Cognitive science, Computer science, Mathematics, Psychology

Course date

27 June - 1 July, 2011
Extended application deadline:
31 March, 2011
Course Director(s): 

Jozsef Fiser

Department of Psychology and the Neuroscience Program, Brandeis University, Waltham, USA
Course Faculty: 

Nathaniel Daw

Department of Psychology, New York University, USA

Donald B. Katz

Department of Psychology and the Neuroscience Program, Brandeis University, Waltham, USA

Máté Lengyel

Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK

This course is a continuation of the successful "Memory and Mind" and "Beliefs and Decision" courses that ran in 2009 and 2010. This year the course will focus on understanding how the arguably most abstract and most human characteristics of human behavior, such as reasoning, aesthetics, imagination, decision making and social interactions emerge from basic perceptual and motor behavioral processes that can be identified in lower animals as well. Since these higher cognitive processes are strongly embedded in and determined by the "simpler" perceptual operations, a systematic exploration of the links between the two can foster a deeper understanding of intelligent behavior in animals and humans. Given the unique mix of the faculty and topics, the course will create an environment where students can freely move from basic perception to all the way to consciousness with the rigor of a solid computational approach and a firm footing in neural reality.

It is a high-level, research-based course, which will bring together world-class experts of different subfields. It focuses on a truly cross-disciplinary issue: how intelligent behavior emerges and how it is constructed and represented in our brain. The fundamental philosophy of the course is to demonstrate that some basic principles of structure learning can provide a unifying framework for explaining human cognition both in simple as well as in the most complex domains of behavior. In addition, the course will present how these basic principles of behavior could be implemented in the neural hardware of the brain, thereby addressing the issue of how to bridge scientifically the gap between mind and body. To achieve this, lectures will progress via domains of gradually increasing abstraction that humans deal with starting from the perceptual domain of vision and taste, representing uncertainty and beliefs about observed and unobserved quantities, through learning internal models of the environment, to making adaptive and successful implicit decisions through concepts, and finally to conscious thinking.

The course will be organized around three key modules: (1) representation of visual scenes, tastes, and abstract categories (2)the emergence of internal representations of these domains: models of visual learning, taste learning, concept learning, and emergence of consciousness will be introduced and critically evaluated (3) feasibility of implementing in the brain the modelsreviewed in the second module.

The design of the course stresses highly interactive forms of teaching where apart from the standard lecture format, the faculty will be encouraged to have open discussions about the relevant issues amongst each other as well as with students, there will open debate sessions, and opportunities for hands-on experience with various experimental tools exploring related questions. This should demonstrate the link between the high-level concepts presented and various ways of exploring these concepts empirically. There will be a final project, in which students will be required to carry out a mini-research project in small groups. The group will select a particular issue and develop their own opinion whether it can be fit in the emerging view on structure learning and if so, how.