ASSC15 Keynotes & Symposia

Presidential Address : Ralph Adolphs (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA). BioSketch

17:00-17:45 Thursday June 9

Title: Consciousness and Emotion

Summary: Feelings of emotions are a highly salient and ubiquitous aspect of our conscious experience.  While much research has focused on visual perception as a model system for studying consciousness, the experience of emotions offers some valuable contrasts.  Emotions immediately motivate us to act; emotions immediately come imbued with valence (whether something is good or bad); emotional behaviors show substantial phylogenic continuity and play important roles in social communication; emotions involve specific subcortical structures such as the amygdala and the hypothalamus.  All of these features of emotions may make it more transparent to develop accounts for why conscious experience of them evolved, what functional role it plays, and what its neural correlates are.  I will draw on work in humans, monkeys, and rats to discuss emotion experience, and in particular the experience o f fear.  Our recent studies in a rare patient with bilateral amygdala lesions points to the amygdala as a necessary structure for orchestrating the neural correlates of feeling fear.  They also raise questions about why such a “fear module” might have evolved, and how one’s own experience of fear may be related to its detection and recognition in other people. 
BioSketch: Ralph Adolphs is the Bren Chair Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He was born in Cologne, Germany in 1963 and grew up in Vancouver, Canada. His undergraduate studies were at Stanford University, where he first became interested in the brain. He subsequently did his Ph.D. from 1988-1992 with Mark Konishi at Caltech, doing electrophysiological work in spatial audition. He then moved on to do cognitive neuroscience in human lesion patients during his post-doctoral work with Antonio Damasio at the University of Iowa. It was there, in 1993, that he first met the lesion patient that would launch his career, a patient known as "S.M." who has amygdala lesions. This patient was the subject of a string of papers that explained the amygdala's role in emotion and social cognition. In 2004 Ralph returned to Caltech as faculty, and his lab continues studies of social neuroscience, including patients with autism. He currently also directs Caltech's brain imaging center. His hobbies include mountain running with his colleague Christof Koch and exploring Japanese restaurants with his wife Carol Hunt.  

 

Keynote Lecture 1: Edmund T Rolls, Oxford Centre for Computational Neuroscience, Oxford, UK. BioSketch

9:30-10:15 Fri June 10

Title: Pleasure, emotion, decision-making, oscillations, higher order syntactic thoughts, and consciousness. 

Summary: In Rolls’ theory of emotion (2005) it is argued that emotions are states elicited by reinforcers which are the goals for action, the rewards and punishers. It is argued that emotions solve a fundamental problem in Darwinian evolution, for it is much more efficient for genes to specify goals for actions, rewards and punishers, rather than actions or responses. It is shown that the orbitofrontal cortex is important in emotion for it represents primary, unlearned, gene-specified, reinforcers including the taste and texture of food and face expression; performs rapid learning, and reversal, of stimulus-reward associations; and with the pregenual cingulate cortex has activations that are directly correlated with pleasure, the conscious reports of the subjective state associated with rewards. These reward systems in our brains provide inputs to our value based decision-making mechanisms in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which can correct decisions based on confidence estimates before the outcome is known.
            It is shown using integrate-and-fire neuronal networks that decision-making is inherently probabilistic because of noise caused by the random firing times of neurons in the brain (for a given mean rate). It is argued that this mechanism for decision-making applies to decisions involving a choice between the emotional, implicit, evolutionarily old, brain systems, and the rational (reasoning) explicit conscious system that enables gene-specified goals to be deferred, in a decision between the phenotype and the selfish genotype (‘phenes’ vs genes). This has implications for free will, and determinism. It is argued that consciousness is the state associated with the operation of a system that has evolved for the correction of multistep syntactic reasoning, in a higher order syntactic thought (HOST) theory of consciousness. It is argued that oscillations can facilitate communication between neurons and the speed of neuronal processing, but does not per se provide a computational mechanism for the mental operations involved in consciousness.

