Course date

22 June - 26 June, 2009
15 February, 2009
Course Director(s): 

Jozsef Fiser

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

Richard Aslin

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, USA

Irving Biederman

Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, USA

Zoltan Dienes

Department of Psychology, University of Sussex, UK

Máté Lengyel

Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK
Course Manager: 

Judit Zotter

Department of Gender Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

The fundamental philosophy of this summer school 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, through language, music, concepts, and finally to conscious thinking.

The course will be organized around the following three key modules:

1. The first module will focus on the structure of the outside world of visual scenes, languages, music, and abstract categories. The lectures will highlight the problem of uncertainty, and common features as well as structurally significant differences between the different domains.

2. In the second module, the lectures will focus on what is known about the development of internal representations of these domains: the simplest models of learning, models of visual learning, language learning, sequence and music learning, emergence of consciousness and the relation between regular use of mental structures and hypnosis will be introduced and critically evaluated. In this module, we will review the dominant theories of learning in each of the domains and evaluate how our conclusions in Module 1 can be related to these learning models.

3. The third module will deal with the feasibility of implementing in the brain the models reviewed in the second module. The lectures in this module will discuss the likely candidates of cortical representations of vision, space, language, numbers, and consciousness.

The principal format of the course will be seminars given by the core faculty. There will be a discussion session after each module where participants will be encouraged to formulate a coherent view based on the lectures. Participants will be expected to critically evaluate competing views represented by a series of papers. In addition, when possible, there will be computer demonstrations of the relevant concepts. Since all the core faculty come from the broad area of brain and cognitive sciences, and represent a somewhat similar philosophy, we also plan to broaden the discussion of these topics by organizing round table discussions with representatives of disciplines that are in secondary connection with the main topic of the course. These guest discussants will come from areas such as psychoanalysis, history and arts, and they will provide their view on whether we learn a canonical representation of the structure of our experience and how it is represented in our brain. We also plan a round-table where the dichotomy of learning versus innately coded representations will be discussed. 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.