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Neuroscience and Society Symposium

New History of RIMS

 

Neuroscience and Society Symposium

RIMS 200th Anniversary Lecture Series
Co-sponsored by the Brown Institute for Brain Science and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute

All four of the lectures begin at 5 pm and are free and open to the public. Each will be followed by a reception.


October 23, 5pm
How the Mind Makes Morals
Friedman Auditorium


Video of Professor. Churchland's lecture

Patricia S. Churchland, PhD, professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

A pioneer of the maturing discipline of neurophilosophy, Prof. Churchland argues that human morality originates in the structure and biochemistry of the brain. She and a rising chorus of neuroscientists are suggesting that moral judgments are mediated by innate, unconscious processes that are hardwired within our brains. Prof. Churchland’s latest book is Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality (Princeton 2011). Her earlier books are Brain-Wise (1986) and Neurophilosophy (2002). She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.

Elaine Jones MD Patricia Churchland, PhD Patricia Churchland, PhD

November 5, 5pm
Neurobionics: Restoring and Replacing Lost Brain Functions with Technology
Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University
222 Richmond Street, Providence, Room 170


Video of Professor
Donoghue's lecture

John P. Donoghue, director, Brown Institute for Brain Science

Prof. Donoghue was the founding chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Brown and is the leading principal investigator of BrainGate, the research group that has won world-wide acclaim for its seemingly miraculous advances in developing useful neural interfaces for people with neurological impairments or limb loss. BrainGate is focused on restoring mobility, independence and communication to injured people by enabling them to execute computer commands through the activity of their brains.


February 13, 5pm
The Better Angels of our Nature
DeCiccio Auditorium, Salomon Center
Brown University


Video of Professor
Pinker's lecture

Steven Pinker, PhD
Professor of psychology, Harvard University

Prof. Pinker is the author of The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (Penguin, 2011), which runs 802 pages in the paperback edition. Pinker’s sweeping and controversial thesis blends psychology and history. He attempts to demonstrate that humankind has become progressively less violent in the course of the last five millennia, and he then speculates on the forces responsible for this apparent transformation of our species.

In support of his thesis, Pinker first identifies six overlapping waves that he sees washing through human history and contributing to a long-term decline in human violence. The first wave is a “pacification process” that began millennia ago. The second is a half-millennium-old “civilization process.” Next came “the humanitarian revolution” of the 17th and 18th centuries. The fourth, fifth and sixth waves all originated since the end of World War II, in Pinker’s analysis.

To further explain the positive progress he perceives in these six megatrends of human history, Pinker posits a creative tension involving five “inner demons” of human nature (these are “predatory or instrumental violence,” “dominance,” “revenge,” “sadism” and “ideology,” which includes religion), four “better angels” (which are “empathy,” “self-control,” “moral sense,” and “reason”) and five “historical forces” (namely, the state, commerce, “feminization,” “cosmopolitanism,” and “the escalator of reason”; Pinker characterizes this last-named force as “an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs,” which “can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others’, and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won”).

Pinker’s skeptics enjoy, perhaps as much as Pinker himself does, the intended irony in the title of his book. The familiar words “better angels of our nature” are borrowed from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861. Less than six weeks later, on April 12, 1861, America’s bloodiest war erupted when Charleston harbor rang with the shelling of Fort Sumter.

Alyn Adrain Steven Pinker

March 4, 5pm (rescheduled from November 1, 2012)
Decisions, Decisions: Understanding the Neural Circuits of Human Choice

Friedman Auditorium

Paul W. Glimcher, professor of economics and chief investigator,
Center for Neural Science, New York University

Prof. Glimcher exemplifies the interdisciplinary character of the neuroscientific revolution, which
has been carried jointly by economists, psychologists and neuro-scientists. Glimcher and his fellow pioneering researchers have brought novel approaches to the investigation of the cognitive mechanisms by which humans collect, process and use information to make choices that are reflected in behavior. (“The relationship between behavior and the brain is fundamentally about understanding decision making,” wrote Glimcher in 2003.) What are the neural underpinnings of the process by which we weigh the relative value of different courses of action? How rational are our decisions? To what extent do our “choices” actually involve conscious choice and free will at all?

Brown Daily Herald article

 

 

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