Grabenhorst,F. and Rolls,E.T. (2011) Value, pleasure, and choice in the ventral prefrontal cortex. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15: 57-67.
Rolls,E.T. (2005) Emotion Explained. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Rolls,E.T. (2008) Memory, Attention, and Decision-Making: A Unifying Computational Neuroscience Approach. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Rolls,E.T. and Deco,G. (2010) The Noisy Brain: Stochastic Dynamics as a Principle of Brain Function. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Rolls, E. T. (2011) Consciousness, decision‑making, and neural computation. Chapter 9, pp. 287-333 in Perception‑Action Cycle: Models, architectures, and hardware. Eds. V.Cutsuridis, A.Hussain and J.G.Taylor. Springer: New York.
Rolls,E.T. (2012) Neuroculture. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

BioSketch: Edmund Rolls DSc Hon DSc is a neuroscientist with research interests in emotion, memory, perception, taste, olfaction, appetite control, attention, decision-making, and their disorders.

 

Keynote Lecture 2: Takamitsu Yamamoto (Department of Advanced Medical Science and Neurological Surgery, Nihon University School of Medicine, Japan). BioSketch

17:45-18:30 Fri June 10

Title: Cerebrospinal stimulation therapy for the treatment of vegetative state and minimally conscious state 

Summary: One hundred and seven patients in vegetative state (VS) were evaluated neurologically and electrophysiologically over three months (90 days) after the onset of brain injury. Among these patients, 21 were treated by deep brain stimulation (DBS). The stimulation sites were the mesencephalic reticular formation (2 patients) and centromedian/parafascicularis nucleus complex (19 cases). Eight of the patients recovered from VS, and these 8 patients showed desynchronization on continuous EEG frequency analysis. The Vth wave of the auditory brainstem response (ABR) and N20 of the somatosensory evoked potential (SEP) could be recorded even with a prolonged latency, and the pain-related P250 was recorded with an amplitude of over 7V. Sixteen (14.9%) of the 107 VS patients satisfied these criteria in our electrophysiological evaluation. The definition of the minimally conscious state (MCS) is characterized by inconsistent but clearly discernible behavioral evidence of consciousness. Spinal cord stimulation achieved consistent discernible behavioral evidence of consciousness, and emergence from the bedridden state in 6 of 10 MCS patients. These 6 MCS patients corresponded to our electrophysiological criteria. Cerebrospinal stimulation therapy can be a useful method for the treatment of prolonged coma patients, if candidates are correctly selected with electrophysiological evaluation.

1.Yamamoto T, Katayama Y, Tsubokawa T et al.: Deep brain stimulation for the treatment of vegetative state. EJN 32: 1145-1151, 2010
2.Tsubokawa T, Yamamoto T, Katayama Y et al.: Deep brain stimulation in a persistent vegetative state: follow-up results and criteria for selection of candidates. Brain Injury 4: 315-327, 1990

BioSketch:
Name: Takamitsu Yamamoto 
Sex: Male
Present Position
Professor, Department of Applied System Neuroscience and Neurological Surgery, Nihon University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan
Address: 30-1 Ohyaguchi Kamimachi, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 173-8610, Japan
Phone: +81-3-3972-8111
FAX: +81-3-3972-8292
e-mail: nusmyama@med.nihon-u.ac.jp
Education:
1. M.D.: Nihon University School of Medicine (1970-1976)
2. Certificate as Neurosurgeon: The Japan Neurosurgical Society (1982)
3. Ph. D.: Nihon University School of Medicine (1983)
4. Faculty: Medical College of Virginia, USA (1984-1986)
Appointments:
1.    Assistant Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, Nihon University School of Medicine (1991)
2.    Associate Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, Nihon University School of Medicine (1999)
3.    Professor, Department of Applied System Neuroscience and Neurological Surgery, Nihon University School of Medicine (2005)
Fields of specialty:
1. Deep brain stimulation therapy, motor cortex stimulation therapy, and spinal cord stimulation therapy (Pain, involuntary movement disorders, prolonged coma, motor weakness)
2. Clinical neurophysiology
3. Intraoperative monitoring
Members in the following scientific societies (among others):
1. WFNS Neuroehablitation and Reconstructive Neurosurgery Committee (Secretary General)
2. Asian-Australasian Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery (Secretary General)
3. Japan Neurosurgical Society (board member)
4.    Japan Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery (board member)
5.    Japanese Association for the Study of Pain (board member)
6.    Japanese Society for the treatment of coma (board member)
7. Japan Neuromodulation Society (President)

