Stanford University
SYMBSYS 129: Neuroscience and experience
Winter 2006

"Neuroscience and experience"
Even before Descartes, and exemplified in Burton’s  (1632) “Anatomy of
Melancholy”, attempts were being made to explain even relatively
complicated subjective states like depression on the basis of the
“neuroscience” of the day. While such attempts may now seem to us to be
laughably naïve, it is actually an open question whether we are not
ourselves guilty of premature closure on this topic. In particular, some of
our  current neuroscience may be superceded; similarly, the recent attempt
to bootstrap a new science of consciousness from diverse findings in
neuroscience and psychology in the past decade has been considerably
delayed by the restatement in new guise of old questions such as  whether
the world external to us is an illusion, or indeed unreal.

This course is above all an attempt to provide tools to talk and think about
these issues and does not presume to give ultimate answers. At the level of
individual neurons as that of the concerted action of groups of neurons, it
considers alternatives to the standard paradigm such as resonate and fire,
and how the subthreshold oscillations ubiquitous in the brain may be
exploited for neural computation. It then goes on to consider the
relatively certain knowledge we have about neural representation of the
individual sensory worlds and multimodal mapping. Theories of consciousness
and evidence for them, including pathologies of conscious perception like
Capgras, which compels the patient to consider his next of kin and friends
to be imposters pretending to be the real thing, are then introduced. With
this equipment, we then consider the history of theories of the mind, and
consider whether there are historical universal that give us clues, however
tantalising, as to who we are.

Meeting Time & Place
11 am Tues. and Thurs. - 208

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