Mind and Brain

The human brain and the mind it creates, is enormously complex.  Everything we do, feel and think emerges from billions of nerve cells and their interconections.  Brain development is developed by evolution and genetics, but is also greatly affected by experience.  The mind takes place through exposure to individuals and cultures, and becomes a constructive and predective device.  It allows us to create inner worlds that allow us to behave in highly adaptive ways, but also to engage in risky behavior and make bad decisions.  Six speakers will explore how brains are built, how minds are made, and how modern cognitive and neural science is changing the way we think about memory, money, morality, mortality and more.

Lectures are held at Centennial Hall on the campus of the University of Arizona. Parking is available on a pay per use basis in the Tyndall Avenue Garage. All lectures begin at 7:00 PM and are free to the public. Call 520-621-4090 for more information.

Feb 23 2010
Building Brains, Making Minds

Lynn Nadel, Regents' Professor, Psychology

What does the brain do? The ancients thought it was a radiator, cooling the blood. Modern views see it as an activator, using inputs from the environment in combination with prior knowledge to generate behaviors (walking, talking, eating and drinking) and mental states (feelings, desires and beliefs). Recently the idea has emerged that the brain acts as a predictor, using inputs and stored knowledge to generate models of the world, and of the consequences of possible actions we and others might pursue. These models can predict what will happen in the next minute, hour or decade, and allow us to behave in the most adaptive way.

Mar 2 2010
The Plastic Brain

Leslie P. Tolbert, Regents' Professor, Neuroscience and Vice President for Research

The human brain is the most complex object known to us. It contains billions of nerve cells, each of which may make thousands of connections, in immense networks of circuitry that control our sense of self and our appreciation of – and interaction with – the world around us. In the last half century we learned that we are born with raw circuitry that quickly tunes itself to the environment we encounter. Now we are learning that the properties that allow nerve cells to achieve this "plasticity" in response to the early environment are controlled by the very same genes that drive learning and memory in adults.

Mar 9 2010
Evolution of Mind and Brain

Anna Dornhaus, Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

What does anybody need a brain for? Brains are energetically expensive to make and to use, and susceptible to making mistakes. Accordingly, not learning, i.e. sticking to an innate or random strategy, is often the best thing to do. Still, humans and other animals display sophisticated learning and cognition. Recent research shows that each animal has specific learning abilities and lacks others according to its environment and evolutionary history. Understanding what different brains are used for can help us understand why they evolved.

Mar 23 2010
The Making of a Mind

LouAnn Gerken, Professor, Psychology and Director, Cognitive Science

We're all born with a brain, but when does our brain begin to construct a model of the world – a mind? Research now suggests that infants not only absorb a remarkable amount of information about the physical and social world, they also use this information much like scientists to make guesses about the structure of that world. By creating tentative models of different aspects of the world based on very small amounts of data, infants use their developing models to predict the behavior of objects, people and the world around them.

Mar 30 2010
Metamemory: How Does the Brain Predict Itself?

Alfred W. Kaszniak, Professor and Head, Psychology

Our brains recreate past experience, monitor recall efforts, and predict our chances of remembering things in the future. The knowledge we each possess about our own memory, and strategies to aid memory, form what is called metamemory. Studies of persons with impaired metamemory due to neurological illness, along with brain imaging studies of healthy adults making judgments about memory, indicate that the brain systems active in retrieving information are distinct from those that self-monitor memory. Metamemory research is helping build an understanding of a wide range of experiences from tip-of-the-tongue forgetfulness to the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Apr 6 2010
Morality and the Emotional Brain

Shaun Nichols, Professor, Philosophy

Does morality come from the emotions, or from rational thought? Philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries. Recent work in cognitive science suggests that emotions play a critical role in the normal ability to think about morality. Studies indicate that psychopaths have a deficient understanding of morality, and when abnormalities are found in brain regions associated with emotions, these same patients make atypical decisions about difficult moral problems. Emotions alone do not completely account for moral judgment, but the emotional brain shapes our models of what it is to be moral.