 

Keynote Lecture 3: Fiona Macpherson (Department of Philosophy, University of Glasgow, UK). BioSketch

9:30-10:15 Sat June 11

Title: Cognitive Penetration of Colour Experience 

Summary: Can the phenomenal character of perceptual experience be altered by the states of one’s cognitive system, for example, one’s thoughts or beliefs? If one thinks that this can happen (at least in certain ways that are identified in the paper) then one thinks that there can be cognitive penetration of perceptual experience; otherwise, one thinks that perceptual experience is cognitively impenetrable. I claim that there is one alleged case of cognitive penetration that cannot be explained away by the standard strategies one can typically use to explain away alleged cases. The case is one in which it seems subjects’ beliefs about the typical colour of objects affects their colour experience. I propose a two-step mechanism of indirect cognitive penetration that explains how cognitive penetration may occur. I show that there is independent evidence that each step in this process can occur. I suspect that people who are opposed to the idea that perceptual experience is cognitively penetrable will be less opposed to the idea when they come to consider this indirect mechanism and that those who are generally sympathetic to the idea of cognitive penetrability will welcome the elucidation of this plausible mechanism.
BioSketch: Fiona Macpherson is Senior Lecturer, Director of Postgraduate Studies, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. In addition, she is co-director of CenSes: Centre for the Study of the Senses at the Institute of Philosophy in London. She gained her PhD at the University of Stirling and has also held posts at the University of St Andrews, Cambridge and the Australian National University.  She has written about representational theories of phenomenal character, the metaphysics of mind, disjunctivism, novel colours, inverted spectra, ambiguous and impossible figures, illusions and hallucinations, synaesthesia, introspection, cognitive penetration, and the senses. She has edited Disjunctivism: Perception, Action, Knowledge, with Adrian Haddock (OUP, 2008); The Admissible Contents of Experience, with Katherine Hawley (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); The Senses: Classic and Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives (OUP, 2011);  Hallucination, with Dimitris Platchias (MIT, forthcoming); Representationalism, with Dimitris Platchias (MIT forthcoming).

 

Keynote Lecture 4: Nicholas Humphrey (Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics, UK). BioSketch

17:30-18:15 Sat June 11

Title: Soul Dust: the Magic of Consciousness 

Summary: How is consciousness possible?  What biological purpose does it serve? In my new book Soul Dust, I propose a radically new theory. Consciousness, I argue, is nothing less than a magical mystery-show that we stage for ourselves inside our own heads. This self-made show lights up the world for us and makes us feel special and transcendent. Thus consciousness paves the way for spirituality, and allows us, as human beings, to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in what I call the Soul niche. In this Lecture I shall concentrate on the first part of this story: the evolution of sensations as a kind of pantomime performance, staged in an inner theatre. And I shall discuss how this performance has been designed by natural selection to give us, the privileged spectators, the illusory impression that we are experiencing something it is like, like something it actually cannot be!

BioSketch: Nicholas Humphrey is a theoretical psychologist, based in Cambridge, who is known for his work on the evolution of human intelligence and consciousness. His interests are wide ranging. He studied mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, he demonstrated the existence of blindsight in monkeys with visual cortex lesions, he proposed the theory of the social function of intellect, and he is the only scientist ever to edit the literary journal Granta. His many books include History of the Mind, Seeing Red, and most recently Soul Dust. He has been awarded the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, and the British Psychological Society book award.

