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Collective phenomena: Neurons, networks, and language

  • The Graduate Center, CUNY (The Skylight Room, Rm. 9100) 365 5th Ave. New York, NY 10016 USA (map)

Life is more than the sum of its parts. In the brain, our thoughts and actions surely require coordination among large numbers of neurons. Such emergent, collective phenomena are the subject of a deep theoretical literature, much of it grounded in statistical physics, but the subject has been re-invigorated by the possibility of recording, simultaneously, the activity of hundreds or even thousands of individual neurons. In this symposium, we begin with an overview of these experimental developments, then explore different approaches to the theory of large neuronal networks, and finally ask if we can find a statistical physics description of what might be the brain’s most remarkable behavior—human language.

9:30 AM Coffee and bagels

10:00 AM Measuring and understanding the brain’s model of the external world
Loren Frank, University of California at San Francisco and HHMI

11:30 AM Coffee

12:00 PM The intrinsic neuronal dynamics of a canonical cognitive circuit
Ila Fiete, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1:30 PM Lunch

2:30 PM Between chaos and functionality in the dynamics of large networks
Fred Wolf, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization

4:00 PM Coffee

4:30 PM The landscape of language: Insights from statistical mechanics
Eric DeGiuli, École Normale Supérieure

Register here.
Download event PDF here.
Download Full Series PDF here.

Sponsored by the Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences, and by the CUNY doctoral programs in Physics and Biology. Supported in part by the Center for the Physics of Biological Function, a joint effort of The Graduate Center and Princeton University. For more information see