Seminars

  • Founded
    1986
  • Seminar Number
    603

For more than 100 years, comparative psychologists have sought to understand the evolution of human intelligence. New paradigms for studying cognitive processes in animals—in particular symbol use and memory—have, for the first time, allowed psychologists and neuroscientists to compare higher thought processes in animals and human beings.  New imaging approaches have also facilitated exploring the neural basis of behavior and both animals and humans.  Questions concerning the nature of animal and human cognition have defined the themes of this seminar whose members include specialists in cognition, ethology, philosophy and neuroscience.


Co-Chairs
Christopher Baldassano
cab2304@columbia.edu

Herbert S. Terrace
terrace@columbia.edu

Rapporteur
Camille Gasser
cg3083@columbia.edu

Meeting Schedule

10/23/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
The role of frontoparietal networks in attention and voluntary imagination
Alfredo Spagna, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

How do attentional networks influence conscious perception? I will present data from two studies: one featuring magnetoencephalographic recordings, and the other featuring intracerebral recordings assessing the effects of supra-threshold peripheral spatial cues on the conscious perception of near-threshold Gabors. Behavioral and neuroimaging results converge on the importance of lateralized front-parietal networks in shaping our visual conscious perceptions. I'll then discuss the relevance of our findings with respect to current theories of consciousness and conclude by relating them to a less-studied form of visual perception: visual mental imagery. I will briefly review the literature regarding human imagination, and then show recent neuroimaging evidence obtained using 3T and 7T fMRI, pointing at the role of the frontoparietal networks in supporting imagination. I will conclude by bridging between the fields of visual perception and visual imagination, pointing at the frontoparietal networks in these two processes.





11/27/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Representation and the Brain
John Morrison, Barnard College
Abstract

Abstract

Although ‘representation’ and ‘inference’ are central to cognitive neuroscience, they are often used in loose and contradictory ways. In other fields, new definitions have triggered major breakthroughs. At the beginning of the 19th century, there wasn’t a proper definition of ‘continuity’. As a result, mathematicians were unable to prove the consistency of calculus, or even to investigate its basic properties, such as whether a function can be everywhere continuous but nowhere differentiable. But after a proper definition was introduced, progress accelerated, giving rise to a new field, real analysis. Likewise, in the early 20th century, new definitions of ‘information’, ‘simultaneous’, ‘computable’, and ‘computationally tractable’ triggered major breakthroughs in engineering, physics, and computer science. The results were communication theory, the theory of relativity, computability theory, and complexity theory. I believe that cognitive neuroscience is at a similar point in its development. In this talk, I will survey some candidate definitions of ‘representation’, list their problems, and then sketch my own proposal. In brief, I think that there’s a necessary connection between representing and learning.





12/11/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Learning representations of specifics and generalities over time
Anna Schapiro, University of Pennsylvania
Abstract

Abstract

There is a fundamental tension between storing discrete traces of individual experiences, which allows recall of particular moments in our past without interference, and extracting regularities across these experiences, which supports generalization and prediction in similar situations in the future. One influential proposal for how the brain resolves this tension is that it separates the processes anatomically into Complementary Learning Systems, with the hippocampus rapidly encoding individual episodes and the neocortex slowly extracting regularities over days, months, and years. But this does not explain our ability to learn and generalize from new regularities in our environment quickly, often within minutes. We have put forward a neural network model of the hippocampus that suggests that the hippocampus itself may contain complementary learning systems, with one pathway specializing in the rapid learning of regularities and a separate pathway handling the region’s classic episodic memory functions. This proposal has broad implications for how we learn and represent novel information of specific and generalized types, which we test across statistical learning, inference, and category learning paradigms. We also explore how this system interacts with slower-learning neocortical memory systems, with empirical and modeling investigations into how the hippocampus shapes neocortical representations during sleep. Together, the work helps us understand how structured information in our environment is initially encoded and how it then transforms over time.





01/22/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Top-down control of visual word recognition
Alex White, Barnard College
Abstract

Abstract

If you are reading this abstract, you probably have a tremendous amount of practice with this particular skill – moving your eyes across lines of tiny characters and decoding a message from them. It may even feel effortless to you. Indeed, many theories of literacy postulate that as children learn to read, word recognition becomes ‘automatic.’ In this talk I will argue that nonetheless, word recognition by skilled adults requires a great deal of selective attention and top-down control. I will focus on a region in the ventral temporal cortex known as the “visual word form area” (VWFA), which plays a critical role in reading. In several fMRI experiments we have investigated what drives activity in this region: seeing words, attending visually to words, or explicitly trying to read words? The results do not show an automatic activation by words, even when they are attended visually. Rather, we found a complex interaction of bottom-up selectivity for letter strings and top-down enhancement of word processing that is contingent on voluntary effort to read. We conclude that reading depends on the willful activation of a cerebral network that is exquisitely specialized.





02/12/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
CANCELLED--The neural code supporting multidimensional social relationships
Michael Platt, University of Pennsylvania
Abstract

Abstract

Our understanding of the neurobiology of both human and non-human primate behavior largely derives from artificial tasks in highly- controlled laboratory settings, overlooking most natural behaviors their brains evolved to produce. How these animals navigate the multidimensional social relationships that structure daily life and shape survival and reproductive success remains largely unexplored at the single neuron level. Here, we combine ethological analysis with new wireless recording technologies to uncover neural signatures of natural behavior in unrestrained, socially interacting pairs of rhesus macaques within a larger colony. Population decoding of single neuron activity in prefrontal and temporal cortex unveiled robust encoding of 24 species-typical behaviors, which was strongly modulated by the presence and identity of surrounding monkeys. Male-female partners demonstrated near-perfect reciprocity in grooming, a key behavioral mechanism supporting friendships and alliances, and neural activity maintained a running account of these social investments. When confronted with an aggressive intruder, behavioral and neural population responses reflected empathy and were buffered by the presence of a partner. Surprisingly, neural signatures in prefrontal and temporal cortex were largely indistinguishable and irreducible to visual and motor contingencies. By employing an ethological approach to the study of primate neurobiology, we unveil a highly-distributed neurophysiological record of social dynamics, a potential computational foundation supporting communal life in primate societies, including our own.





03/18/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
TBD
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04/15/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
TBD
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05/06/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
TBD
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