 

Keynote Lecture 5: David Eagleman (Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, USA). BioSketch

9:30-10:15 Sun June 12

Title: Kaleidoscopic varieties of conscious experience  

Summary:  Imagine a world of magenta Tuesdays, tastes that have shapes, and wavy green symphonies.  More than 1 in 100 people experience the world this way in a condition called synesthesia, in which normal sensory stimulation triggers anomalous sensory experience. Synesthesia comes in many varieties: experiencing the days of the week in color is the most common manifestation, followed by colored letters and numbers; other common varieties include tasted words, colored hearing, numberlines perceived in three dimensions, and the personification of letters and numerals. Synesthetic perceptions are involuntary, automatic, and consistent over time.  This condition has fascinated laypersons and scientists with its array of sensory amalgamations, but only recently has it been appreciated how the brains of such individuals yield surprising insights into normal brain function and different forms of consciousness. We here present new data from behavioral experiments with thousands of synesthetes in conjunction with neuroimaging and genetics.  In this talk we outline the emerging picture of crosstalk in the synesthetic brain and highlight the remaining questions

BioSketch: David Eagleman holds joint appointments in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.  Dr. Eagleman’s areas of research include time perception, vision, synesthesia, and the intersection of neuroscience with the legal system.  He directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action, and is the Founder and Director of Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law.  Dr. Eagleman has written several neuroscience books, including Incognito: The Brains Behind the Mind (Pantheon, 2011), Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia (co-authored with Richard Cytowic, MIT Press), and the upcoming Live-Wired: How the Brain Rewrites its own Circuitry (Oxford University Press, 2012). He has also written an internationally bestselling book of literary fiction, Sum, which has been translated into 22 languages and was named a Best Book of the Year by Barnes and Noble, New Scientist, and the Chicago Tribune.

 

SYMPOSIUM 1: Metacogntion and consciousness

Chair: Ryota Kanai, University College London

Introduction

Ryota Kanai (University College London)

Talk 1: “Decisions about decisions: neural construction of metacognitive confidence”

Stephen Fleming (University College London)

Abstract: Recent practical and analytic developments in psychophysics have isolated a metacognitive component of behaviour during perceptual decision making. I will present behavioural evidence that this second-order component of decision-making (confidence-in-accuracy) is partially independent of first-order performance, and consider how metacognitive confidence might be constructed from components of the decision process. In these data, confidence, task performance and metacognitive capacity (defined as the ability to discriminate correct from incorrect decisions) can be dissociated across tasks and individuals. The relationship between signal detection theoretic models of decision confidence and different constructs of consciousness will be discussed. Finally, I will present data from structural and functional neuroimaging experiments in humans that aim to provide a window on the neural basis of metacognitive capabilities. I suggest that acquisition of neural data can inform and constrain links between metacognitive behaviour and theoretical constructs of consciousness.

Talk 2: “Metacognition and memory systems in primates: Successes and limitations”

Robert Hampton (Emory University, USA)

 

Abstract: Metacognition is the monitoring and control of cognitive processing. Because metacognition can involve introspection in humans, it can be indicative of explicit, or declarative, cognition and memory. While metacognition is normally inferred from the ability of humans to verbally comment on mental processes, tests of metacognition appropriate for nonhumans have been successfully developed. I will describe the logic of these paradigms and some potential limitations of them. Studies
of metacognition may provide a tool that allows us to discriminate between explicit and implicit cognition in nonhumans.

Talk 3: “Metacognitive processes in nonhuman animals?”

Peter Carruthers (University of Maryland)

Abstract: I shall examine illustrative data from two experimental paradigms (opt-out and information seeking), each of which is said to demonstrate metacognitive awareness in monkeys and apes. In both cases the data admit of non- metarepresentational explanations, I shall argue. One of these is that it is the negative valence embedded within the animals’ feelings of uncertainty that drives the behaviors in question. But the feelings themselves are not, as some have claimed, nonconceptual metarepresentations of the underlying cognitive state of uncertainty; nor does an animal’s awareness and use of such feelings require metarepresentation. These considerations will be placed in a theoretical framework according to which metacognition depends upon equivalent forms of mindreading. Hence we might expect apes to exhibit metacognition for goals and perceptual access, but not for belief and certainty.

