NPB 263 - Information processing models:

Minds and Machines

Is the mind a machine? Is it a computer? What does it mean to `compute?' Can a computer have a mind? In this seminar, we will explore answers to these and similar questions from a combination of neuroscientific, computational, and philosophical perspectives. The seminar will meet once a week and will feature a number of guest speakers from neuroscience, computer science, and philosophy, including:

Tony Bell - theoretical neuroscience, RNI
Rob Cummins - philosophy, UC Davis
Jeff Hawkins - theoretical neuroscience, RNI
Alva Noe - philosophy, UC Berkeley
Almerindo Ojeda - linguistics, UC Davis

Phil Rogaway - computer science, UC Davis

Course particulars:

Instructor: Bruno A. Olshausen

Date/time:  M 6:00 p.m.

Location:  Center for Neuroscience conference room

Units: 3

CRN: 83884

Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of neuroscience, computer science, or philosophy, or NPB 163/PSC 128.

Grading: Students enrolled for credit will be required to write a report on one of the articles/topics discussed in class.


Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain by Paul W. Glimcher, MIT Press, 2003.

Minds, Brains, and Computers, ed. by R. Cummins and D.D. Cummins, Blackwell Publishers, 2000. (recommended)


April  5
Artificial intelligence and neuroscience.  Guest speaker: Tony Bell
Reading:  Bell AJ (1999)  Levels and Loops: the Future of Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience, Phil. Trans. R Soc. Lond. B 354:2013-2020. pdf
April 12
What is a computation?   Guest speaker: Phil Rogaway.  Reading: 1) "Semantic engines:  An introduction to mind design," by John Haugeland (Cummins chapter 3).  2) "The Church-Turing thesis," by Mike Sipser.  
April 19
The mind as computer.  Guest speaker: Rob Cummins.  Reading: 1) "The Mind as Computer" (Cummins, Part I introduction)  2) "A history of thinking," by Denise Cummins  (Cummins chapter 1).  3) "Minds, Brains, and Programs," by John Searle (Cummins chapter 9).  4) "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," by Alan Turing (Cummins chapter 10).
April 26
Historical perspectives.  Reading: Glimcher chapters 1-4
May 3
Neuroeconomics.  Reading:  Glimcher chapters 5-9
May 10
Probability, games and decisions.  Reading:  Glimcher chapters 10-14
May 17
Language.  Guest speaker: Almerindo Ojeda.  Reading: "A procedural model of language understanding," by Terry Winograd (Cummins chapter 7).
May 24
Sensorimotor loops.  Guest speaker: Alva Noe.  Reading:  "A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness." by O'regan and Noe.  pdf
June 7
Cortex as predictor.  Guest speaker: Jeff Hawkins.  Reading:  Hawkins/Blakeslee book.