William Bialek

Event Dates (Pacific Time): 
Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 1:00pm

KIBM Distinguished Visitor, William Bialek - Searching for simplicity: A physicist’s quest for theories of mind and brain

Professor of Physics, Princeton University
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1:00 pm
CNCB Large Conference Room, UC San Diego
Map and directions here

Theoretical physics is the search for simple, compelling mathematical descriptions of the natural world. Over nearly four centuries, since Galileo, this search has been extraordinarily successful: from deep inside the atomic nucleus out to the farthest reaches of the universe, and with many stops in between, we can predict what will be seen as we look carefully at world, using our most precise instruments. Beyond the triumph of understanding, mathematical theories of the natural world give us the tools to design new devices, and are at the foundations of life changing technologies. It must be admitted, however, that one part of the world has largely evaded the grasp of theory, and this is the world of own immediate human experience: the brain and mind.

Physicists have been fascinated by the brain and mind for more than a century. Always searching for simplicity, we are challenged by the evident complexity of the cells, synapses, and myriad molecules that are the basis for our mental life. In this lecture I will survey some modern efforts to build a theoretical physics of the brain. One important theme is that our sensory systems often come close to the limits set by the laws of physics, as our eyes count single quanta of light and our ears detect vibrations smaller than the diameter of an atom. While there are many ways to build a brain that might work, there are many fewer ways to build a brain that can approach such nearly optimal performance. Perhaps, out of its complexity, the brain emerges as simpler, and more perfect, than we imagined.

Dr. Bialek's homepage: https://www.princeton.edu/~wbialek/wbialek.html