 

SYMPOSIUM 2: Consciousness: Powerful or useless?

Chair: Simon van Gaal (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Talk 1: “Answering Libet: How conscious thoughts cause behavior”

Roy F. Baumeister (Florida State University, USA)

Abstract: Do human conscious processes cause behavior, or are they merely a “steam whistle” that results from unconscious activity but lacks any causal power? Many have interpreted research findings by Libet and others to show that conscious thoughts lack causal power. We searched the research literature for experiments in which the independent variable was a conscious thought or state and the dependent variable was behavior. By the logic of research design, such studies demonstrate causal effects of consciousness. Our review, forthcoming in Annual Review of Psychology, surveyed research on mental practice and mental simulation, anticipation, planning, reflection and rehearsal, logical reasoning, perspective taking, framing, communication, self‐affirmation, and overriding automatic processes. We found abundant evidence that consciousness causes behavior, though its effects were generally indirect and operated in concert with unconscious processes. Consciousness seems especially useful for integrating behavior across time, for linking abstract concepts to specific behaviors, for allowing behavior to be shaped by nonpresent factors, for dealing with multiple competing options or impulses, and for enabling behavior to be shaped by social and cultural factors. A human being whose behavior was not partly caused by conscious events would be far less than a fully functioning human being.

Talk 2: “Performance capacity matching as a new approach to studying the functions of sensory awareness”

Hakwan Lau (Columbia University, USA)

Abstract: Recent studies have shown that “unconscious” processing can be surprisingly powerful (cf work in the labs of Lamme, Dijksterhuis, Mattler, Haynes, Dehaene, Bargh, myself, etc). I had taken these results to be a challenge to the notion that sensory awareness has special functional power. Here I criticize my previous arguments. A useful analogy: People without legs can move around (albeit poorly), but we all agree that legs are for locomotion. Likewise, although certain higher cognitive functions can be performed without awareness (just barely better than chance), it does not mean that awareness has no functional advantage. A different approach is to create conditions where subjects are equally good at detecting and discriminating the stimulus, but they report different subjective levels of awareness. Under these performance capacity‐matched cases, we observed functional advantage for awareness only in some specific tasks. These results give powerful constraints for theorizing about sensory awareness in general.

Talk 3: “A model of conscious deciding”

Al Mele (Florida State University, USA)

Abstract: Some scientists and philosophers have claimed that conscious decisions never play a role in the production of corresponding overt actions and that this spells serious trouble for free will. Sometimes it is claimed that conscious decisions to do things at once (conscious proximal decisions) occur only after the actions have been performed ‐ or, alternatively, before the actions but too late to play a part in causing them. Because a lack of clarity about what "conscious decision" means can result in faulty interpretations of data, a relatively precise model of conscious deciding would help us determine whether the data offered to support these claims actually support them. This paper presents such a model and applies it to some recent data. The model distinguishes conscious decisions from, among other things, causes of such decisions.

Talk 4: “Non‐conscious high‐level information processing and the implications for the functional relevance of consciousness”

Simon van Gaal (INSERM-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging unit, France)

Abstract: The evidence for unconscious influences on our actions and decision‐making is rapidly accumulating; however, much controversy surrounds the actual complexity and depth of unconscious information processing. Overall, it seems that unconscious information can influence several highly automatic, “low‐level” cognitive processes, but that there are some more complex, “high‐level” cognitive processes (associated with the prefrontal cortex) that are intuitively so strongly associated with conscious awareness that it seems impossible that these could be triggered unconsciously. In this respect, perhaps the most hotly debated case is the existence of unconscious cognitive control. I will present experiments that show that unconscious information has profound influences on prefrontal cognitive control functions (e.g. response inhibition). To what extent “unconscious cognitive control” is triggered depends on several top‐down cognitive factors such as the instructed task‐set and attention. These results show that unconscious cognition is actually rather “intelligent” and relatively flexible and impact the current debate about the functional relevance of consciousness.

