The Maps Inside Your Head

ECE Seminar: The Maps Inside Your Head

Starts at: November 5, 2015 4:30 PM

Ends at: 6:00 PM

Location: Scaife 125

Speaker: Dr. Vijay Balasbramanian

Affiliation: University of Pennsylvania

Refreshments provided: Yes

Link to Poster

Link to Video (1)


How do our brains make sense of a complex and unpredictable world? In this talk, I will discuss a physicist's approach to the neural topography of information processing in the brain. First I will review the brain's architecture, and how neural circuits map out the sensory and cognitive worlds. Then I will describe how highly complex sensory and cognitive tasks are carried out by the cooperative action of many specialized neurons and circuits, each of which has a simple function. I will illustrate my remarks with one sensory example and one cognitive example. For the sensory example, I will consider the sense of smell ("olfaction"), whereby humans and other animals distinguish vast arrays of odor mixtures using very limited neural resources. For the cognitive example, I will consider the "sense of place", that is, how animals mentally represent their physical location. Both examples demonstrate that brains have evolved neural circuits that exploit sophisticated principles of mathematics - principles that scientists have only recently discovered.

Vijay Balasubramanian received B.Sc. degrees in Physics and Computer Science from MIT and an M.Sc. in Computer Science from MIT. Following a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics at Princeton University, he was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He then joined the physics faculty at the University of Pennsylvania where he has conducted research in theoretical physics and in neuroscience.
He seeks to understand the principles that organize information processing by living systems, and especially by neural circuits. In theoretical physics he has written about the statistical inference of models, on the apparent destruction of information by black holes, and on the transformation of information between microscopic and coarse-grained descriptions of the world. Broadly, he seeks to understand how physical systems create, store and transform information.