Ri Public Lectures 2014

The 2014 Royal Institution of Great Britain public lectures will feature:
2nd June 2014: Prof. John O’Keefe, Professor, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Anatomy.  Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, University College London.  Recipient of the 2013 Horwitz Prize for “significant advancements to the field of neuroscience”, . 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience and the 2014 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Immanuel Kant: Pioneer neuroscientist
In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argued that our concept of space was not derived from sensations arising from our interaction with the physical world but instead represented the a priori basis for our perception of the world in the first place. Extensive work in modern neuroscience has provided strong evidence in support of this position. We now know that there is an extensive network of brain areas in the temporal lobes dedicated to the construction of an allocentric space framework and that some parts of this network develop relatively independently of the animal’s experience. This map-like spatial representation is constructed from more primitive representations of places, directions and distances and allows the animal to know where it is in an environment and how to navigate to desired locations. In my talk, I will present the evidence for these more primitive representations and discuss how they may interact with each other to produce a Kantian map-like representation of space. In the latter part of my talk I will discuss how our understanding of these brain systems sheds light on some of the postulates of Euclidean geometry, one of the conceptual domains used by Kant to support his view of the synthetic a priori nature of our spatial representations.
10th June 2014: Prof. Sandra Mitchell, Chair of the History and Philosophy of Science Dept., University of Pittsburgh

Unsimple Truths: How Biological Complexity Changes our view of Nature and Science
Complex systems are built from simpler components: organisms from cells, cells from proteins, and proteins from amino acids.  A common, and often successful scientific strategy is to explain a system by first explaining its parts in isolation.  Is this always the best approach? Sandra D. Mitchell (University of Pittsburgh) will explore the ways complex systems in biology emerge from their parts, and the role that both historical contingency and dynamic adaptation play in reshaping our understanding of scientific explanation in the life sciences.

17th June 2014: Prof. Karl Friston, FRS, and Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL.  Professor: Institute of Neurology, University College London.

Life as We Know It
How much about our interaction with – and experience of – the world can be deduced from basic principles? This talk reviews recent attempts to understand the self-organised behaviour of embodied agents – like ourselves – as satisfying basic imperatives for sustained exchanges with the environment. In brief, one driving force appears to explain nearly every aspect of behaviour and experience. This driving force is the minimisation of surprise (or prediction error). I will illustrate this using simple simulations of how life-like behaviour emerges (almost inevitably) in coupled dynamical systems – and how this behaviour can be understood in terms of perception and action. The key conclusion is that to exist in a changing world, we have to model that world and infer the causes of our sensations – causes that are hidden behind a veil of sensory impressions. We will look at some phenomena that follow from this formulation, such as hierarchical message passing in the brain and the role of reflexes in making our predictions come true.