Foundational ideas: Dan Dennett on the Mind…

From John Brockman’s The Edge, it’s here. Dan was one of the initial intellectual founders of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Studies. Here is a long-piece interview with him on the very subject that is central to our research program: the human mind.

One idea that I agree with him about: the notion that our early notions of neurons as simple switching devices was vastly over-simplified. Dennett here calls them “little agents with an agenda”.

Read it all.

Fall reflections…

The view out my office window: Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study

Fall semester is pretty much half over here at George Mason. Over the past two days, after my return from China, I’ve had time to reflect on the incredible dynamism of the science that goes on here…

An example: today I got to see some absolutely spectacular results that may be relevant to interactions between the brain and the immune system–to my mind, an understudied critical physiological axis in developing new treatments disease.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading up on the default mode network–the system in our brain that seems to subserve mind wandering. Specifically, I’m interested in what happens when the function of this network goes awry (for example in schizophrenia). But the larger question is this: how does the neural dynamics of our brain play out in our complex human social interactions? Can my default mode network affect yours? Time for us to hire some social neuroscientists?

I’ll have a little biology with my scifi…

Zen Faulkes’ very entertaining commentary on the biology embedded in the new SciFi movie, Prometheus is here (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan). I also agree with him generally. Although I’d add this: another “watermark” for relatedness would be at the phenotype level: it would be very interesting if alien brains had neurons that conducted action potentials based on ionic conductances.

Erin Shuman steals the SFN11 show today

With an absolutely spectacular talk about her work on local control of protein synthesis and degradation in neurons. More here.

I thought the most provocative idea she put forward was the notion of local control of protein synthesis in axons as well as dendrites…and that these local loci may be a lot more important than just governing plasticity.

It’s great to see neuroscience taking the next steps towards becoming a mature field.