 

SYMPOSIUM 3: Robotics & Consciousness

Chair: Shinsuke Shimojo (California Institute of Technology, USA)

Talk1:  “Short introduction to the scope and limits of robotics research on the problems of consciousness”

Shinsuke Shimojo (California Institute of Technology, USA)

Talk 2: “Emergence of Consciousness from Embodied Interaction Dynamics: A Constructivist Approach with A Simulated Human Fetus”

Yasuo Kuniyoshi (University of Tokyo, JAPAN)

Abstract: Consciousness is an emergent global dynamical structure over a collection of strongly coupled cognitive/sensory-motor dynamics. A principled understanding of strongly coupled systems can be obtained only via the constructivist approach. We created robotic models that exhibit purely emergent behavior as a result of having many chaotic sensory-motor dynamics coupled together via physical embodiment. The emergent whole-body movement affects every constituent sensory-motor dynamics, resulting in self-sustained and spontaneous behavioral patterns. This principle is extended to a full-blown human fetus model that autonomously develop through sensory-motor experiences. It consists of a detailed musculo-skeletal model, uterus model, and cortico-spinal nervous system model. Several meaningful behavior patterns emerge, including hand-face contact actions for example, that can be viewed to have some primitive intentional characteristics. In addition to the above principle, we hypothesize that a drastic change of the nature of interaction dynamics after birth, namely, encountering non-self-generated stimuli such as touch by a caregiver and discontent of physiological needs is another important factor of emergence of consciousness.

Talk 3: “Consciousness appears on robots and androids”

Hiroshi Ishiguro (Osaka University/ATR, Japan)

Abstract: Humanoids and androids give us interesting insights on consciousness. When I have developed the teleoperated android well-known as Geminoid, both of the visitors and operators could adapt to the android body. The visitor could naturally accept the android as me, and the operator, I, could recognize the android body as my body. This means that the visitor could feel consciousness of the android. Another interesting example is robot and android theaters. I and Oriza Hirata who is a famous theater director have made a robot theater and android theater. The robots and android play with human actor and actress. In the robot/android theaters, the audience could feel consciousness and mind of the robots and androids. Why does this happen? The robot and android behave based on script-based computer program or teleportation. We did not have installed any complicated models of the consciousness studied in neuroscience. This means the consciousness is subjective phenomenon appears in the interaction among humans and robots. There is a possibility that we can understand the consciousness by building and using the robots in our life.

Talk 4: “Short commentary on Robotics and Consciousness"

Thomas Metzinger (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität)

Abstract: My contribution will have two parts. First, I will briefly offer a catalogue of six necessary conditions every artificial system must fulfill in order to be a candidate for the ascription of perspectival phenomenal consciousness. I will make no claims about sufficiency. Second, I will introduce synthetic phenomenology as a new problem in the field of applied ethics. How high is the risk of increasing the overall amount of conscious suffering in the universe by actually creating artificial phenomenal states, and how can we rationally and ethically deal with this risk? Again, making no claims about sufficiency, I will offer a list of necessary conditions – a “conceptual skeleton” – for any system to potentially have the phenomenal experience of suffering.

Panel discussion: “Towards the interaction between robotics and consciousness research”

SPECIAL SESSION: Japanese contributions toward understanding consciousness

Four speakers will illuminate various approaches to understanding consciousness: brain machine interface, biological molecules, neuroscience, and primatology.

