Brain Produces Mind by Modeling



Organized by Richard Shiffrin, Danielle Bassett, Sophie Deneve, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte and Josh Tenenbaum

The connection of brain and mind remains one of the great mysteries. An intriguing possibility is that the brain produces the mind by forming a model of the entire environment – including the body, the physical environment, other agents, and the social environment. It uses this model to learn, decide, attend, remember, perceive and produce action. The model develops as the brain matures, rapidly during infancy and more slowly later. It has structural components that remain stable over long times. It has labile elements that change at multiple time scales, adapting to the current environment and goals. The mind’s formation through modeling of the world might be likened to the way scientists build models: through a combination of experiment (interaction with the world) and theory (thought).

It has long been known that perception and memory are inferences constructed from prior knowledge. A simple example of perceptual inference is the way we imagine seeing the entire forward field of view when we actually see clearly only a small foveally defined region. A striking example of memory inference are demonstrations by Beth Loftus and colleagues that we can form vivid and compelling memories of events that never happened. The brain also models ourselves, possibly instantiated as consciousness, and other agents, as postulated in the ‘theory of mind’ (raised by Premack and Woodruff in 1978 about non-human primates). The theme occurs in what has been called the ‘computational theory of mind’. It is found in a variety of attempts to model learning and behavior based on processes such as prediction error and surprise, represented in neural net modeling in cognitive science, and in artificial intelligence and machine learning as represented by error driven learning, and reinforcement learning, and implemented by inference algorithms using MCMC and belief propagation. A number of efforts have tried to bridge the gap from brain to mind by building models capable of feats of cognition whose component computations might plausibly be implemented in neural circuitry. The theme of brain as model builder is also central to the Bayesian approach in cognitive science, where judgments and decisions are explained by probabilistic inference, combining prior knowledge and current evidence. It is worth noting that the theme of ‘brain as scientist’ could be extended to ‘mind as scientist’, surely true to the extent that brain produces mind. Yet a long history of research demonstrating the occasional irrationality of human decision making places important limits on such an extension.

This Sackler Colloquium will bring together these various threads and approaches in neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychological science by focusing on computational modeling that attempts to bridge the gaps between these fields. It aims to present a coherent view of the brain as a model builder, using the model to maximize survival and utility in a complex world. The fields relevant for this colloquium encompass most of cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, and psychology. However, attempts to frame the connections between these in terms of computational model building are just arriving in the literature in recent years, and a Sackler Colloquium at the present time would allow us to present a strong cross-section of critical research, computational modeling, and thinking.



  • When

  • Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - Saturday, May 4, 2019
    5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
    Pacific Time

  • Where

  • Beckman Center
    100 Academy
    Irvine, California 92617

Registration Fee

Registration fee is $300 and includes all meals on the agenda and transportation between hotel and conference center.

Cancellation policy:  100% refund if cancelled by 4/4/19;  50% refund if cancelled by 4/18/19

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