College of Science Spring Lectures Focus on "Mind and Brain"

The six-part lecture series, "Mind and Brain," starts the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 23 and will explore how brains are built, how minds are made and how cognitive and neural science is changing the way we think about memory, money, morality, mortality and more.
Feb. 9, 2010
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Parking is available on a pay-per-use basis in the Tyndall Avenue Garage, 880 E. Fourth St.

 

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All lectures are free and open to the public. To learn more, visit the College of Science Spring 2010 Mind and Brain lectures

What: 
Mind and Brain Lecture Series
When: 
Tuesdays, Feb. 23 to April 6, 7 p.m.
Where: 
Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.
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The University of Arizona College of Science's popular spring lecture series will focus on the human brain and the mind it creates. The first lecture is on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in Centennial Hall on the UA campus.

The six speakers for the lecture series, "Mind and Brain," will explore how brains are built, how minds are made and how cognitive and neural science is changing the way we think about memory, money, morality, mortality and more.

"We are learning more about our brain and our mind than ever before," said Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science.

"The mission of the lecture series is to share with our community the remarkable discoveries made by UA scientists and others," he said. "For this fifth year of the series, we are happy to share the knowledge of what makes us human."

In addition to the public lectures, there is a corresponding teacher education program, structured for science teachers at the 6-12 grade level, which begins on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

The course, ECOL 596s, is available for two hours of graduate credit through the UA Outreach College and meets on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. The teachers will attend the lecture series as part of the class. Full scholarships are available through funding provided by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Tucson GEAR UP program.

To register for the class, contact the Outreach College at 520-621-7724.

All the "Mind and Brain" lectures are free and open to the public. The lectures will be held at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. on the UA campus. Parking is available on a pay-per-use basis in the Tyndall Avenue Garage, 880 E. Fourth St.

The scheduled lectures:

February 23: Building Brains, Making Minds

Speaker: Lynn Nadel, UA Regents' Professor of 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.

March 2: The Plastic Brain

Speaker: Leslie P. Tolbert, UA Regents' Professor of neuroscience and UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development

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 plasticity in response to the early environment are controlled by the very same genes that drive learning and memory in adults.

March 9: Evolution of Mind and Brain

Speaker: Anna Dornhaus, UA assistant professor of 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 – 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.

March 23: The Making of a Mind

Speaker: LouAnn Gerken, UA professor of psychology and director of the cognitive science program

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.

March 30: Metamemory: How Does the Brain Predict Itself?

Speaker: Alfred W. Kaszniak, UA professor and head of 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.

April 6: Morality and the Emotional Brain

Speaker: Shaun Nichols, professor of 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.

Funding for the College of Science Spring 2010 Lecture Series is provided by the Arizona Daily Star, Cox Communications, Robert L. Davis, Galileo Circle, Godat Design, Thomas and Cande Grogan, Raytheon, Research Corporation for Science Advancement and UniSource Energy.