The Guest Lecturer
Michael N. Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Michael Shadlen is Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington. He received his B.A. degree in biology and his M.D. degree from Brown University. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his residency training in neurology at Stanford University Medical Center. Dr. Shadlen returned to research as a Howard Hughes doctoral research fellow in William Newsome's laboratory at Stanford.
Shadlen will discuss recent discoveries that we have made using a combination of behavioral, electrophysiological and computational techniques. The brain acquires information from the environment through the senses. Unlike simpler animals that react immediately to such information, or not at all, our sophisticated brains allow us to ponder and cogitate. Higher brain function has imbued a capacity to interpret information in order to assess its significance in light of other knowledge, and to decide what to do about it. Thus, the process of decision-making offers a window on complex mental functions. Neuroscientists are beginning to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie the formation of a decision from the evidence received through the senses. Interestingly, the neural computations that underlie decision-making were anticipated during WWII by Alan Turing and Abraham Wald. Turing applied this tool to break the German navy's Enigma cipher, while Wald invented the field of sequential analysis. Besides mathematical elegance and winning wars, our experiments suggest that this computational strategy may lie at the core of higher brain function. The principles of normal brain function revealed by the study of decision-making expose a path to new treatments for neurological disorders affecting our most cherished cognitive abilities.