Computation and the Brain

Spring 2021, Mon 5-7:45pm (CS8803/4803-CAB)

Instructor: Santosh Vempala, office hours: Mon 2-3pm online, 3-5pm in person (outdoor).
TA: Mehrdad Ghadiri, office hours: Wed 4-6pm, online.

Tremendous advances in neuroscience over the past two decades have led to an avalanche of data and sophisticated models at the lower levels (molecules, neurons, synapses, circuits), while cognitive scientists have outlined brain correlates of cognitive phenomena.  And yet the gap between these two levels remains unbridged.  As Nobel laureate Richard Axel said in 2019, “we don’t have a logic to translate neural activity into thought…”

How does the mind emerge from the brain?

This course will begin with a few classic readings in cognition/neuroscience; discuss relevant models of computational complexity; highlight the gaps between experiment, theory and our understanding; and formulate concrete problems and challenges for both neuro/cognitive scientists and computer scientists. Course homeworks will be geared towards a final project.

Prior knowledge of neuroscience or complexity theory is welcome, but not assumed.