27 September 2010

Open neuroscience talk at the University of Sussex next Wednesday - by me :)

I've been asked to give a talk to the Artificial Life Reading Group (Alergic) at the University of Sussex next Wednesday (Oct 6). I'm gonna take the opportunity to articulate my understanding of brains as spiking attractor networks that seek operant control through dopamine-mediated reward learning. This is actually a simple mix of old ideas, but my model system - the buccal ganglia - and experimental technique - the multielectrode array - allows me to quantify and visualize the various components of the theory. I'll also have the opportunity to test some new thoughts on brain-computer interfacing.

Network dynamics, dopamine and operant control: lessons from the molluskan buccal ganglia
Time: Oct 6, 16:30-18:00
Multielectrode array (MEA) analysis of molluskan nervous systems is an experimental technique recently developed at the University of Sussex (Harris et al., 2010). Here I discuss our current understanding of the molluskan buccal ganglia, with examples from the MEA work, and relate it to more general theories of network dynamics, pattern generation, dopamine-mediated reward and operant control. Variance in the neural pattern for feeding behaviour, which the buccal ganglia continue to generate in vitro, allows the brain to search for optimal feeding strategies in changing environments (Brezina et al., 2006) and can be considered a rudimentary form of free will (Brembs, in press). I argue that this ability to generate variable, reward-sensitive motor output is a central function of brains, and discuss experimental and computational approaches toward a better understanding of it.
References: Brembs (in press) Proc of the Royal Soc; Harris et al (2010) J Neurosci Methods 186(2):171-8; Brezina et al (2006) Neurocomputing 69(10-12):1120-1124.

The talk will be recorded and will hopefully be available on the iPlant channel in a few weeks but please get in touch if you are in the UK and would like to attend the talk (and the enjoyable post-talk discussion in the bar). RSVP on Facebook here.
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