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[theory-seminar] Christos Papadimitriou speaking tomorrow at 4:30 pm

Amin Saberi saberi at
Wed Mar 30 08:46:54 PDT 2022

Hello everyone,

Christos Papadimitriou is speaking in a special RAIN seminar tomorrow at 4:30. I expect it to be a very interesting talk on a fascinating topic.

See below.


4:30 PM, Thursday, March 31st
Gates 403 Fujitsu Conference Room

Title: How does the brain beget the mind?
Speaker: Christos Papadimitriou, Columbia University

Abstract:  There is no doubt that cognition and intelligence are the results of neural activity --- but how, exactly?  How do molecules, neurons, and synapses give rise to reasoning, language, plans, stories, art, math?   Despite dazzling progress in experimental neuroscience, as well as in cognitive science, we do not seem to be making progress on the overarching question.  As Richard Axel recently put it in an interview: "We don't have a logic for the transformation of neuronal activity to thought and action. I view discerning [this] logic as the most important future direction of neuroscience". What kind of formal system would qualify as this "logic"?

I will introduce a computational system whose basic data structure is the assembly of neurons --- assemblies are large populations of neurons representing concepts, words, ideas, episodes, etc. The Assembly Calculus is biologically plausible in the sense that Its primitives are properties of assemblies observed in experiments, or useful for explaining other experiments, and can be provably (through both mathematical proof and simulations in biologically realistic platforms) "compiled down" to the activity of neurons and synapses. Experiments show that this programming framework can simulate --- exclusively through the spiking of neurons --- high-level cognitive functions, such as parsing natural language and planning in the blocks world..  We believe that this formalism is well-positioned to help in bridging the gap between the brain and the mind.

Bio: One of world’s leading computer science theorists, Christos Papadimitriou is best known for his work in computational complexity, helping to expand its methodology and reach. He has also explored other fields through what he calls the algorithmic lens, having contributed to biology and the theory of evolution, economics, and game theory (where he helped found the field of algorithmic game theory), artificial intelligence, robotics, networks and the Internet, and more recently the study of the brain.

He authored the widely used textbook Computational Complexity, as well as four others, and has written three novels, including the best-selling Logicomix and his latest, Independence. Papadimitriou has been awarded the Knuth Prize, IEEE’s John von Neumann Medal, the EATCS Award, the IEEE Computer Society Charles Babbage Award, and the Gödel Prize. He is a fellow of the Association for Computer Machinery and the National Academy of Engineering, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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