lov­ing par­ents and oth­er times engage in irra­tional self-destructive behav­iors? What dri­ves us to some­times be altru­is­tic and oth­er times make deci­sions that real­ly threat­en our very sur­vival? Well, the answer lies in our brains. Our brains evolved to ensure that we repeat behav­iors that will lead to our sur­vival.

The Cellular Basis of Neural Computation

Over the past cen­tu­ry, we’ve been to the moon, we’ve split the atom, we’ve sequenced the human genome, but were still only at the very begin­ning of our under­stand­ing of the human brain. This is one of the great chal­lenges that we face. If we can under­stand the brain, we can devel­op bet­ter treat­ments for brain dis­or­ders, we can design bet­ter robots, bet­ter com­put­ers, and ulti­mate­ly we can bet­ter under­stand our­selves.

The Conversation #4 — Colin Camerer

We know very lit­tle about com­plex finan­cial sys­tems and how sys­temic risk, as it’s called, is com­put­ed and how you would man­age poli­cies. And if you look back at the finan­cial cri­sis, you can either say, as many econ­o­mists do, It all had to do with badly-designed rules,” which may be part of the sto­ry; it’s cer­tain­ly part of the sto­ry. Or it may have to do with the inter­ac­tion of those rules and human nature, like mort­gage bro­ker greed, opti­mism… And you see it not just in indi­vid­u­als who now have hous­es and fore­clo­sure, but at the high­est lev­els.

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