Talk1:  “Manipulating conscious and unconscious brain states by decoded fMRI neurofeedback ”

Mitsuo Kawato (ATR, Japan)

Abstract: Systems neuroscience still lacks the most important experimental technique: the manipulation of neural codes. Lesions, electrical stimulation and pharmacological manipulations do not directly manipulate "codes". Several techniques of brain-machine interface are promising candidates to overcome this difficulty. I review two studies from our group aimed at this goal, utilizing decoded real-time fMRI neurofeedback to control and change spatiotemporal brain activity. One is long-term change of temporal correlation between default mode network and task network. The other is inception of visual perceptual learning without presentation of a visual stimulus during training. Equipped with new techniques to experimentally manipulate neural codes, a new era could open up for systems neuroscience and especially for studies of consciousness.

Talk 2: “Let’s make some noise! How the brain uses fluctuations to process information.”

Toshio Yanagida (Osaka University, NICT CiNet, Riken QBiC)

Abstract: One of the many amazing aspects of the brain is that it can process massive amounts of information using only 1 W of power, which is millions of times less than the most advanced computers. This suggests that the human brain uses operation principles that are vastly different from artificial machines. One explanation is that the brain uses noise rather than disregards it, a phenomenon we call “yuragi” and have seen in biological molecules and cells. This could make the brain flexible such that it does not need a comprehensive set of data to make the correct conclusion. For example, we have investigated how the brain can identify an image from incomplete information, like seeing only certain aspects of the image or seeing it with a very limited greyscale. We found that the kinetics for processing these incomplete images resemble those of the famous Arrhenius equation that applies to molecules and cells, indicating “yuragi” is also used by the brain. One wonderful property of “yuragi” is its low energy consumption. Therefore, understanding how it functions in the brain should provide general design principles for controlling complex systems in extremely low energy cost and robust manners. http://www.fbs.osaka-u.ac.jp/labs/yanagida/

Talk 3: “Triadic (ecological, neural, cognitive) niche construction viewed through primate brain evolution”

Atsushi Iriki (RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan)

Abstract: Over the past few hundred thousand years, human ancestors created novel habitats from hunter-gatherer environments to agriculture-based fields and villages, and further to modern civilized technological cities. The continuous addition of various novel types of cognitive capacities, including the manufacture and use of tools and the establishment of linguistic faculties, are most likely to have driven these ecological developments. The dramatic expansion of the hominin brain, accompanied by the addition of novel areas, progressed together with such evolution. Hence, humans have constructed novel “niches” for each of these ecological, cognitive and neural domains. Interactions among these three classes of “niches” should have accelerated hominin evolution, which seems too remarkably rapid to have simply been driven by natural selection through accidental environmental changes. That is, environments have dramatically modified, not as a cause of hominin cognitive evolution, but rather as a result of it, and this has in turn put selective pressure on brains to adapt to the modified environments. Enhanced brain functions constitute the bases for further novel cognitive functions and accordingly modified environments, thus comprising “triadic niche construction”. Hence, human higher cognitive activity could be viewed as one of the parts comprising a holistic terrestrial ecosystem.

Talk 4: “What is uniquely human? A view from comparative cognitive development in humans and chimpanzees"

Tetsuro Matsuzawa (Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University, Japan)

Abstract: What is uniquely human?  Where did we come from and how did we get here?  In this talk I attempt to provide answers to these questions based on the study of chimpanzees.  By definition, hominins (including both modern humans and their ancestors) are primates who maintain an upright posture and move by bipedal locomotion.  However, bipedalism itself may not have been the primary impetus in the evolution of modern humans.  Other, currently neglected factors may also have played a role, such as the stable supine posture unique to human neonates from right after birth.  The supine posture enables face-to-face communication, vocal exchange, and object manipulation as a precursor of tool use.  Recent progress in the comparative study of cognition has also pointed out the superiority of young chimpanzees to adult humans in an immediate memory tasks.  The two species additionally differ in a number of cognitive domains.  Among them, human cognition can be characterized by the power of imagination.  Chimpanzees live in a world of the here and now.  In contrast, humans can reflect over centuries of the past, and think ahead to many future centuries. Following a natural disaster on the other side of the planet, they feel empathy towards people they have never met. This talk aims to elucidate evolutionary scenarios that may have allowed humans to develop the powerful cognitive capacity of mental travel.